The traditional ‘black monday’ following the final regular season game has yielded a number of pink slips for head coaches around the NFL, and the casualties have been particularly hard on the Vikings’ NFC North rivals- all of which have experienced significant firings.
Let’s take a look.
The Bears fired head coach John Fox, after failing to turn the team around in his three-year tenure in Chicago- finishing last in the division each of those three seasons. A former defensive coordinator, Fox made some strides improving the Bears defense, but struggled to do much offensively. And with the Bears offensive future riding on Mitch Trubisky, presumably the Bears will look for an offensive head coach who can develop their young QB. The Bears have requested to interview Vikings OC Pat Shurmur, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, and Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo- confirming a strong preference for a head coach who can develop a young QB. Shurmur and McDaniels would have to be interviewed this week, otherwise they would have to wait until the post-season ends for the Vikings and Patriots according to league rules.
With Fox’s firing, the rest of the Bears’ coaching staff will be in limbo as well. Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio is rumored to be a possible candidate in Green Bay - see below - but may get an interview for the Bears head coaching job as well.
It will be interesting to see who ultimately gets the head coaching job in Chicago, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an overhaul in the Bears’ offensive scheme next year, along with significant turnover in the rest of the Bears’ coaching staff.
It’s interesting that the Bears chose to extend GM Ryan Pace, who’s made a number of questionable moves, including the signing of QB Mike Glennon for $14m/year, along with the expensive draft trade to get Trubisky, and the rest of his 2016 draft, which was a head scratcher for many experts at the time.
The Lions also fired their head coach Jim Caldwell who, believe it or not, was the winnest coach for the Lions in the Super Bowl era, compiling a 36-28 record over four seasons. But expectations for the Lions are higher, apparently.
According to this article in the Washington Post on the shake-up in the NFC North, Lions GM Bob Quinn, who once worked in the Patriots front office, wants someone from the Patriots as head coach. This could be either Josh McDaniels again, or Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, among others.
I suspect Patricia could be a leading candidate, as Jim Bob Cooter has done a good job overhauling the Lions’ offense as OC, and would likely be retained in that role. However, the Lions have requested to interview Pat Shurmur, who will interview with both the Lions and Cardinals on Thursday. Over at Pride of Detroit, they have a coaching tracker with 6 candidates on the list so far.
But I suspect that while the Lions have improved under Jim Caldwell, they are still looking for a head coach to establish a winning attitude and culture across the organization, which has been a weakness for the Lions going back to at least Wayne Fontes, if not farther.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The loss of Aaron Rodgers this season put a spotlight on the weakness of the Packers team without him on the field, and resulted in the Packers being out of the playoffs for the first time since 2008. That has led to a shake-up in the Packers organization, starting with the firing of defensive coordinator Dom Capers, and continuing with the ‘reassignment’ of general manager Ted Thompson. It’s unclear if any further changes will be made, although it looks for the moment that head coach Mike McCarthy will keep his job. He is under contract for one more year.
The Packers have a reputation for continuity, so the dismissals of two long-tenured guys in the organization-particularly Thompson- raised some eyebrows. Capers had been embattled for at least a few years, so his firing was not unexpected. But Thompson’s reassignment may be a reflection of his last several drafts, which have been underwhelming, and perhaps some dissatisfaction with his lack of activity in free-agency.
In some ways the failures of Thompson and Capers in recent years are related. Thompson had a number of misfires on defensive draft picks in recent years, which didn’t make Capers’ job any easier. Thompson also let Micah Hyde go in free-agency, who made the Pro Bowl this year with Buffalo.
One of the candidates mentioned as a possible successor to Dom Capers is Bears DC Vic Fangio, although there could likely be other candidates. As for GM, internal candidate Eliot Wolf, son of former Packers’ GM Ron Wolf, is a leading candidate and I would not be surprised if he took over for Thompson.
In any case, the new defensive coordinator and general manager for the Packers will have their jobs cut out for them. The Packers rank near the bottom of the league in defense, and one of their long-time leaders on defense- Clay Matthews- looks to be trailing off in his career and doesn’t appear to be earning his salary cap anymore.
That makes for a tough decision for the new Packers GM- not only deciding how to proceed with Matthews, but also negotiating a new contract for the Packers’ franchise player- Aaron Rodgers. Anything less than $30m/year for Rodgers would be considered a bargain, given recent contracts with lesser QBs in Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr.
The Packers just extended Davonte Adams in a lucrative 4-year deal valued at $14m/year, presumably securing his services as the heir-apparent to Jordy Nelson, who may retire after next season - when his current contract ends.
There are also rumors, all unconfirmed, that Aaron Rodgers may like to have a change of scenery. There isn’t much he can do about it- if it were true- as he’s under contract for two more years in Green Bay, and they could franchise-tag him after that, which would keep him in Green Bay until he’s 37, at a minimum.
In any case, the Packers are entering a period of transition, confirmed by the dismissals of long-time DC and GM Capers and Thompson, and may possibly include head coach Mike McCarthy at some point, who’s entering the last year of his contract. UPDATE: It was revealed today that McCarthy was given a one-year extension on his contract at some point during the season, which now includes the 2019 season. Whether or not that was before Rodgers went down is a good question.
Whoever the new Packers’ GM is will likely determine McCarthy’s future. At the moment the Packers may want McCarthy for continuity as they make key changes elsewhere. But clearly McCarthy’s head coaching seat has gotten hotter, and it’s not out of the question that he is let go or not extended when his contract expires after next season. Time will tell.
Next Season will be Different
Bottom line, the Vikings will likely see some significantly different looks/schemes/play-calling next season as all three division rivals enter a transition phase. Just how different remains to be seen, but all three teams have the potential to be better next year with coaching changes and injured players returning to the field.
Which of the Vikings’ NFC North Rivals will be the most improved next season?
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