Vikings fire defensive coordinator Ed Donatell
The Vikings fired defensive coordinator Ed Donatell on Thursday afternoon, opting to seek a new leader for their beleaguered defense.
Minnesota finished 28th in the NFL in points allowed and 31st in yards in 2022, giving up at least 400 yards in seven of its last 10 games of the season. The Vikings allowed 431 yards in their 31-24 loss to the Giants in Sunday’s NFC Playoffs, in a loss that suggested Donatell’s layoff could be imminent.
“Today I informed Ed Donatell that we will be moving in a different direction as defensive coordinator in 2023,” coach Kevin O’Connell said in a statement. “Although it was a difficult decision due to the great respect I have for Ed as a person and as a coach, I believe it is the right decision for the future of our football team.”
The move came a day after O’Connell’s end-of-season press conference, in which the coach said he was still evaluating the Vikings personnel and had not made any decision on any potential players. changes.
Donatell’s future, however, looked uncertain as soon as the Vikings lost on December 11 to the Lions, after which O’Connell called on the defense to be more aggressive. He said then that he wasn’t considering changing defensive callers “at this time,” and the Vikings changed some of their coverage patterns in the final weeks of the season, playing more men’s coverage and moving the cornerback Patrick Peterson on the short side of the field in an effort to prevent opposing quarterbacks from throwing easily.
The Lions game was the Vikings’ fifth straight in which they had allowed at least 400 yards. They’ve only done it once in the last four games of the regular season, but it happened on Dec. 24 against the Giants, when quarterback Daniel Jones had one of his best days. of the season. Then, in the wildcard round, Jones became the first NFL player to throw for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns while running for at least 70 in a playoff game.
Donatell’s firing may be just the first of big changes for the Vikings defense this offseason. Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan, as well as defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, are expected to enter free agency in March, and players like safety Harrison Smith, rusher Za’Darius Smith and linebacker Eric Kendricks could be salary cap casualties if the Vikings, who need to clear more than $18 million of space by the start of the league year in March, don’t write restructured contracts with veterans.
Donatell, 65, had been Vic Fangio’s defensive coordinator the previous three seasons in Denver, and O’Connell hired Donatell to run Fangio’s program in Minnesota. The approach became popular in the league and made an impression on O’Connell while he was the Rams’ offensive coordinator practicing against Brandon Staley’s similar defenses. O’Connell found the pattern, which seeks to eliminate big plays with two deep safeties and prioritizes deceptive pass coverage on heavy fronts, one of the hardest to solve in the league. He brought in Donatell to oversee defensive change, which would mean new roles for players like Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith after years in Mike Zimmer’s system.
The Vikings, despite using two-safety coverage more than nearly any NFL team, were vulnerable to big plays throughout the season. They gave up 73 plays for 20 or more yards during the regular season, the second most in the league behind only Detroit, as miscommunications in coverage led receivers to open up on the field. The Vikings also gave up plenty of space in the middle areas, with their cornerbacks playing off the line of scrimmage, and looked particularly vulnerable as their passing rush struggled to generate consistent pressure late in the season. .
“Every team in this league goes through the roster evaluation process to try to match players to roles that you think are best suited to them,” O’Connell said Wednesday. “I feel like some of our guys really handled that with ease. With some of our guys, it was a work in progress, finding their primary role and how they can grow. Ultimately, it’s up to us as coaches and me as head football coach, to make sure that I think it through and decide what’s the best thing to do to move our team forward one step further. personal perspective, working alongside [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] and how we deploy our staff.”
Donatell did not respond to a message seeking comment. His son Steve, a Vikings offensive quality control coach, remained on the coaching staff beginning Thursday night.
Under NFL rules, the Vikings must interview at least one outside minority candidate for a coordinator position.
Former Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant, Seahawks assistant head coach Sean Desai and Ravens assistant head coach Anthony Weaver had all been interviewed for the Vikings defensive coordinator position before Donatell was hired last year. The Rams also blocked O’Connell’s request to interview defensive backs coach Jonathan Cooley about a position on the Vikings staff last year. Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine and outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky served as the NFL’s defensive coordinators, and Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones was a defensive coordinator at LSU.