Zulgad: Candidates for the Vikings’ defensive coordinator job continue to take a pass
The Vikings’ failure to name a defensive coordinator was a source of consternation for some last week but as the weekend arrived it appeared the pieces were falling into place.
The news on Friday that Sean Desai had pulled his name out of the running for the position so he could focus on pursuing the same job in Denver seemed to be offset by the news Saturday that Ejiro Evero had been released from his contract as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator and was free to talk to the Vikings.
In a season in which the Broncos were terrible on offense, Evero had emerged as a potential head coaching candidate and a hot name in the coordinator market because he was in charge of a successful defense in Denver.
Getting the 42-year-old Evero would have been considered a victory for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell. Unfortunately for the Vikings, this one will end up in the loss column.
Evero reportedly agreed to become the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, joining the staff of new coach Frank Reich. He will inherit a defense that is considered the strength of the team.
Evero is believed to have gotten big bucks to take the Panthers’ job — no word on what the Vikings might have been willing to offer — but that doesn’t sound like the big issue.
That would be the fact top candidates look at what fired coordinator Ed Donatell had to work with this season and decide the Vikings personnel on defense doesn’t give them much of a chance to be successful. It’s an aging unit with a lack of talent and is badly in need of an overhaul that might take a few years. There’s a reason why the Vikings’ defense was near the bottom of the NFL this season and why so many players struggled to adjust to Donatell’s 3-4 scheme.
Evero also interviewed for the head coaching jobs in Arizona and Indianapolis and aspires to be in charge of his own team one day. His stock might drop if his next stop was with a team that couldn’t stop opponents. Desai, obviously, viewed things the same way.
The Vikings also had interest in New Orleans co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen at the start of this process but he quickly was named the Falcons’ coordinator.
Evero never had an official interview with Minnesota, so of the four people the Vikings interviewed for the job, there are two remaining. One is Pittsburgh assistant and former Miami coach Brian Flores, who remains a candidate for the head coaching position in Arizona, and the other is veteran defensive coordinator and former Browns coach Mike Pettine, who served as O’Connell’s assistant head coach with the Vikings in 2022.
Flores also is in the running to get the DC job in Denver. Does that mean Desai could re-emerge in the Vikings’ search, if he doesn’t get the Broncos job with new coach Sean Payton? Would Desai even want the position after taking his name out of the running?
The other possibility is that more candidates could emerge. Former Wisconsin Badgers DC Jim Leonhard was one name thrown around after Donatell was fired but there have been no reports linking him to the Vikings. Other names that have been floated, but not confirmed, include San Francisco secondary coach Cory Undlin and Philadelphia defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson.
Undlin, 51, who is from St. Cloud, Minn., and Wilson, 40, also hold the titles of defensive pass game specialist and defensive passing game coordinator, respectively.
Obviously, these aren’t the names that were atop the Vikings’ list when this process started, but with each day that passes, and each candidate that ends up elsewhere, it’s looking as if rebuilding the Vikings’ defense is a challenge many don’t want to undertake.
Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Purple Daily Podcast and Mackey & Judd podcast at www.skornorth.com