Timing says coaching search coming to head

NFL rules limit when the Vikings can talk to coaching candidates involved in the playoffs, but the search is winding down. We chronicle the relevant dates and how it has affected the Vikings' search for their next head coach.

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman promised not to rush the process of finding the team's next head coach. So far, the team has interviewed at least five candidates and has expressed an interest in several more (any interview with college candidates hasn't been made public). But the initial interview portion may not be complete until the conclusion of this weekend.

NFL rules set forth the guidelines on when assistant coaches currently under contract with a playoff team can be interviewed. The idea is to minimize the distractions of an assistant coach interviewing while his team is in the playoffs, but also giving teams conducting a coaching search an opportunity to talk to them at some point within the first two weeks of the playoffs.

On Dec. 30, Spielman said he hoped to have interviews lined up over the next three to four days and ideally wanted the search concluded by the Senior Bowl. That college all-star game is on Jan. 25, but the week preceding it is important for scouting players, and oftentimes candidates for assistant coaching positions are interviewed during that week. Having a head coach and schemes in place by then will be important when deciding on assistant coaches and evaluating draft talent during that week.

While the Vikings are allowed to talk to any NFL assistant coach whose season has ended, there are restrictions placed on coaches involved in the playoffs.

Coaches whose teams had byes in the first round of the playoffs were allowed to interview for jobs through Jan. 5, which is why the Vikings started by interviewing Seattle defensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn last weekend. It's also why they reached out to Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase at that time (he turned down all opportunities to interview for a head coaching position until the Broncos are done with the playoffs).

Losers of the wild card playoff games could start interviewing after that loss, which is why Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was quickly hired by the Washington Redskins and why the Vikings and Tennessee Titans interviewed Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer this past week.

Divisional playoff games are this weekend, and assistant coaches who are under contract to playoff teams that won their wild card games can be interviewed through Sunday.

That's why the Vikings are reportedly interested in interviewing San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman this weekend, according to NFL.com, and why San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has also been a hot commodity this week. If those teams continue to win, their assistant coaches and coordinators wouldn't be available to interview for a second time the week of Jan. 20, which is also the start of Senior Bowl week.

Timing is everything in these interviews. With the Vikings reportedly hoping to have the search narrowed to two or three top candidates by early next week to have them meet more extensively with Vikings ownership, there could be a couple more candidates available for initial interviews after Sunday.

That's when the San Francisco 49ers (with Roman) play the Carolina Panthers, and when the Chargers (with Whisenhunt) play the Denver Broncos (with Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio).

The rules may be somewhat constricting with playoff clubs, but the search and interview process is winding down and having a new head coach named by Jan. 19 seems very likely.

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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