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Monday, December 30, 2013
Vikings go all in with Rick Spielman

By Kevin Seifert

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- At 3 p.m. ET on Monday, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf stepped to a podium and announced that coach Leslie Frazier won't return for the 2014 season. Simultaneously, a former Vikings player logged into Twitter. Here's what retired place-kicker Ryan Longwell tweeted:

So sorry to see Leslie Frazier go. Great coach, even better man of integrity. Too bad they fired the wrong guy up there.

— Ryan Longwell (@4thandLongwell) December 30, 2013
 
Longwell's account soon was trending in Minneapolis, a sign that the Vikings' fan base blames more than Frazier for this year's 5-10-1 record.

I don't want to put words in Longwell's mouth, but it was reasonable to interpret his tweet as a shot at general manager Rick Spielman. And so on this day, the story is less the departure of Frazier -- a gentleman whose 21-32-1 record was undeniably substandard -- and more about the plan to entrust Spielman with the rebuild.

Make no mistake: Wilf is all in on Spielman, who will choose the Vikings' next coach and quarterback during the next few months. Both are franchise-changing decisions that will set a course for at least the next three years, and it's only fair to ask if Spielman is up to it. He is a respected and experienced personnel evaluator, but he has never hired a coach and his history with quarterbacks is mixed at best.

Zygi Wilf didn't take questions from reporters, and his brother and co-owner, Mark Wilf, declined to discuss Spielman's qualifications in detail. "He's our general manager," Mark Wilf said. "We've entrusted him to be leading this process for our club."

Minnesota's Rick Spielman
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will be entrusted with finding the team's next coach and quarterback.
Longwell's beef with Spielman wouldn't be unlike many players who are released, as Longwell was in the spring of 2012. An objective view of Spielman's tenure is difficult considering that he spent his first five years with the team as vice president of player personnel before gaining full authority as general manager for the next two. He acquired all but three players on the Vikings' current roster, one that is talented in some spots (receiver, running back, offensive line), thin at others (quarterback, linebacker, cornerback) and ultimately produced one Pro Bowl player (Adrian Peterson) this season.

In truth, the Wilfs encountered the touchy consequence of hiring a general manager with a coach already in place. The Wilfs by all accounts have full faith in Spielman, but even if they had doubts, firing him after two seasons -- without giving him his own coach to work with -- would have been an exceptionally quick trigger.

Based on that timing, if not intent, Spielman is more entrenched than ever at the Vikings' Winter Park facility. This itself is progress for the Vikings, whose past three head coaches -- Frazier, Brad Childress and Mike Tice -- were all hired without the consultation of football people. Spielman will be "leading the charge," he said, on what he predicted would be a comprehensive coaching search that could cull candidates from as many as 13 categories of backgrounds.

Yes, Spielman said he conducted a study that traced all possible origins of head coaching hires -- former coordinators, former college coaches, retread NFL coaches, etc. -- and concluded that he would not be boxed in to a specific coaching profile.

"It's a situation where if [the right] head coach comes in, I feel it could be a very quick turnaround," he said.

Spielman's 13 coaching categories reflects an obsessive and meticulous approach to research and fact-gathering. His system for stacking draft options, for instance, runs further beyond the decimal point than I can count; a 2.6547 player is better than a 2.6546. And that's why I wouldn't be surprised to see him run a process similar to that of Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery, who interviewed more than 15 candidates in January 2012 and made the most out-of-the-box hire of the offseason in Marc Trestman.

There is a fine line between information gathering and overthinking, of course, and Spielman must avoid the latter when looking for the Vikings' next quarterback. He is largely responsible for the mess that consumed the 2013 season, most notably the decision to punt on Christian Ponder and sign Josh Freeman five weeks into the season, and there aren't many success stories on the longer list of quarterbacks he has acquired in his career.

He has twice traded for journeyman Sage Rosenfels, then signed him as a free agent a third time. As a personnel executive with the Miami Dolphins, he was involved in the acquisitions of quarterbacks A.J. Feeley, Ray Lucas and Brian Griese, among others.

To his credit, Spielman said Monday that "I haven't got it right yet" and added: "I have the confidence that we'll get this quarterback situation resolved. I really do. And what that answer is right now, we're not going to have those answers until will get the coach in place. And when we sit down and we delve into what we have at this position, what is potentially out there in free agency, what is the draft class, those answers will all come in time."

It has been a long time since a single person with football background was making all major football decisions for the Vikings. Does it mean progress? It's time for Rick Spielman to step up and show us.