The unexpected death of Tony Sparano just before training camp opened had an unquantifiable effect on the Vikings. Sparano was not only a de facto adviser to Mike Zimmer, not only extraordinarily well-liked and respected by staff and players alike. He was also an undeniably good football coach.
Zimmer and staff did the best they could to fill the void, naming Clancy Barrone and Andrew Janocko co-offensive line coaches. In some regards, they exceeded expectations. Rookie Brian O’Neill became a solid starter well ahead of schedule and the starting group remained relatively healthy throughout the season. However, Kirk Cousins finished among the most-pressured quarterbacks in the league and the running game was a stop-and-start affair all season long. And with Kevin Stefanski officially in control of the offense, the Vikings could look to bring in a veteran line coach to serve a similar role to the one Sparano held.
With that in mind, here are a few of the targets that could be at the top of their wishlist.
Philbin appears to be an early front-runner for the job, given that the Packers have reportedly granted him permission to interview with the Vikings. Philbin’s resume is remarkably similar to Sparano’s. Both had experience in multiple stops as an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, and both had a short run as head coach of the Dolphins. In fact, Philbin effectively replaced Sparano in Miami in 2012.
However, Philbin has spent most of his career in Green Bay, coaching the line from 2003 to 2006, then taking over coordinator duties from 2007 to 2011. He returned for his second stint this past season and was named interim coach after the firing of Mike McCarthy. Between his run in Miami and this most recent stint in Green Bay, Philbin was the line coach for the Colts. As primary line coach, Philbin has only three years of NFL experience, though he has also coached the line extensively at the college level. Most recently, he served as line coach at Iowa from 1999 to 2002.
Philbin’s hire would seem in effort of filling the Sparano void, particularly in the sense of being an experienced veteran. While Philbin’s time as a head coach was unspectacular, he seems respected by his peers and players and has been a consistent presence in Green Bay for much of the past decade and a half.
Another Packer mainstay, Campen has been Green Bay’s line coach since 2007. As Matt LaFleur takes over control of the Packers, it is to be seen how much of the staff he plans to retain. Should LaFleur let Campen go, he could bring a wealth of experience and a strong resume to Minnesota. Campen played seven years in the league at center, including three seasons as a full-time starter. Since joining the Packer staff in 2004, he has developed a host of solid linemen, from three-time All-Pros David Bakhtiari and Josh Sitton to Pro Bowlers T.J. Lang and Chad Clifton. Though his overall reputation may not equal that of Philbin’s, he has a stronger resume purely as a line coach.
Wylie’s status as a television darling will likely draw fan attention. However, given that Freddie Kitchens chose not to retain him, despite the two working together on a strong offense in Cleveland over the latter half of the season, the jury still seems out on the quality of Wylie’s coaching abilities.
If his opinion on stretching was not indication enough, Wylie’s coaching approach appears quite old school. Hard Knocks showed him using animals as a model for line technique on multiple occasions. His resume is extensive, albeit without many long-term stops. He has coached NFL lines since 1992, when he served with the Buccaneers until 1995. Wylie has also had intermittent stops in Cincinnati, Arizona, Denver and Oakland, with his run in Chicago from 1999 to 2003 serving as his only other extended stay. Time spent in between these stints includes terms in college and the CFL.
There has been no indication that Wylie is on the Vikings’ list. Even if there was, there has been some speculation that Wylie could look to take a break from coaching, following his ankle injury suffered last month.
Callahan is another with extensive experience in significant leadership roles. He has two separate runs as a head coach under his belt: a short stint in Oakland that included a Super Bowl appearance and a four-year run at Nebraska. His career as a line coach, however, is arguably more impressive. He has four separate, extended runs as an NFL line coach. He coached the Eagles from 1995 to 1997, the Jets from 2008 to 2011, the Cowboys from 2012 to 2014 and Washington from 2015 until this year. Those last two are most notable, as his tenure in those stops involved some of the best offensive linemen in football, including Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Trent Williams.
While Callahan is still under contract next season, there are reports that he wants out of Washington now. Reasons for his desire to depart have included both a problem with management and his waning level of influence. While he is more of a red-faced style of coach, Callahan’s results speak for themselves, and he would be a hot commodity should he get out of his contract.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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