Mike Pettine

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.

Mike Pettine Favorite For Vikings’ DC Job?

With it all-but official that Kevin O’Connell will become the next head coach of the Vikings, there is a growing sense that his first defensive coordinator is soon to be named. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora tweets that Mike Pettine is the “likely” hire as DC. 

[Related: Vikings Plan To Hire Kevin O’Connell]

Specifically, La Canfora says “I keep hearing” Pettine’s name attached to the DC job in Minnesota. The 55-year-old has been a coach in the NFL dating back to 2002. He’s had three different stints as a DC, with the Jets, Bills and Packers. The latter chose not to renew his contract after the 2020 season. He spent this year with the Bears under the title of senior defensive assistant.

Chicago ranked sixth in the league in yards allowed, and fourth in sacks. That success came with players like Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks each missing considerable time. Pettine’s experience helped Sean Desai during his first campaign as a coordinator, which has garnered him interest from the Raiders.

If Pettine were to take on a fourth DC job, he would be tasked with guiding a Minnesota unit that finished 30th in the league in yards allowed and 24th in points against last year. The team has a litany of veterans that are pending free agents, especially on the edge and in the secondary. An offseason of roster turnover could at least be helped by the presence of a veteran coach with plenty of experience in the NFC North.

Bears To Hire Mike Pettine

The Bears are going with a first-time defensive coordinator for next season but will bring in an experienced staffer to help the cause. Mike Pettine and the Bears agreed to terms on a deal that will make him a senior defensive assistant, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Pettine will stay in the NFC North, doing so as part of Sean Desai‘s staff. The Packers ended Pettine’s three-year stay as their defensive coordinator last month.

An NFL staffer since 2002, Pettine has been either a head coach or DC in 10 seasons. This will mark a step down for the 54-year-old assistant, but he will supply Desai with experience and considerable familiarity with the Bears’ top rival. Against the Bears last season, Pettine’s defense fared well in two blowouts. The Packers have since brought in Joe Barry to oversee their defense.

While Pettine’s Packers finale did not go especially well, his final two Green Bay defenses ranked in the top half in points allowed. DVOA was less kind to Pettine’s units, placing the most recent one 17th. Prior to his Green Bay stay, Pettine spent two seasons as the Browns’ head coach, one as the Bills’ defensive coordinator and four as the Jets’ DC.

Packers, DC Mike Pettine To Part Ways

Mike Pettine will not return for a fourth season as Packers defensive coordinator, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). The veteran coach’s contract expired at season’s end.

The former Browns HC turned down an extension last year and is a free agent. Pettine worked under both Mike McCarthy and Matt LaFleur in Green Bay but failed to elevate the Packers into a consistent defensive unit during his stay.

The Packers are coming off an NFC championship game loss that featured a game-swinging Buccaneers end-of-half touchdown. Tampa Bay booked a ticket to Super Bowl LV on the strength of the 18-point lead it built in Green Bay, and Scotty Miller‘s 39-yard score with 1 second remaining in the first half led to the Bucs amassing that wide margin early in the third quarter. LaFleur criticized Pettine’s end-of-half play call after the loss. Overall, the Packers ranked 13th in scoring defense this past season. DVOA was less kind to Pettine’s troops, slotting them 17th overall.

Green Bay used first-round picks on three defenders from 2018-19 — Jaire Alexander, Rashan Gary, Darnell Savage — and gave lucrative deals to pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency. However, the 49ers bulldozed Pettine’s unit in the 2019 NFC championship game and the Bucs ran up a big lead in this year’s NFC title tilt. While Alexander broke out under Pettine’s watch and intercepted two passes in Sunday’s loss, the Packers will have a new defensive play-caller next season.

This move comes shortly after the Packers fired special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga. LaFleur’s staff will soon have two new coordinators, despite the Packers having gone 26-6 over the past two seasons.

