Defending Their Man

When George O'Leary accepted the head coaching job at Central Florida, many wondered if he could continue to concentrate on being the Vikings' defensive coordinator for the rest of the season. His players have answered that positively … with their play and their words.

Red flags were raised earlier in December when Vikings defensive coordinator George O'Leary accepted the head coaching position at Central Florida.

"I will finish my commitment to the Vikings, which is what you should do," O'Leary said not long after being hired by Central Florida. "There are 24 hours in a day, and I guess I'll be using most of them."

Some, including owner Red McCombs, questioned the timing of the hire and wondered if O'Leary would still be able to stay focused on helping the Vikings reach the playoffs. Just days after O'Leary was hired by Central Florida, McCombs told the Los Angeles Times he was hardly pleased with the situation.

But if the team's performance in December was any indication, O'Leary wasn't distracted.

Earlier this season, the December schedule appeared daunting, considering the caliber of running backs — Shaun Alexander, Anthony Thomas, Priest Holmes — the Vikings would face. None of the three eclipsed 100 yards.

Against Seattle, the Vikings gave up just seven points, held Alexander to 56 yards rushing, held the Seahawks to 218 yards passing, and forced three turnovers.

Against Chicago, the Vikings gave up just 13 points, held Thomas to 79 yards rushing and kept the Bears to just 157 yards passing.

Against Kansas City, the Vikings gave 20 points, but all were garbage points in the second half after they took a 31-0 lead. They held Holmes to 55 yards rushing and Trent Green to 224 yards passing. The Vikings defense made two interceptions and recovered a fumble.

Give credit to Vikings defenders for the improvement from their November slump and they break into songs of praise over their defensive coordinator.

"He's not going to give himself credit, but he's done a fantastic job all year," Pro Bowl safety Corey Chavous said. "Everybody thought that O'Leary got the job at Central Florida, that he was going to move on and not do as much preparation here. All those people thought he was going to forget about his job here."

Cornerback Ken Irvin laughs at the speculation about O'Leary's mind wandering from the job at hand at Winter Park.

"People who say that he was already off to Central Florida and that he didn't care about us — that's a total lie," cornerback Ken Irvin said.

"The reason we're a good football team is because of Coach O'Leary. He prepares; he knows the team in and out. He's a man of true character, and I admire him so much. I have so much respect for him."

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