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Vikings Off-Season Evaluation: Special Teams Coach

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Priefer has been special teams coach for the Vikings since 2011. In all those years, he has coached fundamentally sound special teams units. He’s been instrumental in drafting kickers twice - Blair Walsh and Daniel Carlson - and has had to scramble later to replace them. He’s had Marcus Sherels as punt returner nearly his whole tenure, and Cordarrelle Patterson among others as kick returner. He’s gone through a few punters as well - including 5th round draft bust Jeff Locke, Chris Kluwe, Ryan Quigley, and now has Matt Wile.

He’s coached the Vikings special teams to be one of the top units in the league in multiple years. He’s done that in more conservative fashion - not allowing many big returns - rather than being more aggressive in generating big returns, blocked kicks/punts, and trick plays.

And so he’s been a solid special teams coach.

Except he tends to somehow have kickers who lack and/or lose confidence. Blair Walsh was a good kicker his rookie year - went to the pro bowl. But over time he lost confidence/ got the yipes / or whatever happens to kickers when they miss kicks they make over and over in practice.

Daniel Carlson was a promising big-leg kicker who got off to a horrible start with the Vikings and Mike Zimmer pulled the plug on him only a few weeks after giving him the job. Carlson was picked up by the Raiders and missed only one kick the rest of the season. Even veteran Dan Bailey- 2nd most accurate kicker in NFL history when the Vikings acquired him to replace Carlson- struggled early on before settling down.

And so this is a problem.

Priefer is a hands-on coach whose military background is on full display when he runs practice - barking out orders to his troops. He is very meticulous and organized and often refreshingly candid in weekly press conferences. He’s a good coach and has coached many of his special teamers into top performers over the years.

But the kicker thing is troubling. He seems to be the only connection between the bad kickers the Vikings have had. But this may be over-thinking things too.

Zimmer may have been too quick with his trigger finger for a rookie with only a handful of kicks in two games. Dan Bailey being available may have influenced his decision, but in any case it’s not clear how much Priefer is to blame for the kicker fiascos.

Time to Move On?

It's tempting to say let’s move on from Priefer after the kicker issues over the years. But Priefer remains a solid special teams coach in all phases. And after some fiascos, he now seems to have a solid veteran kicker in Dan Bailey who hasn’t missed a kick in five games and a punter in Matt Wile who has proven to be a nice pick-up.

I suspect the Vikings will keep both Bailey and Wile next season, so I’m not sure what immediate value the Vikings would gain by replacing Priefer, and they may lose some of his proficiency in coaching the return and coverage units to generally very good results for several years.

No, keep Priefer. If Bailey blows up next season, then it may be time to move on. But for now, Priefer is too good a coach to let go for the kicker problems of the past - which hopefully are solved for the time being.


Should the Vikings move on from Mike Priefer?

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