Featured Posts | Vikings

Zulgad: Dizzying Day: Jim Harbaugh to remain at Michigan as Vikings reportedly pick their coach

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Georgia at Michigan
Dec 31, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts from the sideline during the second half in the Orange Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was fun. Or at least it was interesting.

The Vikings’ dalliance with Jim Harbaugh ended almost as quickly as it began, as the University of Michigan coach decided to stay put after spending Wednesday interviewing with Vikings officials at TCO Performance Center. Harbaugh left Minnesota without having received an offer, despite the fact he began the day thinking the job likely would be his.

That was a mistake on Harbaugh’s part given the fact that Vikings’ ownership had questions about his ability to play nice, and the end of his successful but tumultuous four-year run (three NFC title games, one Super Bowl appearance) with the San Francisco 49ers.

So what happened?

Likely the realization from both Harbaugh and the Vikings that this wasn’t the right fit for either side. The 58-year-old Harbaugh knows how to win in the NFL — he went 44-19-1 with the 49ers — and that had to be attractive to the Vikings. The quirky Harbaugh also would have made things interesting for Vikings followers.

But that has never been a problem for this franchise and, honestly, interesting isn’t what the Vikings need at this point. Neither was bringing in a coach who might have exceeded expectations from a record standpoint in 2022. What the Vikings need is stability and a reset after firing general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer on Jan. 10.

Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf made it clear in announcing Spielman and Zimmer’s dismissals that he wanted a GM and coach who emphasized collaboration. Spielman and Zimmer were barely civil to each other by the end.

There had to be some concern, fair or not, that Harbaugh might struggle in some of these areas. It was interesting that one of the main people who wanted Harbaugh was new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who worked with Harbaugh for two seasons in San Francisco.

Was Adofo-Mensah overruled in his desire to hire Harbaugh? That’s something we aren’t likely to find out anytime soon — hopefully that’s not the case — but we do know that Adofo-Mensah plans to hire a coach with whom he is familiar.

Kevin O’Connell, the offensive coordinator for the Rams the past two seasons, reportedly will be named Vikings’ coach after Los Angeles plays Cincinnati a week from Sunday in the Super Bowl. O’Connell was one of four finalists for the job and was interviewed for a second time by Vikings officials on Monday in Los Angeles.

The Vikings also talked to Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and then interviewed Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham for nine hours on Tuesday at TCO Performance Center. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell worked together in 2016 in San Francisco, with the former serving as manager of football research and development and the latter as a special projects assistant.

O’Connell also is familiar with Kirk Cousins, having served as his quarterbacks coach in 2017 in Washington. But don’t assume O’Connell is getting the Vikings job because he has worked with Cousins. In fact, don’t assume much when it comes to what the Vikings’ roster will look like on opening day next September.

Adofo-Mensah, 40, and O’Connell, 36, are certain to have a much different vision than Spielman and Zimmer did, and it likely won’t include several veterans who are eating up salary cap space on the current club.

O’Connell is being hired in large part because he is considered the latest assistant on the rise from the Sean McVay coaching tree. That list includes Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who was McVay’s offensive coordinator in his first season with the Rams in 2017, and Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who was on McVay’s coaching staff for two seasons (2017-18) and will now face his former boss in the Super Bowl.

O’Connell will arrive in Minnesota not having called plays for the Rams and with plenty to learn about running a team and managing a game. But O’Connell also is likely to copy many ideas that he learned from McVay and that means the Vikings’ offense figures to get out of the 1990s. That’s great news for wide receiver Justin Jefferson and a few others.

As for Cousins, there is a chance that Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell will look to move the quarterback to a team that might be willing to surrender a high draft pick. A bridge quarterback could be the answer for 2022, or the Vikings might look to trade up in the first round to get a guy like Malik Willis. The quarterback draft class in 2023 is thought to be much better than this year’s.

Whatever the case, the Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell pairing won’t have the win-now expectation that would have accompanied Harbaugh. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell will be expected to build a winner and restore the peace that no longer existed around the Vikings’ facility in recent years. Their vision of a winner is likely to feature a high-flying offense that is built around a young quarterback whose compensation doesn’t make building around him difficult.

Harbaugh, meanwhile, will remain in Ann Arbor. That news came as a disappointment for many Vikings fans who were excited by the prospect of a high-profile hire. Of course, if the Vikings’ wunderkinds can build a winner, those same fans won’t give a second thought to what might have been with Jim.