Coaching Notes: Pack, Rathman, McCardell

The Packers are making a change on special teams. They are firing ST coordinator Shawn Mennenga, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). A longtime college coach, Mennenga had previously served as Browns assistant ST coach before joining Matt LaFleur‘s staff in 2019. The Packers are expected to promote assistant ST coach Maurice Drayton to replace Mennenga, Pelissero tweets. At least one other team was interested in Drayton for such a role, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Drayton was in contention for this job two years ago.

Here is the latest out of Green Bay and from around the league:

  • Mike Pettine may not be locked in as Packers defensive coordinator next season. The veteran DC opted not to sign an extension last year, and Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com notes his contract is up. The Packers invested heavily in their pass rush and used three first-round picks on defenders from 2018-19 but dropped from 15th in defensive DVOA in 2019 to 17th this past season. Pettine is a holdover from Mike McCarthy‘s staff, having arrived in 2018.
  • Colts running backs coach Tom Rathman announced his retirement Thursday. The Colts hired Rathman in 2017, after his eight-year tenure as 49ers running backs coach ended. Rathman attempted to retire in 2019 and ’20, but the Colts successfully lobbied him to stay on, per The Athletic’s Stephen Holder (on Twitter). A decorated fullback who won two Super Bowls with the 49ers, Rathman coached running backs from 1997-2020. Sixteen of those years came in San Francisco.
  • Staying with the Colts, they are hiring former Jaguars QBs coach Scott Milanovich to replace Marcus Brady in that position, Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star tweets. Milanovich was Jacksonville’s QBs coach from 2017-19. Otherwise, he has spent his career in the CFL, having coached the Toronto Argonauts and, in 2020, the Edmonton Eskimos. The Colts promoted Brady to OC last week.
  • Longtime NFL wideout Keenan McCardell will resurface in Minnesota. The Vikings are hiring McCardell as receivers coach, per Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union (on Twitter). A longtime Jaguars pass catcher who broke into the coaching ranks in 2010, McCardell served as Jacksonville’s receivers coach from 2017-20 under Doug Marrone.
  • Ex-Colts DC Ted Monachino will be the Falcons‘ outside linebackers coach under Arthur Smith next season. Monachino, Indy’s DC from 2016-17, spent the past two years with the Bears. The Falcons also hired Jon Hoke to coach defensive backs. The older brother of Maryland HC Brady Hoke, Jon was the Terrapins’ defensive coordinator from 2019-20 but has coached NFL DBs for several seasons.

Packers To Stick With DC Mike Pettine?

While the Packers’ season came to a disappointing end in the Conference Championship, it sounds like their defensive coordinator won’t be a casualty. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reports that Mike Pettine will return next season.

When head coach Matt LaFleur talked to reporters earlier today, he wasn’t willing to definitively commit to his defensive coordinator.

“Yeah, we’re still working through everything right now,” LaFleur said (via Grant Gordon of NFL.com). “Just trying to evaluate everything. Like you said, I think our defense did a lot of great things. Obviously the last game was really disappointing in terms of our performance. It just wasn’t good enough, especially when you get to a championship game like that. You know what’s at stake. Just all across the board, it wasn’t just the defense — our offense and special teams weren’t up to par as well.”

Apparently, LaFleur was willing to commit soon after the press conference ended. Demovsky writes that the head coach met with Pettine this afternoon, and it was decided that the defensive coordinator will stick around for the 2020 campaign.

Pettine joined the Packers organization prior to the 2018 season. Despite the Packers moving on from head coach Mike McCarthy, LaFleur decided to stick with the coordinator. Green Bay’s defense rebounded in 2019, finishing this most recent campaign in the top-10 for points allowed and takeaways.

Torn Pec Feared For Packers LB Oren Burks

Packers starting linebacker Oren Burks is believed to have suffered a torn pectoral muscle, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky writes. More tests are expected to determine the next course of action, Demovsky hears. 

The second-year linebacker sustained the injury, originally believed to be a shoulder injury, in the first quarter of Green Bay’s preseason opener vs. the Texans. When asked on Thursday, Packers coach Matt LaFleur did not provide an update on whether the injury would cost the linebacker significant time.

