The Vikings trotted out three new members of their coaching staff last week to talk to the media, and talk, they did. The biggest name was Gary Kubiak, a former head coach with the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos (where he won the Super Bowl in 2015) who is now the assistant head coach and offensive advisor for the Vikings. He was joined by offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski (who announced a myriad of new coaches for his offense) and new special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf—whose name I will be copying and pasting for a while until I get the spelling down (we will look at him more closely another time).
The upshot of all this for me (at first glance) is that the Vikings went through quite a bit of upheaval in the offensive coaching ranks. They sent John DeFilippo packing (right about the time I got his name’s spelling down) in mid-season last year, installed Stefanski as the interim offensive coordinator with three games to go and then stripped the interim tag from his title a few weeks after the season ended. And then all hell broke loose on the offensive side of the ball.
Kubiak was hired and he brought along his son Klint to coach the quarterbacks, and then Rick Dennison was hired as the offensive line/run game coordinator, Andrew Janocko was retained to be the assistant offensive line coach, Brian Pariani is the new tight ends coach, Drew Petzing is moving over to wide receivers and Christian Jones and AC Patterson will be offensive quality control coaches. Kennedy Polamalu will remain the running backs coach. By my count that is six new names and a total of eight in new positions.
That is a lot of change. And it seems like a lot of change after just hiring a new OC last season that didn’t work out. So, we start again on the offense. And if it seems like a team must take a step back in order to move forward with all these new names, it may not be all bad. Because in the NFL, things change quickly and often and changes to the roster are not far behind. After a very disappointing 2018 season in which the Vikings followed up their decent 2017 season by going 8-7-1 and missing the playoffs, change is just what the fandom ordered.
It has been an interesting offseason thus far for the Purple, certainly considering these coaching changes. The Vikings made Stefanski the OC and followed that up with a hire that could easily be seen as made to subsume some of his responsibilities. Here is how Stefanski responded when asked about how the hire came about—whether there was a need that was pursued or it was that Kubiak became available:
“I don’t specifically remember how that happened,” Stefanski said. “I just know when it was available with Coach Zim, myself, with Rick again, we said, “This is a no-brainer. We have to make this happen.”
Kubiak was a bit more effusive when asked about how he envisions his role:
“You know, it’s funny, I’m sitting up here watching Kevin up here with you guys today, and it’s interesting to me because it reminds me a lot of how I grew up as a coordinator. I was a young guy, Mike [Shanahan] threw me in the room as an offensive coordinator. I was in there with Mike Shanahan and Alex Gibbs, they pounded on me every day and made me a good football coach, taught me how to do things, how to teach, how to handle players, how to handle a group. I watch Kevin work every day, we got a good group in our room. We’ve got some veteran guys that have done this a long time, and we’ve got some very bright young coaches on the way up. Kevin’s a very smart guy, but he’s great with people, so I’ve been very impressed.”
Both coaches insisted that Stefanski will call the plays, but, regardless, this is a unique situation. The elder Kubiak has talked excitedly about getting “back in that foxhole and battle a little bit” rather than just being involved in personnel as he was in Denver, but with both he and Dennison having play calling experience, there will be plenty of voices (hopefully not too many) involved with the play calling. But Gary Kubiak brings something more of valuable to the table that can be tapped before the Vikings even put their team together.
“You know, what I really did, two years ago I worked from home, actually,” Kubiak said of his Broncos personnel duties. “I worked from my farm, evaluated all the college players. Last year I was back in the building, I was in the building full time. I watched practice every day, I evaluated all the college players coming out in this year’s draft, so I’m kind of way ahead from that standpoint. I was involved that way on a daily basis.”
Ultimately, it’s Stefanski’s offense, even though he is being a team player. There will be some awkward moments to smooth out as all the new coaches try to bring their knowledge and experience to the fore. And until proven otherwise, the many voices are a plus, according to the OC.
“I think it’s the Vikings offense,” Stefanski said. “I think Coach Kub and I, again, see the game pretty similarly. I think there is very open and honest dialogue with Coach, Rick Dennison and Klint Kubiak. All of us are in there. And I should mention Coach Zim [head coach Mike Zimmer]. Coach Zim sits in our meetings and gives us a different perspective. I think that is really healthy to have that. I can just tell you, again having been in our room now, the dynamic is outstanding. I am really looking forward to our staff.”
Kubiak comes in with a reputation for putting together good rushing offenses and being bullish on running the ball—something his new boss can appreciate. But the league has become one that favors passing the ball in recent years, and the Viking put a lot of money into their new quarterback. Ultimately, a balanced offense is most productive, and the Vikings new offense will attempt to feature both.
“I think you got to do what you got to do to win,” Kubiak said. “But the head guy here wants to be physical, and he wants to be mentally and physically tough as a football team. I think that’s where winning starts. Personally, every good offense I’ve ever been around runs the ball pretty good. I sat there and watched New England run the heck out of the football this season. I believe in that, I think it gives you a chance to make big plays, so as Kevin said we’re trying to marry everything we’re doing run and pass, so it gives us an opportunity to do that.”
The Vikings will have to move quickly and put in a lot of work to get up to speed with what is surely to be another new offense. They struggled out of the gate with some new wrinkles on defense last season, so the overriding hope is that it doesn’t take the offensive group a long time to find its stride in 2019. It can’t. Jobs are on the line. Things change every season. And the Vikings are still not that far away from being very good . . . or very bad.
So, for now, until we see the new players coming in and see them all on the field, we will approach these plentiful new coaching changes with a good amount of cautious optimism. I mean, what could go wrong?