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Zulgad: Vikings owners must make GM hire, but why try to take the lead in coaching search?

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FILE – In this Dec. 11, 2016, file photo, Minnesota Vikings owners Mark Wilf, left, and Zygi Wilf watch warmups from the sideline before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla. The owners of the Minnesota Vikings have finalized the acquisition of Orlando City, giving the Wilf family control of the MLS franchise. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Mark Wilf outlined the Vikings’ plan on Monday after announcing the firings of general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer. The co-owner said both “searches are starting right away,” before adding, “the GM is going to be our first selection, and then the GM will have input in the head coach.”

The key word being input.

Five days later, that (partially questionable) plan has been put into motion with the Vikings having requested permission to speak to eight candidates for the general manager’s job and, so far, seven for the head coach opening. What hasn’t been spelled out is exactly how these side-by-side searches are going to work.

Zygi and Mark Wilf — and other trusted team officials, such as chief operating officer Andrew Miller and Rob Brzezinski, who serves as executive vice president of football operations — are expected to be involved in helping pick the new GM. But the bigger question is how much of a say will that group have in hiring the coach?

The list of seven candidates that was reported on Saturday included four defensive coordinators (Todd Bowles of Tampa Bay, Jonathan Gannon of Philadelphia, Dan Quinn of Dallas and DeMeco Ryans of San Francisco) and three offensive coordinators (Nathaniel Hackett of Green Bay, Kellen Moore of Dallas and Kevin O’Connell of the Rams). The GM interviews are scheduled to begin via video conference on Sunday. It’s unknown when the coaching interviews will start.

The Wilfs certainly understand the importance of having a good working relationship between the general manager and coach. If they didn’t, they should have learned their lesson this season. Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who is good friends with Zimmer, said Saturday on the Barstool Sports Pro Football Show that Zimmer and Spielman “hadn’t talked in months … and it was a downward spiral.”

And Spielman played a major role in Zimmer’s hiring in 2014. So imagine the potential for problems if a general manager is given a small list of candidates that the Wilfs like and has to pick from that instead of making the hire he or she wants?

I’ve long said the Wilfs are good owners and there is no question they love football. But if I’m a top-level GM candidate interviewing for the job, at least in person, I ask the Wilfs for their list of coaching candidates, and when it’s handed to me, I tear it up and tell them I’ll take care of this. This is one case where ownership should lead the search for one hire and that’s it.

There are two reasons for this.

The first comes from nearly 16 years ago, when the Wilfs went about replacing Mike Tice as their head coach. Brad Childress, who was one of the hot coaching candidates at the time and had been the non-play calling offensive coordinator for the Eagles, was one of the first to interview. Childress told the then-new owners that if he left Minnesota, his next interview was in Green Bay and he was going to take the Packers job.

This was nonsense. The Packers, who had fired Mike Sherman as coach, were looking for a guy far more like Mike Tice than they were the business-like Sherman. In fact, the Packers had some interest in talking to Tice before they hired Mike McCarthy. The Wilfs needed to conduct a thorough coaching search and they didn’t do it because someone had more savvy than them.

Childress was fired during the disastrous 2010 season and replaced by defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who stuck around through 2013. Spielman had been promoted to GM by that time and led the search that landed Zimmer.

You might think the Wilfs deserve a break when it comes to the Childress hiring considering it was long ago, but these owners and former Giants season ticket holders have a habit of becoming enamored with candidates and why give them two chances (GM and coach) to allow that to happen when there is no upside to making a choice based on emotion?

The other reason the Wilfs should only be involved in the GM hire comes from what has happened with the NHL team based in St. Paul. Bill Guerin, who replaced Paul Fenton as the Wild’s GM after Fenton was fired following one season, has taken control of that franchise and allowed owner Craig Leipold the luxury of returning to being a fan.

The Wild had developed some of the same country club elements that seem to have popped up around TCO Performance Center. Guerin clearly told Leipold he was going to put a stop to that and the show would be run his way. It was no secret that Leipold was close with defenseman Ryan Suter, but that didn’t stop Guerin from telling Leipold he was going to buy out both Suter and Zach Parise from the remaining few years of their massive free agent contracts.

Guerin kept Leipold in the loop, but the guy in charge of the hockey team did things his way and there did not appear to be any interference from those above him.

So why would the Wilfs want to interfere in the coaching decision and possibly leave themselves open to having to hit the reset button, if the coach and GM don’t get along or can’t make it work? Better to let the GM run the search. The Wilfs would get to talk to the candidate(s) eventually, but they wouldn’t be leading things.

To the Wilfs’ credit, they have done an excellent job during much of their tenure at letting their executives and coaches do their jobs. Interference has not been an issue and the owners often have seemed to know what they don’t know. Why change that now?