“Honestly, I don’t really know anything right now,” LaFleur said. “It’s kind of wait and see, but I hope not.”

A third-round selection in 2018, Burks appeared in 14 games as a rookie, starting four. He logged 24 tackles and was expected to take over as a starting inside linebacker alongside Blake Martinez in 2019. Though Burks was slated as a starter, it is essentially a part-time role in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme, which calls for a hybrid safety at times to fill the role.

AFC Rumors: Chiefs, Raiders, Steelers

De’Anthony Thomas was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia possession on Saturday, according to the Allen County (Kan.) Sheriff’s Office (via KMBC.com). The Chiefs wide receiver has since been released from Allen County Jail on bond. Thomas has played his entire NFL career with the Chiefs, signing a one-year deal to return to the team in 2018 after his rookie contract expired. The wideout’s latest Kansas City deal expired after this season. Thomas, 26, landed on IR in October.

As the Patriots venture to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII, here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Needs exist at many spots on the Raiders‘ roster, but they are expected to conduct a defense-heavy draft, Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. Oakland added several defenders in free agency last year, most of whom on one-year deals. The Silver and Black finished with an incredible 13 sacks — 17 fewer than the next-closest team (the Giants) this season and fewest in a season since the 2008 Chiefs, who also traded their best pass rusher that year (Jared Allen), recorded just 10 — and lack long-term answers at just about every position defensively. The Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades garnered the Raiders, whose own first-round pick became No. 4 overall, the Nos. 24 and 27 selections.
  • The Steelers exercised Bud Dupree‘s fifth-year option last May but have not decided on his long-term status with the team, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dupree collected 5.5 sacks this season and has 20 in his career but has not lived up to his first-round billing. Dupree’s option price is $9.23MM. It would not be surprising if neither Dupree nor 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns inked second contracts with the Steelers, Fittipaldo writes. Burns’ fifth-year option decision is due in May. Considering Burns played just 308 snaps this season and will carry an option cost of close to $10MM, it would be incredibly surprising if Pittsburgh exercised it.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered an injury in Sunday’s Pro Bowl. While the Associated Press notes the injury that caused the Steelers wideout to leave the game was just a bruised knee, the second-year wideout was limping en route to the AFC team bus. Smith-Schuster may be on the verge of becoming Pittsburgh’s centerpiece receiver, should Antonio Brown be dealt. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be in danger of missing OTA time, however.
  • Included in Seth Wickersham’s must-read ESPN.com piece about the Jimmy Haslam-era Browns: a near-deal that would have added to the Browns and Texans‘ unique quarterback pipeline. After Cleveland chose Johnny Manziel in the 2014 first round, then-Browns GM Ray Farmer had to calm down a “furious” Brian Hoyer. The Texans soon called to offer their No. 33 overall pick for Cleveland’s then-starting quarterback, but Farmer declined the deal to get control of a draft that had gone haywire (with Mike Pettine leading the way for Justin Gilbert and Haslam behind the Manziel move). Hoyer played one more season with the Browns and in 2015 signed with the Texans, who used that No. 33 pick on offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo.

Packers To Retain DC Mike Pettine

The Packers will opt for continuity on the defensive side of the ball after hiring new head coach Matt LaFleur. LaFleur will retain incumbent defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, as he told Adam Schein of Mad Dog Radio (Twitter link). 

Early reports suggested LaFleur was open to keeping Pettine around, and that may have played into Green Bay’s decision to hire him as head coach. As a young offensive-minded head coach with little experience, LaFleur will surely lean heavily on Pettine, who is not only a longtime DC but a former NFL head coach. The Packers could use an arrangement similar to that of the Rams, where head coach Sean McVay handles the offense while defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has near total control on defense.

2018 wasn’t a banner year for Pettine and the Packers defense, as the club ranked 18th in yardage, 22nd in scoring, and 29th in DVOA. But Green Bay was working with young options in the secondary and lacked talent elsewhere. Pettine experienced prior success as the DC of the Jets (200-12) and Bills (2013), and even posted a 7-9 record as the Browns’ head coach in 2014.