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Tyler Forness

10 candidates to replace Ed Donatell as Vikings defensive coordinator

The season is over and the Minnesota Vikings’ defense is in shambles. A lot of that has to do with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. On Thursday afternoon, head coach Kevin O’Connell released a statement that the Vikings would be moving in a different direction.

His unit ranked 31st in total defense along with being 26th in scoring. They didn’t do nearly enough to maximize the players on the roster but instead tried to pigeonhole the personnel into spots they weren’t meant for.

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With Donatell on his way out, here are 10 candidates to be the next defensive coordinator of the Vikings.

Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine


Pettine has been in the NFL for a long time, including a stint with the Cleveland Browns as the head coach for two seasons. Before joining O’Connell’s staff this year, Pettine was the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers for three seasons and spent 2021 as an assistant under Matt Nagy for the Chicago Bears.

Pettine had plenty of struggles for the Packers during his three seasons as defensive coordinator, but the idea of promoting Pettine is having continuity on defense year over year.

Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The connection with Evero and O’Connell is evident as they spent time together with the Los Angeles Rams. He was the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos this past season and that unit was eighth in total defense and 16th in scoring defense with some of that being inflated by a 51-point Rams performance on Christmas Day.

Evero is still under contract with the Denver Broncos so they can block him from interviewing for a lateral move, but whoever the new head coach is might choose to move on upon taking the job. Evero is also a head coaching candidate. My guess is that he is still a year or two away from getting that job and working with O’Connell could be very appealing to him.

Former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things that O’Connell wanted to do when he took over the Vikings is install the quarters/shell-based defense that Vic Fangio made famous and popularized throughout the league. This past offseason, Fangio didn’t have any interest in a defensive coordinator job and chose to be an analyst for the Philadelphia Eagles instead.

If you are in a position where you have to replace Donatell, getting the architect of the defense that you have is arguably the best-case scenario.

Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Another connection to the Rams for O’Connell who has shown early on that he wants to bring his former co-workers to Minnesota to coach with him. Morris, who was a finalist for the Vikings head coaching job, will be up for head coaching jobs around the NFL. He reportedly had a great interview with the Indianapolis Colts.

Rams coaches were given the freedom to look outside the organization for a job and they would not block them from doing so. The defense had some struggles this season, but they played a good portion of the season without Aaron Donald.

Former Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard

Wisconsin head coach Jim Leonhard, center, is shown during the first quarter of their game Saturday, November 26, 2022 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.

The NFL has wanted to bring in Leonhard for a few seasons, including the Green Bay Packers coming dangerously close to getting him in 2018 but Leonhard wanted to stay in Madison. When Leonhard chose to move on after the university hired Luke Fickell, his options became wide open.

Leonhard is a very innovative play-caller and is a former safety for the New York Jets. His defenses consistently ranked in the top five of the FBS and were excellent no matter the opponent. He would be an incredible hire for the Vikings and likely have this unit in the top half of the league in year one.

Seahawks assinstant Sean Desai

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Bringing in Desai would be with the hopes of keeping the Fangio-style defense. He served under Vic Fangio and was the Bears defensive coordinator after Fangio and Chuck Pagano left the organization. Desai is current an associate head coach with the Seattle Seahawks and helped Clint Hurtt install the defense this season.

Steelers linebackers coach Brian Flores

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Two things are for certain: Flores knows how to call a defense and lead men. It was evident in both New England and Miami. The job that Flores did with the Dolphins was exemplary and didn’t warrant him being fired. That is the interesting element with this potential hire: Flores is suing the NFL and accusing of being unfair with their hiring practices. It could be a roadblock to bringing him in, but the fact that he is still in the league with the Pittsburgh Steelers makes it a little easier.

Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Having worked for the Chargers the past two season under Brandon Staley, Hill will have some of the same principles that O’Connell wants to prioritize with the Fangio scheme. Hill has shown creativity in getting personnel in the right spot. With what the Vikings have, Hill could be a really good fit, especially with helping to develop the corner position. The only roadblock is that he is still with the Chargers and would need permission to interview him, which would likely be declined.

Rams defensive backs coach Jonathan Cooley

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cooley is a coach that O’Connell had tried once to bring onto his staff, but was blocked by Sean McVay from doing so. On Wednesday, Cooley was released from his duties as defensive backs coach. Cooley could come to Minnesota in many capacities and defensive coordinator could be a worthy promotion for him. He also comes from the Vic Fangio tree and has some familiarity with O’Connell.

Cowboys secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr.

Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

Whitt Jr. is currently the Dallas Cowboys passing game coordinator and secondary coach. He has been at the forefront of developing Trevon Diggs and helping get the most out of Jayron Kearse. He would likely bring a 4-3 defense here, but the Vikings current personnel likely fits that system better.

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