The Minnesota Vikings are officially in the market for new leadership, and a former NFL head coach climbing his way back up through the collegiate ranks has already been floated as a possibility.
Vikings ownership wasted literally no time parting ways with head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman following the end to a disappointing 8-9 season, cutting both loose on Monday, January 10. The same morning, Mike Ryan of the Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, took to the air waves to report that Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin is a prime candidate to return to the NFL as the leading man in Minnesota.
“I truly believe Lane Kiffin is probably gonna be the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings,” Ryan said on the popular sports podcast. “The reason why I think this is because of all the assistants leaving the Mississippi staff and I was told, ‘Look out for the Minnesota Vikings job.’ But he’s not a fit with Rick Spielman. Zimmer just got fired and Spielman just got fired. That’s oil and water, Lane Kiffin and Rick Speilman — not a fit. Now that they’ve cleaned house, look for a total coaching and culture overhaul in Minnesota, and I’ve got Lane Kiffin in the NFL again, possibly.”
Kiffin Has Long Head Coaching History That Begins in NFL
Kiffin won’t turn 47 years old until May, but it feels like his coaching career is more storied than most recent retirees.
His first gig as a head coach came with the Las Vegas Raiders, then based in Oakland, back in 2007 when he was just 31. He got the job off of the strength of his time as an offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California (USC), a position he assumed in 2005. The high-powered USC offense set records and gave birth to the notion of Kiffin as a high-level offensive mind throughout the game — a reputation that has stuck over the last two decades.
Kiffin coached only 20 games with the Raiders before he was let go in 2008, compiling a record of just 5-15. His lack of success there, however, is somewhat misleading. Numerous reports at the time suggested that Kiffin was opposed to the Raiders selecting quarterback JaMarcus Russell, out of Louisiana State University (LSU), with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Despite Kiffin’s misgivings, Oakland owner Al Davis went ahead and selected Russell anyway, who came to be known as one of the most fantastic busts the draft ever produced.
Chris Mortensen, of ESPN, later reported that Davis tried to force Kiffin to resign the following year, which would have cost the head coach his $2 million salary. He declined, Davis decided to fire him soon after and then publicly shamed Kiffin by lambasting him to the media.
Kiffin left Oakland and headed to the collegiate ranks, where he took on head coaching positions at the University of Tennessee and USC before landing at the University of Alabama to call plays under Nick Saban. Kiffin again attained the position of head coach with Florida Atlantic University in 2017 before heading back to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 2020 to lead Ole Miss.
Other Candidates for Vikings HC Job Have Already Emerged
Kiffin is not the only former NFL head coach currently working in the collegiate ranks who could make a leap back up to the big time this offseason.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is coming off an AP Coach of the Year campaign, in which the Wolverines beat Ohio State, won the Big 10 and landed one of four spots in the College Football Playoff. A report from Bruce Feldman of The Athletic on January 5 indicated Harbaugh would strongly consider a move back to the NFL for the right opportunity. He spent four years as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, leading the team to Super Bowl XLVII at the end of the 2012-13 season, which the Niners lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens.
“The Athletic is hearing rumblings, both from the NFL side and at Michigan, that Harbaugh might be tempted to leave the Wolverines to return to the NFL,” Feldman wrote.
Just one day after the end of the regular season, there are already five head coaching jobs available in the NFL, including spots with the Vikings, the Chicago Bears, the Denver Broncos, the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Despite making the playoffs, the Raiders could also be looking to replace interim head coach Rich Bisaccia. He has filled in since former head coach Jon Gruden left town earlier this season over racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments he made several years back, which were exposed via emails leaked out of an NFL investigation into accusations of a toxic work culture within the Washington Football Team.
Harbaugh was drafted by the Bears and started at quarterback for the team for several years. He also has a coaching history with the Raiders. However, the Vikings would do well to give him a look, and vice versa. Minnesota has a young Pro-Bowler at wide receiver in Justin Jefferson and another at running back in Dalvin Cook.
QB Kirk Cousins also grades out as the fifth-best signal caller in the league with an overall rating of 88.2 and a passer rating of 86.8, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Cousins is in the final year of an expensive contract set to pay him $45 million in 2022, and a new head coach would likely have the leeway from Vikings ownership to shuffle the deck in Minnesota to find a new quarterback and/or free up some cap room to improve other areas of an already talented roster.