On Wednesday, Jan. 9, the day the Vikings removed the interim tag from offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, BobMcGinnFootball.com reported they received permission from the Green Bay Packers to interview Joe Philbin.
Philbin, the Packers’ interim head coach for the final four games in 2018 and Miami’s coach from 2012-15, has plenty of experience as an offensive line coach. Philbin, who first became an NFL assistant in 2003, worked with the line for four seasons with Green Bay in the past decade and was assistant head coach and offensive line coach with Indianapolis from 2016-17.
The Vikings are seeking a permanent replacement for Tony Sparano, who died last July of heart disease. After Sparano died, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer named co-coaches for the position in Clancy Barone, who had been tight ends coach, and Andrew Janocko, who had been assistant offensive line coach.
It wasn’t a good year for the line. The Vikings were 30th in the NFL in rushing with an average of 93.3 yards per game and, according to Pro Football Focus, gave up the second-most quarterback pressures in the league.
“Tony was very innovative in the running game,” Zimmer said last week. “He was extremely influential in (the offensive line) room. … When I’m talking to the defense during the game, he would be influential throughout the series offensively and getting them going about what they’re going to do the next series. … I do think that Clancy and Andrew, for the situation they were put in, did an unbelievable job.”
Interestingly, Philbin took over the Dolphins the year after Sparano was fired as head coach in 2011, going 24-28 before being let go during the 2015 season. Philbin, 57, went 2-2 as interim coach with the Packers after Mike McCarthy was fired. This week, Green Bay hired Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur as head coach.
The Vikings had plenty of struggles in 2018 in the interior of the line. Pat Elflein was ranked by Pro Football Focus as 38th — last — among centers, and, among 80 guards rated, left guard Tom Compton was No. 46 and right guard Mike Remmers was No. 49.
Among 83 tackles rated, left tackle Riley Reiff was No. 22 and rookie right tackle Brian O’Neill was No. 56.
“You’ve got to look at the offensive line and they’ve got to get better inside the pocket and have got to firm it up,” CBS analyst and former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon said. “They’ve got to play better on the edges. You have to look at the personnel and say, ‘How can you get better up front?’ ”
Reiff, O’Neill and Elflein, despite his difficult second season, look to be in line to return as starters. Compton will be a free agent, and Remmers, who has a salary-cap number of $6.35 million in 2019, could have his contract restructured or be released.
Rashod Hill, who began last season as the starting right tackle before losing his job to O’Neill, will be a restricted free agent. And Nick Easton, the starting left guard in 2017 before missing all of last season with a neck injury, will be unrestricted.
“The offensive line has to be rebuilt,” Fox analyst Charles Davis said.
It likely will start with a new offensive line coach. And Philbin could fit what Zimmer is seeking.
Zimmer has a history of bringing in experienced offensive assistants who previously served as head coaches. Three years ago, he hired Sparano and Pat Shurmur, who was tight ends coach and later offensive coordinator before leaving last year to be head coach of the New York Giants.