“Fourth and eight, game on the line. Cousins, Hockenson... He is not gonna get there! And the Giants will take over!”
And then it began. Vikings fans seemed to be upset about a lot after this play, but one brand of lament rang out above them all.
“Ed Donatell is trash.”
“I want him fired before he leaves the building tonight!”
“I can’t imagine a worse hire. Get him out of here.”
Yes, we were all in agreeance that something had to give after a historically bad season from a defense once known as the “Purple People Eaters”, and that something was unanimously Ed Donatell. Nobody realistically expected him to be fired that night, but within one or two days was a reasonable assumption. By the time Wednesday rolled around, the fanbase began to wonder if Donatell was going to get the axe or not. Then, after four days of speculation, it was announced that Donatell had been fired by Kevin O’Connell.
Vikings fans rejoice! We got our wish, and we now have something to look forward to. As a new coordinator is hired, we’ll talk about their potential and compare and contrast their style to Donatell’s. We’ll get excited and encouraged by the new hire, holding on to the hope that this guy, this one hire, is what we need to get to the Super Bowl. That’s what the Minnesota Vikings always give us: Hope.
But, let’s think about Ed Donatell one last time before he’s lost for eternity, deep within the pages of the Vikings’ Lore Book. He was hired on to O’Connell’s staff with the idea that the team would be switching defensive schemes from a 4-3 front to a 3-4. Back in the age of Mike Zimmer, the defense had always run at 4-3, and had some impressive years doing so. Some of our favorite players and Vikings’ veterans were borne of the Zimmer 4-3. Harrison Smith. Eric Kendricks. Danielle Hunter. All three of these guys seemed to have underperformed this season, with many fans saying that they’ve “lost a step” as they get past the prime of their careers. While this does hold plenty of merit, it’s also worth noting that they’ve all (with the exception of Smith’s first few seasons) spent their entire careers playing in Zimmer’s defense. In fact, anyone who was on the defensive roster prior to last offseason was brought in to play on Mike Zimmer’s team. The Vikings were looking for specific types of defenders, and now these defenders are being asked to play in a scheme that they might not be the best fit for.
Ed Donatell and Kevin O’Connell had a plan in place to change the defensive scheme. If anyone thought this would be seamless, they’d be a fool. Did we think the defense would be the worst in the league and give up 400 yards in what felt like every game? No, nobody saw that coming or wanted that to happen. But, we should’ve expected to see some hiccups along the way as the team transitioned to a scheme that’s vastly different than the one that had been employed since 2014.
Ed Donatell tried. He inherited a defense that hadn’t played up to its pedigree in a couple of years. Then, they decided to change the scheme, using many of those same players. In hindsight, a league-worst defense with those substantial changes isn’t so unreasonable after all. It’s reasonable to think that in another year or so, with more draft classes and free agent acquisitions, paired with the jettisoning of the old regime of defenders, Donatell’s plan could have come to fruition. It’s clear Donatell had the respect of the players and O’Connell. Maybe that’s why it took a few days for the final decision to come down on his future as a Viking.
The Vikings do always give us hope, and they surely will with whomever they decide to hire into the vacancy left by Donatell. But, let’s not forget what happened this season behind all of the ugly statistics. There was and still is a plan in place, and it's going to take some time, frustration, and playoff losses to see that plan all the way through.
This will not be a very attractive job opportunity for a prospective coordinator. Whoever the next guy is has a tall order in front of him. But, in the spirit of a true Vikings’ disciple, we will be there right beside him, praising him in the good times, and cursing him in the bad. But, tread lightly, everyone. Things might get worse before they get better. Thanks for your work this season, Ed, and we appreciate you for falling on the sword as the Vikings charge into a new era of defense. Skol.