Eastern Roots Could Be Served

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf appear to be looking at East Coast candidates in their restructuring of the coaching staff and front office, and those decisions could be coming in the next week. So far, two candidates appear to be the early frontrunners, along with a potential front-office move.

With the quick and decisive decision to not bring back Mike Tice as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, owner Zygi Wilf also appears to be moving quickly behind the scenes in the coaching and front-office ranks.

Wilf extended the contract of Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings' vice president of football operations and well-respected salary capologist who has positioned the team to be between $22 and $25 million under the salary cap entering free agency in March. It appears the Vikings are looking into placing a head of player personnel next to Brzezinski, and one of the candidates at the top of the list is Philadelphia's Tom Heckert, the Eagles' vice president of player personnel.

The Eagles have thought highly of Heckert, who has risen quickly through the ranks. The 38-year-old was promoted to VP in 2003 and signed a contract extension through 2009 just over a year ago. However, since head coach Andy Reid has the final say in personnel matters in Philadelphia, if the Vikings would give Heckert the authority to be the final say in those decisions, a move to Minnesota could be considered a promotion.

The Eagles sent five players to the 2005 Pro Bowl, all of them acquired since Heckert's arrival in 2001. Previous to joining the Eagles, Heckert was in the player personnel department of the Miami Dolphins for 10 years, part of that time spent alongside Brzezinski.

Heckert's first go-round with the NFL draft in 2002 produced three Pro Bowl players – cornerback Lito Sheppard, strong safety Michael Lewis and running back Brian Westbrook, along with cornerback Sheldon Brown.

Over his 14-year career in the NFL, Heckert's teams have never had a losing season, won their division seven times and made the playoffs 11 times, including the last four in Philadelphia.

The Vikings also reportedly interviewed their director of college scouting, Scott Studwell, for the promotion to be the overall director of player personnel, which would include college and pro scouting. Studwell has spent 13 years in the Vikings' personnel department after a 14-year career as a standout middle linebacker. He was named the director of college scouting in 2002.

The team may or may not wait to solve their front-office dilemma before making a move to replace Tice, but the frontrunners for the head coaching position appear to be Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress and Washington defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Chidress has spent seven years with the Eagles, four as their offensive coordinator. They have extended his contract twice in an effort to keep him around, but Philadelphia has also taken measures to prepare for the possibility of him becoming a head coach by bringing in Marty Morhinweg.

While the Vikings started the season in a losing battle in the turnover ratio with Daunte Culpepper at quarterback, Chidress' offense in Philadelphia established a franchise record in 2003 for the fewest turnovers in a season – 22. They matched that total in 2004.

In 2004, the Eagles, with Donovan McNabb at the helm, established team records in passer rating (96.4), completion percentage (61.4) and gross yards passing (4,208). In 2002, the Eagles set a team record with 415 points scored despite using three different quarterbacks – McNabb, Koy Detmer and third-stringer A.J. Feeley. After Feeley went 4-1, his stock rose and eventually the Eagles, with the help of Heckert, traded Feeley to Miami, Heckert's old team, for a second-round draft pick.

Chidress also has Midwest connections, having served as offensive coordinator and QB coach at the University of Wisconsin from 1992-98, during which time the Badgers played in five bowl games, including a Rose Bowl victory.

Williams, who is in his second year as the defensive coordinator with the Washington Redskins, was head coach of the Buffalo Bills for three years before joining Joe Gibbs in 2004. He was also the defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Oilers/Titans from 1997-2000.

He has coached top-three defenses at Buffalo and Tennessee.

Regardless of which direction the Vikings go in their search for a new head coach, one that needs to be ironed out is the situation with Tice's assistants. Like Tice, before his firing, the assistants are under contract until Jan. 31, and the Vikings might opt to keep them under contract until a new head coach has had an opportunity to review Tice's former assistants. However, those assistants will also be looking to network for future employment at the Senior Bowl in three weeks if they are unable to stick with the Vikings.

Without a doubt, the next week will continue to produce speculation and decisions.

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