Ed Donatell

Vikings Fire DC Ed Donatell

The Vikings announced in a statement from head coach Kevin O’Connell today that the team “will be going in a different direction at defensive coordinator in 2023,” effecting the termination of this past season’s defensive play-caller, Ed Donatell.

O’Connell’s first year at the helm in Minnesota was widely successful, resulting in both the team’s first 13-win season and first division championship since the 2017 NFL season. Despite the team success, the Vikings were limited throughout the year by a struggling defense, led by Donatell. The Vikings defensive unit tied for third worst in the league in points allowed and allowed the second most yards on defense in the NFL, trailing Detroit by only 62 yards. The group was perhaps saved at times by tying for eighth in the league in turnovers forced.

Donatell chose to join O’Connell’s staff over a lesser role with the Seahawks last offseason. Minnesota looked at a couple of would be first-time defensive coordinators before eventually settling on Donatell, counting on his vast experience on the defensive side of the ball to go along with O’Connell’s offensive expertise.

Donatell had 11 seasons under his belt as a defensive coordinator, the most recent three before this season taking place in Denver. During that period, the Broncos defense often posted stellar numbers, although much of this was credited to the head coach at the time, Vic Fangio, who called plays for the defense. Donatell’s play-calling duties this season were called into question amidst the unit’s struggles, but O’Connell put those calls to rest.

In his statement today, O’Connell asserted that the team “will immediately begin (their) search to fill” Donatell’s now empty role. The answer could simply be in-house as assistant head coach Mike Pettine has several years of experience as a coordinator. Pettine’s presence on staff during this year’s struggles might be hard to overlook, though.

O’Connell and company may stray away from their initial preference towards experience and contact Ravens defensive line coach Anthony Weaver or Packers offensive consultant Aubrey Pleasant, both of whom were considered for the role last year. The team also looked last year into Seahawks defensive assistant Sean Desai, who has one season as a defensive coordinator under his belt.

Vikings’ Ed Donatell To Remain Play-Caller

Sunday marked the continuation of a troubling streak for the Vikings on the defensive side of the ball, but it will not be enough to warrant a significant change on the sidelines. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will retain play-calling duties despite the unit’s struggles.

“You know you’re always looking at things that you think might be — what could be a possible answer to help the guys play better and be more consistent,” O’Connell said, via Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, when asked about changing play-callers, “but as of right now, no, that’s not something I’m considering.”

During their Week 14 loss to the Lions, the Vikings allowed 400-plus yards to an opponent for the fifth consecutive game — the longest such streak in franchise history. Minnesota now ranks last in total defense. Allowing 403.7 yards per game, the Vikings are on pace to set a new franchise record here as well.

Donatell, 65, has been a defensive coordinator for multiple teams prior to moving to the Twin Cities — with the Packers, Falcons and Broncos — but the longtime NFL assistant spent the past decade working under Vic Fangio. The well-regarded defensive mind ran the defenses for the Broncos, Bears and 49ers dating back to 2011, minimizing Donatell’s role to some degree. With O’Connell an offense-oriented coach in his first year leading a team, Donatell’s influence on defense has expanded.

The Vikings have not dealt with the kind of injury issues select other contenders have. Minnesota has seen both Danielle Hunter (25 missed games since 2020) and Za’Darius Smith (16 absences last season) rebound from their recent injury-plagued stretches to be available for each game. Hunter and Smith have combined for 16.5 sacks, while Patrick Peterson — Pro Football Focus’ eighth-ranked cornerback — is having his best season in years. The Vikes’ 20 takeaways also sits seventh in the league, but the team has still slipped defensively.

Minnesota remains four games up on Detroit in the NFC North and is on track for its first division title in five years. The team also faces just one opponent with a winning record the rest of the way (the Giants, in Week 16). But the Vikings have a month to make sufficient adjustments defensively, as they will be a tough sell against top-caliber NFC opposition come playoff time if their defense continues on this course.

Vikings Notes: Coaching Staff, Scheme, O’Connell

With new head coach Kevin O’Connell in place, the Vikings made a number of announcements at his inaugural press conference. Among those was the confirmation of several assistants on his staff, as reported by ESPN’s Courtney Cronin (Twitter link). 

One of the most notable names on the list is that of Mike Pettine. The 55-year-old was reported to be joining the team’s staff earlier in the week, albeit not as the defensive coordinator as was originally thought by some. The team unveiled that his title will be assistant head coach, the highest-ranking position he’ll have had since his time in Cleveland in 2014-2015.

