Lurtsema's Reaction: Coordinator Talk

With the Vikings still having a vacant coaching position at defensive coordinator, former defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema talks about the pros and cons of hiring from within or going outside the organization and the possibility of changing schemes again, along with some insight on a couple of candidates.

VU: With Mike Tomlin gone, do you think they should look for a coordinator inside the organization or outside? Do they have guys qualified right now?

Unfortunately, that's a tougher question to answer than it normally would be because of the restrictions as far as talking to assistants. Even the alumni are somewhat limited because of Brad Childress's policies. I know that players love playing for Karl Dunbar, the defensive line coach. I got lucky enough to have enough contact with him to know that he definitely would be respected by the players. I want to emphasize respect because some of those players have no respect for some of the coaches with the Vikings now. So that has to be addressed almost more than the qualifications.

Sixty percent of the game is coaching, and nobody believes that except the players. When you have a coach that doesn't have the respect of the players and the players know he doesn't totally understand the game and doesn't listen to the little bit of input that players do put into a particular scheme, then you just have a little too much chaos going on. I don't think, with the problems they have over there and the way it's being run, I don't think it really matters if you stay inside the organization or bring somebody else in.

But you have to bring in somebody like Tomlin, who has stated many, many times: Simplify the defense and let the players use their instincts. He simplified all the schemes last year. I had a great talk with him on that and he said you can't make them think too much. Football players are not dumb – that's not what I'm saying. But part of it is that you can't ever reduce their God-given talent. You might tweak it a little bit, but don't overcoach them, especially on defense.

VU: One of the guys that might be considered is this Kevin Cosgrove, the defensive coordinator for Nebraska. What about bringing in a guy from the college ranks into the pros. How closely do those schemes translate?

My son played for him at Wisconsin and (Cosgrove) coached with Childress there. But it's night and day. When you make the transition, the techniques change – how they work their stances. In college, they're just out of high school so you can teach them your way. So you can be more of a dictator-type coach in college. When you get to the pros, you've got to step back. Hypothetically on the defensive line, you've got four different players that were taught in college four different techniques, but they were all very successful with those different techniques in college. Now, you cannot attempt to change them because then you're going backwards. You've thrown away four years of college and you've thrown away everything that they've done so well to put themselves in the NFL. It's very delicate, and I think any coach that comes into this situation from college, it's a huge jump.

VU: You mentioned Dunbar, and now let's look at Fred Pagac, the linebackers coach. How much of a difference does it make to have a guy who is coaching linebackers or the secondary and is comfortable with coverage schemes vs. Dunbar, who hasn't spent much time with linebackers or secondary?

That's a great question. From the standpoint of just myself playing defensive line, I really didn't get overly concerned about what my defensive backs did. On a certain blitz, I know where they're coming from. Basically, I worked with the front seven, and it would be a lot easier to be a coordinator after having worked with a defensive scheme as a defensive backs coach than to be a defensive line coach and then become a coordinator. That's only from my perspective, and people reading this might think I was aloof. But that's strictly my opinion, it's only from the standpoint of how I played.

VU: Off the top of your head, can you think of a lot of coordinators who were line coaches first? It seems more prevalent on offense than it does on defense.

A defensive coordinator will scheme more, where a defensive line coach, all you want to do is kick ass. Like John Teerlinck with the Colts. That's my boy, big John. Get to the quarterback at all costs and let the run go and all that – but they have made some adjustments over there. John Teerlinck is the perfect example – he just likes the linemen hellbent for election, whereas the defensive coordinator has got to put that wild, aggressive defensive line into a scheme with the other seven players so they can cover for some of the mistakes you'll make as a lineman.

VU: Do you think they need to find a guy who can keep on with the Tampa-2 base defense the Vikings were running or do you think it wouldn't make a difference if they scrapped what Tomlin started and they start over again for umpteenth time in how many years?

If you start over again with the schemes, there you are taking another step back and it's like I wrote in the last article (for the magazine) – if you are going to build through the draft, then what you're saying is you're in a two- or three-year rebuilding program. I just personally don't think they are at this time. A coach has got to coach the players and not just bring in his system. If he just brings in his system, you're going to rebuild. If he's going to bring a new system in, you've got a two- or three-year window again. If he comes in and he's brilliant in scheming, and more importantly knowing each athlete and scheming around him, then you've got something going. That's what Tomlin did so well. He knew his personnel and how to work them, and that's why he was so successful. I think what hurt Tomlin a little bit is he didn't really have a down-to-earth legitimate pass rusher. I think if you would have thrown him in, you would have seen the defense in the top three.

VU: A lot of people would say that last year's defense was base Tampa-2 but really got away from that with running so many blitzes. Is that sort of what you are talking about with Tomlin adjusting to the personnel?

Right, because he put the right players playing into their strengths. He did not coach them into their weakness. On some plays, he just let them go. With the Tampa-2, you need the speed, but he came in there and took Napoleon Harris and got him back to his strength and kind of let him freelance. All the people said, ‘Wow, Napoleon is playing better.' Yeah, they're letting him do his thing. The last year before that was wasted when they took away his strength when he went from a decent linebacker to very, very average to below average.

Bob Lurtsema was a 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

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