The Minnesota Vikings saw their season end on Sunday night in a home playoff loss to the New York Giants. Now, there were several reasons for this loss (Kirk Cousins throwing a three-yard pass on fourth and eight, for example), but one glaring weakness all game long was the defense. As has been the case all season, the Vikings pass defense failed when it mattered the most.
After watching the Green Bay Packers rule the division for the past three years, this was supposed to be a statement year for Minnesota. Instead, they end their year with the same number of playoff wins as the rest of the NFC North. Perhaps it is time for a changing of the guard at defensive coordinator. If that is the route the team takes, here are three possible replacements for Ed Donnatell.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator Replacement #1: Jerry Gray
Current Green Bay Packers defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Jerry Gray was hired away from the Vikings in 2019. He previously had been the Vikings’ defensive backs coach from 2014-2019. Now, he is getting looks from other NFL teams for their vacant defensive coordinator positions. Specifically, the Atlanta Falcons have requested permission from the Packers to interview Gray.
Jerry Gray has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL before. He ran the defense of the Buffalo Bills from 2001-2005. Additionally, he was the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans from 2011-2013.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator Replacement #2: Jim Leonhard
While former Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator and interim head coach Jim Leonhard does not have any NFL coaching experience, he has been widely regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the game for some time. Additionally, Leonhard played six of his 10 NFL seasons for current Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine.
Leonhard stepped away from Wisconsin after he was passed over for their head coaching position. While the Badgers struggled this season, his 2021 defense was the second-best defense in the country, behind only Georgia. A hiring of Jim Leonhard would certainly be a risk, but matching him with one of his mentors in Pettine would help ease the transition.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator Replacement #3: Lovie Smith
Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith has some familiarity with the NFC North, and he is now looking for a job after being fired by the Houston Texans. Due to his age, he may not be a long-term solution. However, the time is now for the Vikings to take advantage of the rest of the NFC North. The Packers have questions all over their offense, the Bears were the worst team in the NFL this year, and the Lions are, well, the Lions.
While Smith may not be an ideal candidate for head coach, he is a defensive mind that has always built strong defenses. Bringing him in for a couple of seasons could only help establish a mean, tough, hard-hitting culture on the defensive side of the ball.
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