In the NFL, coaches come and go at breakneck speed, but if Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin is hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers, it could break the Vikings' backs.
Tomlin is highly regarded by his players, and it took only one minicamp session in front of reporters to realize that Tomlin's age (34) would quickly be forgotten and his unbridled enthusiasm for the game was earning points with his players before he ever made a defensive call in a game. As it turned out, Tomlin was one of the very few bright spots for players throughout a frustrating 2006 season.
But if Tomlin does get named the head coach of the Steelers, current Vikings coach Brad Childress might have his most important decision in front of him. Ironically, it appears that Childress' best coaching decisions in 2006 were made on the defensive side of the ball when he hired Tomlin and put qualified assistants under him.
Two of those assistants – linebackers coach Fred Pagac and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar – are likely candidates to emerge for the coordinator position if Tomlin leaves Minnesota.
Given his experience as a coordinator in the past and his knowledge of coverage schemes, Pagac is probably the in-house leader.
Pagac took a linebacker unit that most outsiders were questioning and turned it into a reliable group despite the season-ending injury to first-round draft choice Chad Greenway before the season began. The trio of Ben Leber (strong side), Napoleon Harris (middle) and E.J. Henderson (weak side) were instrumental in helping the Vikings become the league's No. 1 defense against the rush and No. 8 overall.
Pagac coached linebackers for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004 and 2005 and the Oakland Raiders the previous three years, an assignment that led to him to coach Harris outside of the Vikings. In 2005, the Chiefs defense finished seventh against the rush with Pagac as its linebackers coach. With Pagac in Oakland in 2002, the Raiders sported the league's 11th-ranked defensive overall and third against the run as the Silver and Black advanced to the Super Bowl.
Before his years in the AFC West, Pagac spent 23 seasons coaching at Ohio State, including being the Buckeyes' defensive coordinator from 1996-99. In 1998, the Buckeyes led the nation in rush defense; in 1997, they were second in scoring defense and second against the pass; in 1996, they were tops in pass defense and second in scoring defense.
The Pagac pedigree appears ready for the next step at the professional level.
But Dunbar might also be a candidate if Tomlin leaves.
Dunbar is a highly respected defensive line coach, bringing attention to detail in technique. He worked his way up the coaching ladder after a five-year journeyman career as a defensive lineman with the Steelers, Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints from 1990 and 1992-1995. After his playing career, he coached two years of high school, then advanced to Nichols State, Louisiana State and Oklahoma State before joining the Bears in 2004. He spent 2005 back at LSU before the Vikings hired him away.
During his two years at Oklahoma State, Dunbar was responsible for developing Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams. With the Bears, Dunbar tutored then-rookie defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson.
While Dunbar is a qualified and well respected defensive line coach, it would appear Pagac's experience as a college coordinator and his extended time in coaching would put him as the leading in-house candidate to success Tomlin – if that's necessary.
Vikings Would Have In-House Candidates
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