8 Defensive Coordinator Options for the Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings officially decided to part ways with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell on Wednesday evening, and now they are officially back on the search for a new DC for the 2023 season. Here are 8 defensive coordinator options for the Vikings next season.
1. Jim Leonhard
Jim Leonhard has spent the previous six seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers, turning that program into one of the fiercest defenses in all of college football. In five of the six years that he was there, his defenses placed among the top-17 in the nation (out of 131) in scoring.
Additionally, Leonhard and O’Connell spent time together with the New York Jets (as players), and Leonhard played 14 seasons as a defensive back. Last offseason, Leonhard turned down an interview for the Green Bay Packers job in favor of the Badgers, but that won’t be a factor now as he announced he would be leaving that program in 2023. If the Vikings want a young DC (Kevin O’Connell-esque), Leonhard is an interesting option.
2. Ejiro Evero
If you want someone with a coaching connection to Kevin O’Connell, Ejiro Evero is probably the guy. Evero spent the 2022 season as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator, and they ranked seventh in scoring and 14th in yards during this past season. Granted, there is probably more talent on that Denver defense than in Minnesota (currently, at least), but that is an impressive season nonetheless.
As for his connection to O’Connell, the two of them spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons together with the Los Angeles Rams where Evero was the safeties coach in 2020 and the defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach during 2021. Evero also spent time with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in San Francisco.
3. Greg Manusky
Greg Manusky is the first potential internal hire for O’Connell. He spent 2022 with the Vikings as the outside linebackers coach, but he also has 12 years of defensive coordinator experience prior to that.
Manusky’s coaching career prior to Minnesota had him spending time with the San Francisco 49ers (2007-10), San Diego Chargers (2011), Indianapolis Colts (2012-2017), and Washington Commanders (2017-19). Washington is where he ran into O’Connell for the first time. Prior to that, Manusky also spent 12 years as a linebacker in the NFL.
4. Aubrey Pleasant
Aubrey Pleasant was the first candidate to interview for the Vikings defensive coordinator position last winter, and he should get another if he so pleases to have one. He has spent the past two seasons in Detroit as the defensive backs coach, and while he was let go during the season, he quickly got a job to conclude the year on the offensive side of the ball with the Green Bay Packers.
Pleasant worked with O’Connell in LA, and despite not hiring him last offseason, the Vikings head coach claimed that Pleasant would one day be an NFL head coach. This offseason, maybe O’Connell can put his money where his mouth is by hiring the up-and-coming coach.
5. Brian Flores
Brian Flores is another candidate that has already begun interviewing for other DC jobs, but he’s worth giving a call to see if he’s interested. He spent 2022 with the Steelers as a senior defensive assistant, but prior to that he was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2019-2021.
With the Dolphins in 2021, Flores’ defense ranked 16th in scoring and 15th yards. He’s never been an official defensive coordinator before, but he will surely be a guy to keep an eye on in this search.
6. Mike Pettine
The Vikings hired Mike Pettine as an assistant head coach for Kevin O’Connell’s first season. With Donatell leaving, there is a chance that Pettine doesn’t stick around either, but he has 10 years of coordinator/head coaching experience under his belt.
Pettine’s first year as a DC came in 2009 with the New York Jets where his defense ranked first in the NFL in both scoring and total yards. His final year as a DC came in 2020 with Green Bay where his group ranked ninth in scoring and 13th in yards.
7. Anthony Weaver
Especially if Mike Pettine does stick around in Minnesota, Anthony Weaver becomes an intriguing candidate for their defensive coordinator job. Most recently, Weaver has spent the previous two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens as a defensive line coach, and he was the assistant head coach during 2022 under John Harbaugh, but that only happened after he was a finalist for Minnesota’s DC job last year.
As for Weaver’s connection with Pettine, though, the two of them spent time together in Cleveland for 2014 and 2015. In 2014, Cleveland’s defense ranked ninth in the NFL in scoring before the wheels came off in 2015. O’Connell was actually the quarterbacks coach for Cleveland in 2015 as well, giving another connection.
Weaver has just one year of defensive coordinator experience, doing the job for the Houston Texans in 2020, but he also has seven seasons of playing experience prior to becoming a coach.
8. Sean Desai
Like Weaver, Sean Desai was a finalist for the job in Minnesota last season before it was given to Ed Donatell. Then in 2022, Desai was an assistant head coach for Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks.
Prior to that, Desai was the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears in 2021 and was a part of three separate head coaching tenures with the Bears. The continuity in his status with that franchise speaks volumes of his reputation with players, and there’s a reason he was considered for the Vikings job in 2022.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.