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What Will the Vikings Do at Defensive Coordinator if They Don't Land Brian Flores?

Inside The Vikings on FanNation logo Inside The Vikings on FanNation 2/6/2023 Will Ragatz
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The Vikings' search for a new DC hasn't exactly gone to plan. Will it be Mike Pettine?

The Vikings' defensive coordinator search hasn't exactly gone to plan. 

It's been two and a half weeks since they fired Ed Donatell, and they've seen three different potential candidates become unavailable during that time. At the moment, they're down to two interviewed options — one who is also considering other jobs and one who would be a tough sell to the fan base.

On Sunday, top target Ejiro Evero was hired by the Panthers before even interviewing with Minnesota. Evero joins Ryan Nielsen and Sean Desai — two of the four coaches the Vikings interviewed — in exiting the mix. Nielsen was also hired as DC elsewhere (Atlanta) and Desai reportedly withdrew his name from consideration.

That leaves the Vikings with two known options, as of Monday. Former Dolphins head coach and current Steelers senior defensive assistant Brian Flores is their top target, by all accounts. He interviewed for the position on January 26th and was seen chatting with Minnesota GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah at the Senior Bowl last week. If the Vikings end up hiring Flores, the uncertainty of this process will all be forgotten. He is a fantastic coach who would instantly become one of the better defensive coordinators in the NFL.

But the Vikings have competition for Flores' services. He's one of three known finalists for the Cardinals' head coach opening, along with Lou Anarumo and Mike Kafka. Flores has his second interview with Arizona on Wednesday. The day before that, he's interviewing with the Broncos for their defensive coordinator vacancy (as is Desai). So even if Flores doesn't get the Cardinals job, there's a chance he ends up in Denver coaching under Sean Payton. If it comes down to Flores choosing between Denver and Minnesota, the Broncos would seem to have an edge based on their personnel on that side of the ball.

The Vikings' other option is hiring in-house candidate Mike Pettine, who spent last year as their assistant head coach. Pettine has been coaching at the NFL level since 2002, with three stints as a defensive coordinator (Jets 2009-12, Bills 2013, Packers 2018-20) and one as a head coach (Browns 2014-15). He has a strong relationship with Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell; Pettine coached O'Connell with the Jets and gave him his first NFL coaching job in Cleveland. If Flores ends up with the Cardinals or Broncos, Pettine would be left as the only available candidate of the five the Vikings have interviewed or hoped to interview (in Evero's case).

NFL teams don't make decisions based on how they think fans will react, but hiring Pettine would go over very poorly with the Vikings' fan base. That's the reality of the situation. That doesn't mean it couldn't work; Pettine has coached some good defenses before and has respect among NFL circles. But to hire an in-house candidate after how awful the Vikings' 2022 defense was — especially given the optics of Pettine appearing to be the fall-back option — would be a tough thing to sell to Minnesotans.

The Vikings' other option, in the event they don't land Flores, would be to re-open the search. There are plenty of other potential candidates out there who the Vikings could bring in for interviews. Pettine might not be thrilled by that scenario, but that's a secondary concern to getting this important hire right after whiffing on Donatell a year ago.

Here are some other names the Vikings could consider:

Former Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks

It seems like Wilks may be headed to the 49ers as their next DC, but if not, it would make sense for the Vikings to pursue him. The former Cardinals head coach and longtime DBs coach has previous DC experience and is regarded as a fantastic leader of men.

49ers passing game specialist/secondary coach Cory Undlin

Undlin has spent the past two seasons with the 49ers, who have been one of the league's top defenses under coordinator DeMeco Ryans (the Texans' new head coach). A native of St. Cloud, MN, the 51-year-old Undlin has been coaching in the NFL since 2004, primarily with defensive backs. He was the Lions' defensive coordinator in 2020.

Eagles passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson

Wilson is the Eagles' No. 2 behind Jonathan Gannon, and the Vikings saw firsthand how good their defense is this season. He was previously with the Jets and Rams. Wilson, 40, also spent time on the scouting side before getting into coaching. The Vikings could interview him after Sunday's Super Bowl.

Former Wisconsin head coach and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard

Leonhard overlapped with O'Connell when the two were playing for the New York Jets. After his NFL career ended, Leonhard returned to his alma mater as a coach, quickly becoming a highly-successful defensive coordinator. He was the Badgers' interim head coach last year after Paul Chryst was fired.

Ravens assistant head coach/D-line coach Anthony Weaver

The Vikings interviewed Weaver last year and could look at him as an option again this time. A former player with the Ravens and Texans, he's been coaching in the NFL since 2012. Weaver was the Texans' DC in 2020 and has been in Baltimore for the last two years.

Former Texans head coach Lovie Smith

Smith was fired after one season in Houston, but the veteran coach — who has also had the head job with the Bears, Buccaneers, and Illinois (NCAA) — is plenty qualified to be a DC. He has tons of experience that he could bring to Minnesota.

Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.


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