Rick Spielman’s dismissal from the Vikings on Jan. 10 came as a surprise to many, including Spielman, because the belief was that coach Mike Zimmer would be fired and Spielman would move from general manager to a higher-ranking front office role that would enable him to help pick the next GM.
Instead, Spielman and Zimmer were both fired and have been replaced by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell. O’Connell can’t be officially announced as the Vikings coach until after the Los Angeles Rams have played Cincinnati in the Super Bowl a week from Sunday.
Spielman, who has done numerous national interviews since being fired, might not be out of work for long. He reportedly has interviewed for a high-ranking front office position with the Jacksonville Jaguars and there appears to be a growing feeling that he will end up with the team. This comes after at least one head coaching candidate for the Jaguars job, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, expressed concerns about working with GM Trent Baalke.
Spielman, who joined the Vikings in 2006 and became GM in 2012, would serve as Baalke’s boss, or could end up replacing him and have a title such as head of football operations. The Jaguars have hired former Eagles coach Doug Pederson as coach. There was a feeling Spielman would have had Pederson high on his wish list in Minnesota, if he had been retained.
Spielman never was able to find a long-term solution at quarterback for the Vikings, but that shouldn’t be a concern in Jacksonville. Trevor Lawrence, the first-overall pick in last year’s draft, had a rocky rookie season playing under less-than-one-and-done coach Urban Meyer, but Lawrence is only 22 and appears to have a bright future in the NFL.
- Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak has been hired by his father’s long-time employer, the Denver Broncos, as their quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has taken over in Denver and is expected to call plays.
- Two more Vikings assistants also have found work elsewhere. Special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken will hold the same title with the Chargers and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko will keep the same job with the Bears. Offensive line coach Phil Rauscher reportedly is expected to join the Buffalo Bills. Ficken had spent 15 seasons with the Vikings in various roles on the coaching staff. The team reportedly attempted to block him from leaving at first, but then gave the OK for him to head to Los Angeles.
- One Vikings assistant who is likely to remain is Keenan McCardell, the former NFL wide receiver who spent his first season coaching that position for the Vikings in 2021. Pro Bowl receiver Justin Jefferson has made it clear he wants McCardell to remain and it’s unlikely the Vikings will go against the wishes of their most talented player.
- Former Cleveland Browns coach and longtime NFL defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been linked to the Vikings’ DC job, according to Jason La Confora of CBS Sports. Pettine, 55, served as the Packers’ defensive coordinator from 2018 to 2020 and was a senior defensive assistant for the Bears in 2021. Other names loosely attached to the Vikings’ defensive coordinator job have been Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell. It’s likely O’Connell will want a veteran football mind in that position, since his expertise is on the offensive side of the ball.
- The Timberwolves reportedly are interested in dealing for Boston point guard Marcus Smart before the NBA trade deadline next Thursday. The Wolves would like to move Malik Beasley but a source tells SKOR North Scoopmaster Darren (Doogie) Wolfson that it would take a first-round pick or another play, such as Jaden McDaniels, to get it done. The Celtics began the negotiations by offering guard Josh Richardson and one of their young forwards for Beasley. Minnesota then asked for Smart. The 27-year-old Smart is averaging 11.6 points and 5.5 assists in 44 games.
- The Wolves are open to moving veteran Patrick Beverley before the deadline. The 33-year-old guard will be a free agent after the season and while Wolfson reports there is mutual interest on doing an extension, the two sides haven’t been able to reach an agreement. Beverley has had injury issues, but the offseason acquisition has played an instrumental role in providing leadership for the Wolves and bringing a professional intensity that the team has often lacked. Trading him definitely would impact what has been a positive chemistry in the locker room and that makes chances of Beverley being dealt pretty low.
- There continues to be buzz that Wild general manager Bill Guerin continues to make calls ahead of the March 21 NHL trade deadline. A center is believed to be his No. 1 target.
- Malik Willis’ stock is climbing after the Senior Bowl workouts and it will be interesting to see how far the 6-foot, 220-pound quarterback from Liberty (located in Virginia) will rise in the countless mock drafts we will see in the coming weeks. The key word with Willis is potential and there almost certainly will be some team in the first round that decides passing on him is too risky. Would the Vikings consider moving up to grab him, or stop his slide if he gets to the 12th pick?
- Remember when nobody (including me) could believe that former Wild general manager Paul Fenton had given free agent winger Mats Zuccarello a five-year, $30 million deal with a full no-movement clause for the first three seasons in July 2019? Well, nobody is questioning that deal now. At least not this season. Zuccarello not only helps get the best out of teammate Kirill Kaprizov playing on the Wild’s top line, but he also has 14 goals and 42 points in 35 games at the All-Star Break. Zuccarello’s points total is the most since he had 53 with the Rangers in 2017-18. He also is a plus-21 after being a minus-9 in his first season in Minnesota and then a plus-9 last season.
- I’ll ask the question again: Where is the picture, poster, T-shirt, whatever, that has Kaprizov, Jefferson and Wolves young star Anthony Edwards on it? The Wild, Vikings and Timberwolves need to make this happen.