In addition, Ed Donatell was confirmed as the team’s new defensive coordinator, giving first-time HC O’Connell a vastly experienced staffer on the defensive side of the ball. Several assistants were also announced, each in the roles they were initially reported to be filling: Chris Rumph as defensive line coach, Chris O’Hara and Jerrod Johnson to work with the team’s quarterbacks, Chris Kuper and Justin Rascati to coach the offensive line, as well as Brian Angelichio and Curtis Modkins to serve as offensive pass and run game coordinators, respectively.

Here are some other Vikings notes, including further announcements from the presser:

  • As Ben Goessling of The Minneapolis Star Tribune writes, the Vikings will switch to a 3-4 base defense, something that hasn’t been seen in Minnesota since the 1980s. With that said, the team, like almost all in the NFL now, will still principally deploy its nickel package, and they plan to switch between three- and four-man fronts within drives and games.
  • In a widely expected announcement, O’Connell confirmed that he will call plays on offense. That will make him the first Vikings HC to do so since Brad Childress, and keep him in line with the structure he is leaving under the Rams and Sean McVay. O’Connell added that he plans to include the “up-tempo offensive concepts” he developed in L.A. within Minnesota’s offense.
  • One assistant coach who will not be following O’Connell to the Vikings is Jonathan Cooley. The Rams’ assistant defensive backs coach has been blocked from interviewing with Minnesota (Twitter link via Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic). Especially given the loss of Ejiro Evero earlier this offseason, keeping Cooley would be particularly important for the Rams.

 

Vikings Plan To Hire Mike Pettine, Not As DC

Now that Super Bowl LVI is over, the Vikings should be able to start moving forward with their coaching staff hires. One coach expected to join the staff in Minnesota is former Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Contrary to prior rumors that Pettine was the favorite to land the defensive coordinator job, Pelissero tweeted out that, with Ed Donatell reportedly hired to be the defensive coordinator, Pettine will join the staff in a different capacity. 

So far, no Minnesota coaching hires have officially been announced but, with the Rams’ season finally over, the Vikings will be happy to welcome Super Bowl Champion Kevin O’Connell to the facility. With his focus no longer on a postseason run, O’Connell and the Vikings can start making moves to build their new staff.

One of those first moves is Pettine. Although he will not serve as the defensive coordinator of the Vikings, Pettine brings a plethora of experience having served in that role in the past for the Jets, Bills, and Packers. He will also be able to provide some valuable head coaching insights to the rookie O’Connell. Pettine spent last season as a senior defensive assistant for the Bears after not being retained as the Packers’ defensive coordinator following an NFC Championship loss to the eventual Super Bowl LV champion Buccaneers.

Along with O’Connell, Donatell, and Pettine, rumored hirings in Minnesota include Chris Kuper as the expected offensive line coach, Chris Rumph as the expected defensive line coach, and Curtis Modkins as the expected run-game coordinator and backfield coach. Expect for official hires to start being announced and for the rest of the coaching staff to start coming into focus.

Vikings Officially Hire Ed Donatell As DC

The coach thought to be taking over the defense in Minnesota has officially been hired. Ed Donatell is the new defensive coordinator of the Vikings, reports Ben Goessling of The Minneapolis Star Tribune (Twitter link). 

It was reported yesterday that Donatell was the favorite for the position. With the move now confirmed, soon-to-be head coach Kevin O’Connell will have a very experienced lieutenant on the defensive side of the ball. Donatell, 65, has been an NFL coach for 31 years; 10 of those have been as a DC.

Donatell had spent the past three seasons as the Broncos’ DC, although head coach Vic Fangio called the plays. In 2021, Denver allowed the third fewest points per game in the league (18.9), and ranked eighth in yards allowed (326.1). It had been his third stint with the team, having worked as a secondary coach at two points a decade apart from each other.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story is the fact that Donatell had agreed to take on an assistant role with the Seahawks not long after he interviewed with them. Instead of reuniting with Pete Carroll, he will change course to take a fourth DC position. The Vikings ranked 24th in scoring defense last season, and 30th in yards allowed. They will at least have a highly qualified coach leading the unit as they look to rebound in 2022.

Vikings To Hire Ed Donatell As DC?

The Vikings are eyeing Ed Donatell as their next defensive coordinator, according to Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. Nothing has been finalized just yet, but Donatell is the favorite for new head coach Kevin O’Connell. 

[RELATED: Vikings Hire Ryan Grigson]

Offense is O’Connell’s bread and butter, so Donatell would be able to provide him with decades of defensive know-how. All together, the 65-year-old offers 31 years of pro coaching experience, including ten years as an NFL DC.

Donatell was on the verge of joining the Seahawks’ coaching staff, but he has a much stronger opportunity in Minnesota. He’s spent the last three years as the Broncos’ DC and guided his unit to a solid showing in 2021. The Broncos allowed the eighth-fewest yards of any team last year while allowing just 322 points overall.

