Sunday slant: Rumors starting, players react

The rumors of NFL coaching churn have already started and one name familiar to a couple players has surfaced as a possibility for the Vikings. If offensive-minded coaches are what fans want to see, we have four frontrunners to consider, two of them with solid Minnesota connections.

Leslie Frazier never seemed as depressed as he was for as long as he was last week.

He couldn't have been happy with how the Vikings performed against the Cincinnati Bengals in a blowout loss in what very well might have been Frazier's last desperate case to maintain his status as Vikings coach into the 2014 season, the last year of his contract. Matt Cassel displayed the up and down historical nature of his game – after a terrific performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 48-30 win, he threw three interceptions after losing a fumble in the first drive of a 42-14 loss.

In fairness, Cassel was trying to overcome another rickety showing from the defense, which allowed 429 yards, 8 of 14 third downs to be converted, and 42 points. That just added to the tabulations that make the Vikings last in points per game, 31st in total yards per game and 31st in third-down efficiency.

Last week, with perhaps the slimmest of chances to save the job of a defensive-minded coach, the defense fell apart again, and with Adrian Peterson limited and Cassel underperforming the Vikings fell to 4-10-1.

There was reason for Frazier, one of the most positive-minded coaches, to have a glum attitude throughout the week. He told players to focus on the regular-season finale and not his job status, but it was hard to ignore the signs. Frazier's demeanor throughout the week stood out, but it was met with a strange feeling within the building, according to Vikings employees, and what seemed to be resignation among the players that their head coach for the final game of the regular would not be the same one they would see when April's offseason conditioning workouts commence.

The names of potential candidates have already surfaced, and none more often or prominent than Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, who restructured the buyout in his contract to make it more appealing for NFL teams to come courting. The Houston Texans and Vikings reportedly already have, with the Texans have reportedly already lining up an interview with O'Brien.

Vikings rookie linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges won't be kept in the loop about the possibilities of their former college coach becoming their next pro coach, but they can speak to his credentials.

"He was one of my favorite coaches I've ever had. Just the respect he had for the players and how honest he was with us and his intelligence, Xs and Os-wise, he is one of the best out there," Mauti said.

Mauti and Hodges had O'Brien for their senior seasons at Penn State, when O'Brien was in his first season with the Nittany Lions. He signed a five-contract with them to get that football program back on its feet after the Jerry Sandusky carnage and went 7-5 this year.

"He was a great coach. He did everything how a coach would do and he did what he needed to do," Hodges said.

Before taking the job at Penn State, O'Brien spent five years with the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick. He started as an assistant, then moved to a position coach, working first with wide receivers and then quarterbacks before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2011.

"He was with the Patriots and he has experience under Belichick. I think it's just putting guys in position to make plays. Putting guys in different role positions," Mauti said. "Everybody's got a job, and (placing) guys in different spots. I think that's what he's most proficient at."

So does coaching under Belichick mean O'Brien is hard-nosed or detailed-oriented?

"I think he's a mixture of both of those. When he's one of your guys, he's great to get along with. He's fun on the football field. Also, when it's time to work and be business, he's very serious about that," Mauti said.

"He was probably one of the most important figures keeping that whole thing together. He was probably our biggest support throughout that whole ordeal. I look at him as a great friend now."

O'Brien's playing career came at defensive end and linebacker for Brown, but he spent all but one year of his coaching career, spanning back to 1993, coaching on the offensive side of the ball.

If the Vikings are, indeed, in the market for a new head coach for 2014, most figure the release of Frazier will happen quickly and the replacement will be offensive-minded with scoring at an all-time high in the NFL and teams feeling the need to keep up.

If it's not Frazier or O'Brien in 2014, there are several other hot coaching prospects to at least consider.

KEVIN SUMLIN – The Texas A&M coach would be an interesting consideration for several reasons. He has ties to Minnesota already, serving as the University of Minnesota's wide receivers coach from 1993-96 and quarterbacks coach in 1997. After that, he took position coach or coordinator positions at Purdue, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Houston before becoming the head coach at A&M in 2012. Between four years at Houston and two with the Aggies, he has compiled a 54-23 record. And then there are a couple of interesting player connections. He was an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma for Adrian Peterson's final season there and has Johnny Manziel as his quarterback now … and maybe would again if he went to an NFL team in need of a first-round quarterback (if you know any of those, let us know). Sumlin has a $5 million buyout clause and O'Brien is at $6.5 million.

GREG ROMAN – Roman is in his third season as the 49ers offensive coordinator. While he has taken some heat of late with the offense ranked 24th in the league, they do have the third-ranked rushing offense. If that is still important with Vikings brass and Peterson still in place, Roman could be a consideration. The 49ers were hot early in the season, scoring 31 points or more in five straight games before coming back to earth. However, they have scored 33 and 34 points in their last two games, and their regular-season finale against Arizona's top-ranked run defense could be further fuel for either Roman's potential suitors or his detractors.

JAMES FRANKLIN – It may be hard to win consistently at Vanderbilt, but Franklin has done that. In three seasons as the Commodores head coach, Franklin is 23-15, including 9-7 the last two seasons in the always-tough Southeastern Conference. The former quarterback at East Stroudsburg has been coaching on the offensive side of the ball since 1995, except for one year coaching the defensive backs at East Stroudsburg in 1996. His only year in the NFL, 2005, was spent coaching wide receivers for the Green Bay Packers.

There are other names that likely will enter the coaching rumor mill, either associated with the Vikings or other teams that will be officially in the hunt in the coming 48 hours.

For now, there is one last game to take in, especially with the memories of the Metrodome. Then, of course, the pageantry of the regular-season finale turns to the NFL churn of coaches and that oft-used "Black Monday" phrase.

"I don't pay that any mind," Hodges wisely said of the coaching speculation. "There's always rumors, rumors, rumors, so I kind of just stay out of that type of thing."

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that will be an available option for the Vikings in the next several days.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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