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The mystery candidate (01/15/2014)
By Michael Marek
Twitter: @MikeWinPost

The Vikings have a vacancy at the head coaching position for the first time since 2006. The last time the Vikings went through the interview process they hired Brad Childress, offensive coordinator for the Eagles, after an expedited search. The Childress reign had its high and low points, and eventually ended during the 2010 season after an argument with Randy Moss over what constitutes dog food. The Vikings then promoted Leslie Frazier to take over the reins of a deeply flawed team. His tenure ended this year after three up and down years.

During this year’s search, Rick Spielman seems to have made it his personal mission to interview anyone who might even be mildly considered a fit for a head coaching position, casting a so-called wide net. Three candidates have emerged as favorites, two public candidates and one mystery candidate. The public candidates are Todd Bowles, defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, and Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Todd Bowles just turned in an impressive performance steering a once-hapless Cardinals defensive unit into one of the league’s best units. A former player, Bowles has bounced from one team to the next in coordinator roles. He has a powerful ally in his corner in Bill Parcells, who has endorsed Bowles as a candidate for a head coaching position.

When compared to Leslie Frazier, Mike Zimmer would be considered a polar opposite. Known for swearing more than your average sailor, it is said he has fire behind him. If hired, members of the media will be treated to a display of the English vocabulary at press conferences not seen since Jerry Burns hung it up.

The mystery candidate is the part of the search that intrigues me the most. Looking at the last few Spielman-run drafts it is commonplace for Rick to put on his magician hat and to pull a few rabbits out of his hat. This time around it appears as if he is up to his old tricks again.

Possible mystery candidates come from two pools: former NFL coaches who are now in the media and current college coaches. The former pro coaches that fit the bill include Brian Billick, Jon Gruden, and Bill Cowher. Gruden seems like an unlikely choice. He has too nice of a deal with ESPN to come back to the day-to-day dregs of coaching. Brian Billick is an option, and he has mentioned in the past that he would be interested in a return to coaching. Cowher seems to be the most likely of the three to want to stay under the radar. He would want to keep his candidacy a secret because he is not as high profile a television figure as Gruden, and could easily be replaced at CBS if they got wind he was flirting with an NFL franchise.

College coaches that could be the mystery candidate include David Shaw of Stanford and Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M. The reason for secrecy for these candidates would be the want to not hurt their recruiting by putting the thought in potential recruits’ mind that they could be leaving. With Johnny Manziel leaving Texas A&M for the NFL, Sumlin can expect a rough road ahead if he stays at the college level. Expectations at Texas A&M will be high, and he might not have the talent to meet them for next year. Sounds like a perfect time to make the jump to the NFL.

My prediction is that the Vikings end up hiring the “mystery candidate.” Who exactly this candidate is should emerge in the next few days. My best guess says its Cowher, who, it has been said, recently has gotten the “itch” to return. If the Vikings pull off this move and hire Cowher it would be a major coup. 


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