The Vikings have also considered ex-Bears DC Sean Desai, Ravens assistant Anthony Weaver, and Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant for the role. But, by the end of the business day, Donatell could be installed as the Vikes’ new defensive lead.

Seahawks Make Defensive Staff Changes

The Seahawks’ Ken Norton Jr. replacement effort appears to be a multi-pronged approach. Not only will Clint Hurtt move up to Seattle’s defensive coordinator post, but the team is also expected to bring in Ed Donatell.

Hurtt will rise from defensive line coach to DC, Bob Condotta and Adam Jude of the Seattle Times report. Donatell, who interviewed for the DC gig, is expected to join Seattle’s staff in a different role, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. A senior defensive assistant title appears likely for Donatell, a veteran coordinator who has been an NFL assistant since 1990.

Sean Desai, whom the Bears promoted to DC in Matt Nagy‘s final season, is also a Seahawks target, according to the Seattle Times. Desai, Donatell and Hurtt have worked for Vic Fangio in the past, making for an interesting arrangement in Seattle. The Seahawks endured brutal starts to the past two seasons on defense, being on pace for record-setting yardage totals, though each of Norton’s final two units stabilized to some degree. This will double as the team’s top staff shakeup this offseason, with Pete Carroll and OC Shane Waldron sticking around.

As should be expected, Carroll is interested in incorporating Fangio’s system. Donatell spent the past three seasons running it in Denver, operating as Broncos DC. Despite Bradley Chubb‘s injury trouble and Von Miller‘s midseason departure, the Broncos finished in the top 10 in total defense and points allowed this season. Donatell and Carroll have worked together with the Jets in the early 1990s and were each part of the University of Pacific’s staff back in 1983.

Hurtt, 43, has been with the Seahawks since 2017. He worked under Fangio in Chicago from 2015-16. This will be his first chance at a coordinator role at any level. Desai received that opportunity last year. Despite the Bears losing Khalil Mack midway through the season, Desai’s unit ranked sixth in total defense. Robert Quinn broke Richard Dent‘s 37-year-old team sack record, finishing with 18.5. Desai’s Seattle arrival will be contingent on him not landing the Las Vegas DC job. The Raiders interviewed Desai on Thursday.

Seahawks Request DC Interview With Broncos’ Ed Donatell

With Vic Fangio being fired after three seasons, the Broncos are likely planning to hire a new defensive coordinator as well. Their current one has generated outside interest, however.

The Seahawks requested an interview with Ed Donatell, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Donatell spent the past three seasons as Fangio’s right-hand man on defense in Denver but has coached in the NFL for decades — including with Pete Carroll. The Seahawks fired veteran DC Ken Norton Jr. less than 24 hours ago.

Donatell and Carroll were both on Bruce Coslet‘s Jets staffs from 1990-93, and Donatell stayed on in 1994 once the Jets promoted Carroll to HC. Donatell served as Jets DBs coach in the early 1990s; this was his first NFL job. Carroll and Donatell also have a history at the college level, each being on the University of Pacific’s staff in 1983. The Seahawks are not planning to move on from Carroll, despite occasional rumblings, and an interesting reunion could take place.

Donatell, 64, coached DBs under Fangio in San Francisco and Chicago from 2011-21 but has now been defensive coordinator with the Packers, Falcons and Broncos. Denver’s defense, despite extensive injury issues and the trade of Von Miller, finished the season in the top 10 in both total defense (eighth) and points allowed (third) — the team’s best marks during the Fangio-Donatell run.

Coaching Notes: Jets, Lewis, Bears, Daboll

The Adam GaseGregg Williams arranged marriage dissolved at the 11th hour, after the defensive coordinator’s bizarre final-seconds play call ended up keeping the Jets winless. To some degree, Gase had soured on the polarizing DC earlier this season. The second-year Gang Green head coach “fumed” after Williams’ indirect shot at the Jets’ offense, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes, adding that the soon-to-be-fired HC was upset Williams voiced frustration in that manner. In a split setup in which Gase ran the offense and Williams oversaw the defense, Cimini adds Gase would learn of Williams’ defensive lineup changes on Fridays before games on certain occasions. This regime’s issues may cause the Jets to re-evaluate how they pair coaches next year.

