This week Mike Zimmer, citing philosophical differences, fired OC John DeFilippo in the aftermath of the Vikings’ disappointing 21-7 loss to the Seahawks on MNF.
In some ways, the Vikings’ situation on offense resembles the Cardinals’ in that the defensive minded head coach wants to emphasize the running game on offense—-which in today’s NFL is not easy to do, particularly behind mediocre offensive lines, and in light of how pass friendly the league has become.
Suddenly, many pundits and fans are now casting strong doubts and aspersions on DeFilippo’s ability to generate high octane offense.
To that—-I say—-whoa—-not so fast.
First of all—-I am of the opinion that a coordinator is typically at his best when he is given the authority and the autonomy to run his own style of offense.
Whenever that autonomy gets compromised by the dictates of the head coach, it leaves the coordinator in an untenable position of having to appease the head coach—-even though he knows it’s likely going to make things more difficult for everyone.
There’s a lot more to DeFilippo’s firing than what first meets the eye.
This was a power move by Mike Zimmer—-who a couple of years ago irked former OC Norv Turner so much that Turner resigned during the season——and who then benefitted from Pat Shurmur’s success in 2017, only to lose Shurmur to the Giants.
When Shurmur took the head coaching job with the Giants, he wanted to take the Vikings’ QB coach, Kevin Stefanski, with him. Zimmer did everything he could to prevent losing Stefanski.
One of Mike Zimmer’s confidantes suggested that because John DeFilippo is a “climber” (one who aspires to be a head coach) Zimmer would be likely to lose him in a year or two like he did with Shurmur—-and seeing as Zimmer wants desperately to hold on to Stefanski, why not make the move now and promote Stefanski to OC.
Yes, Zimmer and DeFilippo have philosophical differences—-but realistically what Zimmer wants in terms of a more methodical, ball control, time of possession winning offense does not look reasonably attainable with his current offensive line.
One would think that with Kirk Cousins at QB and a magnificent duo of WRs in Adam Thielan/Stefan Diggs and TE Kyle Rudolph, plus with a superb all-purpose RB/receiver in Dalvin Cook, why not open the whole thing up?
It will be interesting to see whether Stefanski can give Mike Zimmer what he wants.
As for DeFilippo, before anyone can accurately assess his talents, he needs to find a situation where he is not handcuffed by the head coach.
Over in Cleveland, defensive minded interim head coach Gregg Williams has given new OC Freddie Kitchens the freedom to build the Browns’ offense around the skills of rookie QB Baker Mayfield. Kitchens has been free to be his own man and to put his own stamp on the offense.
Obviously, having spent the last ten years working under Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians, Kitchens has garnered a great deal of knowledge as to how to run an effective offense—-and he keenly understands the importance of creating a healthy chemistry with the team’s starting QB.
What’s also very impressive about Kitchens is his resourcefulness and willingness to innovate in order to maximize Mayfield’s unique talents and persona.
If Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim had manifested a keener understanding of Freddie Kitchens’ talents, Kitchens would have been a stronger choice for offensive coordinator than Mike McCoy—-but—-as John DeFilippo experienced in Minnesota—-Kitchens’ hands might have been tied (in the same way that Flip’s hand were tied) in trying to accommodate the head coach’s ball control demands.
In a recent interview, Bruce Arians maintains that he is only interested in the Browns’ head coaching position—-but now he is saying that he would relinquish the play calling to Freddie Kitchens, so that, as Arians put it, he can focus more on being a game manager. Clearly, BA is tapping into Kitchens’ growing popularity with the Browns—-even though BA, while with he Cardinals, preferred Harold Goodwin and Byron Leftwich as future play callers over Kitchens.
Should the Cardinals be interested in DeFilippo or Kitchens?
Of the two, one would imagine that Kitchens would have the edge, based on his familiarity with the organization and his fondness for the franchise.
Of course, the Cardinals interviewed DeFilippo during the playoffs last year—-and once they hired Steve Wilks they could have made a push to sign DeFilippo as the OC, but obviously were locked in on Mike McCoy instead.
In my opinion, Flip and Freddie are two of the brightest young offensive minds in the NFL and the Cardinals would be wise to pursue one or both of them—-that is, if the Cardinals are eager and willing to give them the autonomy and creative support they need in order to be successful.