Vikings have rare consistency in coaching

Players always come and go, and coaching staffs also tend to change from year to year. But in 2009, the Vikings will have the same staff of position coaches they had last year, a rare occurrence in the NFL these days.

In the world of the NFL, continuity and consistency are always stated as being positive objectives. While fans may love to have their favorite team playing in prime time, the daily routine of practices is often adversely affected when the team has to go on the road for a Monday night game or play on Thanksgiving Day when it isn't part of the ordinary routine.

That consistency is never true when it comes to a roster of players. Since the draft came into the NFL in 1936, there has never been a time when a team's roster has been identical from one year to the next. The advent of free agency has made that disparity even more pronounced. Teams change from year to year. Players come and players go. It's part of the game.

But what about the coaching staff?

Just as some players spent their entire careers with the same team before the advent of full free agency, the same was true for coaches. If a franchise invested in a head coach and a crop of assistants, they tended to stay longer with the same organization. That is no longer the case.

In an NFL that sees teams like Miami and Atlanta go from being dregs one year to playoff teams the next, the difference between being a doormat and a playoff team has changed dramatically. Just as players can go from being Pro Bowlers to unemployed in the span of just a year or two, so too have coaches. This year alone, 11 NFL teams – more than one-third of the league's teams – have changed head coaches from the start of the 2008 season. Being a head coach in the NFL has become tantamount to being a dynamite handler. The margin for error is razor thin.

The Vikings find themselves in some truly rarified air heading into the 2009 season. They are one of just four teams that have no changes in position coaches from those that were on board last year. Each team has a bevy of coaches – ranging from head coach to coordinators to position coaches. The same continuity that franchises expect from their players also bleeds into the coaching staff. Alex Smith, the former first overall draft pick and quarterback of the 49ers, has gone through a different offensive coordinator each year of his NFL career. Is it any wonder that he has been a bust? Every year of his NFL career, he has had to learn a different coaching system, philosophy and terminology. It would seem that consistency is as much as a part of success in the NFL as God-given talent.

Whenever a team has success, others try to copy it. That can manifest itself by imitation – as in the Wildcat Offense – or in assimilation – hiring the coordinators away from a Super Bowl champion. Whenever another team sees something it likes in an opponent, it wants to try to replicate that success itself. That is why the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin away from the Vikings and the same reason why Leslie Frazier has been a hot head coaching prospect the last two years.

Maintaining coaching continuity is a rarity in the NFL. That is why the fact that the Vikings are one of just four team in the NFL – a scant 12.5 percent – that have no changes to their positional coaching staff from 2008 to 2009 so unique.

The Vikings' special teams coordinator in 2009, Brian Murphy, has been elevated from assistant to coordinator after Paul Ferraro left. The team also added other assistants to its roster of coaches. But when it comes to the lead coach at a position on offense or defense, the names and faces remain the same.

It begs the question: Who are the other three teams that remain unchanged in position coaches? In their own way, all three make sense. One is the Steelers, the defending Super Bowl champions. As a relatively new coaching staff, nobody raided that staff to find a new head coach or coordinator. The second is the Atlanta Falcons, who emerged from a heinous 4-12 season to become a playoff team against all odds. The third perhaps makes the most sense – the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have been hideous for a while and there isn't a team that looks to energize its players or fans by bragging that they scooped the rest of the league to get the running backs coach from Cincinnati to be their team's new offensive coordinator.

In a league built on duplication and replication, one of the worst things you can be is successful if retaining a coaching staff is a lead priority. Struggling franchises routinely cherry-pick the assistant coaches of successful teams in hopes of recapturing that magic with their own franchise. The Vikings should consider themselves fortunate that, when training camp opens at the end of July, the same coaches that were there in 2008 are still there. They are one of just four teams that can say that, which in this era is rare indeed.


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