While the Vikings lost out on their top candidate for the general manager-like position they are seeking to fill, the franchise is pressing forward in its efforts to sign one of the top head coaching candidates.
The Philadelphia Eagles promoted Tom Heckert to general manager, taking him out of the running for the Vikings' vacancy, but the team has interviews scheduled today with two head coaching candidates – Ted Cottrell, their defensive coordinator, and Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress.
Before Heckert received his promotion with the Eagles, Wilf indicated that the Vikings' new personnel director would likely have the final say on the new head coach. However, the Vikings need to move quickly and decisively if they want to beat out some of the other NFL teams who are also in the market for a new head coach.
"The timetable is: As quickly as possible. … We hope by the end of the month," Wilf said.
"From what's happening around the NFL, it's become a very competitive field in the pursuit of coaches and we want to be sure that the person out there that we want, we get. That's the reason why we're trying to act as quickly as we can."
The end of the month could be weeks too late because several other teams – the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints – are all looking for new head coaches as well.
Wilf said he would have no comment on specific candidates for the head coaching or personnel position. "I won't comment on individual candidates, but we are considering individuals within our organization and individual outside our organization," he said.
However, some of the Vikings who in the past played for some of the leading candidates talked about their experiences with them and impressions of them.
Even without Heckert as the Vikings' new personnel director, the leading candidates for the next head coach might be Childress, who has spent seven years with the Eagles, four as their offensive coordinator. The Eagles 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 elsewhere by bringing in Marty Morhinweg.
Childress 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. Vikings running back Michael Bennett, who played under Childress his freshman season, thinks highly of the coach.
"Brad's a good guy. He knows offense and knows defense," Bennett said. "If he's one of the candidates, then I think he's a great fit. He's a great family guy. You hate to say he's this kind of this or that mold, but a mold like a Tony Dungy – just a great all-around guy. Players really have a lot of respect for him."
Bennett also has more current connections playing under Chidress right now, as the running back said he talks with former Wisconsin fullback Cecil Martin, along with other Eagles like QB Donovan McNabb and RB Brian Westbrook, who Bennett called a good friend.
If the Vikings are looking for a disciplinarian, Gregg Williams is getting that tag by current Vikings who played under him in Buffalo.
"(Williams) is a great coach. I played under him in Buffalo – he's that disciplinarian," Winfield said. "He comes in here and enforces the rules. He's going to break you down. I don't care how many Pro Bowls you've been to, you're going to listen to him and play the way he wants you to play."
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.
"I don't think he really had a fair shot. When he came in there, we really didn't have the talent," Winfield said. "I think the second year he was there, we played a lot better. He brought in some players – Takeo Spikes, Lawyer Milloy came in. … You can't really say we're going to rebuild, but when a new coach comes in we're going to have to learn his schemes."
He has coached top-two defenses at Buffalo and Tennessee.
"When I had Gregg Williams in Buffalo, he was a different type of guy from what I was used to. He was the opposite of Wade Phillips," linebacker Keith Newman said. "He's a very competitive coach, a very discipline-oriented coach, a very intelligent coach. If he was the guy that came in here, I think he's a guy that could keep this program going toward the top. I think with him being so competitive and being a so-called failure in Buffalo, I just think he was put in a bad situation."
In the middle of Williams' tenure with the Bills, they had the No. 2 defense in the league in 2000, but Newman and Winfield both said that defense was torn apart.
Cottrell is also a candidate and has the respect of the players he coached.
"Cottrell really deserves to be considered as a head coach," said Winfield, who said he came to the Vikings because of Cottrell, not Tice.
Newman said Cottrell might be a popular choice with some of the members of the defense, but did say that there are a lot of good candidates out there.
"He's probably long overdue for a job," Newman said. "He's done an excellent job with this defense, getting us back on track with five new starters."
Winfield said he wasn't sure if Cottrell could be happy as a defensive coordinator with the Vikings again because he wants to be a head coach. At the very least, the Vikings will interview Cottrell because, per NFL guidelines, they are required to interview at least one minority when trying to fill a head coaching vacancy.
However, Cottrell might also be asked to interview in one of the half-dozen other cities that are also searching for replacements and is likely to jump on the first opportunity that might present itself.
Jim Fassel is another coach that gets mentioned often because of the Wilfses' history as lifelong New York Giants fans. Fassel coached the Giants to the Super Bowl following the 2000 season, when the Giants beat the Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship game.
One of his players at the time was tackle Mike Rosenthal.
"(Fassel) is a good coach. He led us to the Super Bowl that year. He's an offensive coach and he likes to throw the ball," Rosenthal said. "I don't characterize one guy as a disciplinarian and one guy not, because to get to this level you've got to be a disciplinarian and you've got to prepare the right way."
Winfield said the timing of the decision doesn't matter to players. They were packing their garbage bags with shoes and locker garb before heading out the Winter Park doors for a few weeks, preparing for some R&R.
However, Winfield said the talent on the team is ready to make a run for the playoffs.
"I think this is a place where we should win next year," Winfield said.
And is publicly committed to doing his part to make that happen.
"I think everyone here who has gotten to know me knows that my goal is to get a championship here," he said. "I will do whatever it takes within the guidelines. Money will not be an object to get myself a championship."
Players Give Insight on Coaching Candidates
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