Here is the latest from the coaching circuit:

  • Josh Allen‘s rise could well push Bills OC Brian Daboll to a coaching job in 2021. The expectation around the league is that the third-year Bills coordinator will land an HC gig, Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano of ESPN.com note. Several jobs will be available, and the ESPN duo adds that the Chargers — given that Daboll and Bolts GM Tom Telesco went to high school together — may be the destination to monitor. While the Chargers have not fired Anthony Lynn, who is well-liked by Bolts players, the team is 3-9 after a 5-11 season. This would point to Lynn likely being ousted after his fourth season in Los Angeles.
  • Unlike the Texans, the Falcons and Lions will not be using a search firm as they look for new HCs, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Longtime front office exec Rich McKay will presumably lead Atlanta’s search, while team president Rod Wood remains in power in Detroit.
  • After two seasons out of the NFL, Marvin Lewis has resurfaced on coaching radars. The longtime Bengals HC’s name has continued to come up for possible 2021 gigs, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah tweets. He is expected to land interviews, according to ESPN. Lewis interviewed for the Cowboys post that went to Mike McCarthy and was connected to the Washington job that went to Ron Rivera. The Vikings also sought him for a defensive role in 2019. Lewis, 62, currently serves as Arizona State’s co-defensive coordinator under Herm Edwards.
  • While Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald would stand to be the Bearstop choice — were they to replace Matt Nagy — the prospect of the longtime Big Ten leader rising to the NFL is quiet, per Graziano and Fowler. After Northwestern’s 2018 season, Fitzgerald said he would not consider NFL jobs. But the pandemic may have made him more receptive to making the jump. The Bears figure to be the leading candidate, were Fitzgerald to express interest. And Bears minority owner Pat Ryan, also a Northwestern alum, is a big fan of the current Wildcats HC, per ESPN.
  • The Broncos will have their defensive coordinator back after his extensive bout with COVID-19, Mike Klis of 9News notes. Ed Donatell, 63, believed he was nearly recovered from the coronavirus, but on Day 9 of his battle with it, he experienced symptoms severe enough he needed to be hospitalized. The second-year Denver DC, who had never previously missed a game in his coaching career, missed six games. He will coach from the press box Sunday against the Panthers.

AFC West Notes: Broncos, Brown, Chiefs

Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell required hospitalization after contracting the coronavirus, according to the team. The second-year Denver DC was hospitalized last week but discharged Sunday, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. He remains away from the team, recovering at home. Donatell, 63, has been battling COVID-19 symptoms since Oct. 31 and has missed the past three games. Donatell, who is in his third stint with the franchise, one of a few Broncos staffers to have contracted the virus. Running backs coach Curtis Modkins did so in October, and offensive line coach Mike Munchak was in the team’s COVID protocol. GM John Elway and team president Joe Ellis tested positive for the virus. Elway announced he has recovered, while Ellis has been in quarantine for nearly three weeks and has yet to be cleared to return, Klis notes.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • The NFL has expressed “serious concern” about the outbreak among Broncos staffers, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. The league and the NFLPA have continued to stress the importance of non-players adhering to the evolving COVID-19 protocols, per JLC.
  • The Raiders have been the league’s chief culprits at violating the NFL’s coronavirus policies, and their latest issue — Clelin Ferrell‘s positive test causing half the team’s starting defense to land on the reserve/COVID-19 list — could conceivably prompt the NFL to move another Las Vegas Sunday-night tilt off of primetime. As of Wednesday evening, however, the league has no plans to change the start time for Week 11’s Raiders-Chiefs rematch, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The NFL moved Week 7’s Buccaneers-Raiders game to a Sunday-afternoon window after Trent Brown‘s positive test caused Las Vegas’ starting O-line to miss a week’s worth of workouts.
  • Speaking of Brown, the mammoth right tackle remains on the Raiders’ COVID list. However, a hope exists Brown can receive clearance to resume workouts next week, Schefter tweets. Brown is naturally at higher risk of developing severe symptoms from the virus compared to most players, due to his weight (380 pounds), but he wants to play again this season. The Raiders have placed Brown on their virus list twice this year, the second time due to a pregame issue in Cleveland resulting in the 27-year-old blocker being hospitalized.
  • While Justin Simmons has not made an issue of his contract since he and the Broncos failed to come to an extension agreement in July, he would prefer to stay with the team, per the Denver Post’s Ryan O’Halloran. The floor for the standout safety will likely be $14MM per year on a long-term deal, with five safeties signing deals worth $14MM AAV or more since March 2019. Simmons has played every snap for the Broncos this season and ranks as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-highest-graded safety, a year after he landed second on PFF’s list. Citing the pandemic, Simmons said, via O’Halloran, he is grateful for his setup (an $11.4MM franchise tag salary). This comes after he expressed disappointment no deal emerged this summer. If the Broncos tag Simmons again, he would be entitled to a $13.7MM 2021 salary.
  • Former Simmons secondary mate Chris Harris will return to action soon. The Chargers designated the All-Decade cornerback to return from IR on Wednesday. The team has three weeks to activate him. Harris, who signed a two-year deal worth $17.5MM in March, has been out since Week 2 because of a foot injury.