Vikings fire defensive coordinator Ed Donatell
The Vikings ranked No. 31 in the NFL in total defense during the regular season. The issues continued in the playoffs, when they gave up 431 total yards to the New York Giants.
EAGAN, Minn. -- After the Minnesota Vikings struggled all season on defense, the inevitable happened. Ed Donatell was fired Thursday as defensive coordinator after one year on the job.
Head coach Kevin O’Connell said at a news conference Wednesday that he was still evaluating Donatell. That evaluation concluded when he put on a statement a day later.
“I informed Ed Donatell we will be going in a different direction at defensive coordinator in 2023,” O’Connell said. “While this was a difficult decision because of the tremendous respect I have for Ed as a person and a coach, I believe it is the right move for the future of our football team.”
Despite the Vikings having a gaudy 13-4 record, they ranked No. 31 in the 32-team NFL in total defense during the regular season, allowing 388.7 yards per game. They were No. 28 in scoring defense, giving up an average of 25.1 points per game.
Donatell said before last Sunday’s 31-24 home loss to the New York Giants in the playoff opener that it was “our time to shine as a defense now that we’re hitting the playoffs.’’ Instead, the defense was even worse, allowing 431 yards to the Giants, who were No. 18 in the NFL in total offense.
O’Connell made Donatell his most important hire when he took his first job as a head coach last February. While O’Connell called the offensive plays, he wanted an experienced hand to call the defense. But it didn’t work out with Donatell, 65, who was in his 33rd season as NFL assistant.
“It’s unfortunate,’’ Vikings cornerback Chandon Sullivan told the Pioneer Press. “I’ve only got to know Donatell for a short period of time but he had nothing but open arms for me. But I understand how the business works. It’s a tough business.”
Donatell did not return a message seeking comment.
O’Connell said in his statement that a search for a replacement would begin immediately. And he thanked the longtime coach for his service.
“I want to thank Ed for his commitment to the Vikings this past season, for the positive impact he had on our players and coaches and for his role in helping me as a first-year head coach lay this foundation,’’ O’Connell said. “We all wish Ed and his wife, Shari, only the best in the future.”
Vikings hall of fame safety Paul Krause said earlier this week that Minnesota needed to dismiss Donatell. On Thursday, he said the team “made the right decision.”
Krause attended the game against the Giants, and sat in a U.S. Bank Stadium suite with about two dozen other former Vikings players.
“We all talk up there and it was almost 100 percent of the guys that were in the suite, they were sick of the defense,” said Krause, who played for the Vikings from 1968-79.
Donatell had switched Minnesota’s defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. However, the Vikings had just 38 sacks, which was tied for No. 21 in the NFL, and Krause said they had too many coverage issues.
“The 3-4, the way they played it was terrible,’’ said Krause, the NFL’s all-time interception leader with 81. “The coverage was not close enough. You’ve got to be taught to cover closer. You can’t let a guy have four, five, six yards on every play. You’re going to get your butt beat.”
Despite the defensive issues, the Vikings won the NFC North and won 13 games for just the third time in team history. They went an incredible 11-0 in one-score games and six times won when they were outgained. And the defense helped in a number of those victories by rising up to make key plays when needed.
“We saved a lot of games and we pride ourselves on closing games,’’ said Sullivan, an impending free agent who said he wants to re-sign with the Vikings after his one season with the team. “You’re going to give up yards every now and then. You’re going to have certain bad games because that’s the way the NFL works. It’s an offensive league.”
Still, Sullivan said he was disappointed with the defense last Sunday in a game in which Giants quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 301 yards and ran for 78.
“We weren’t able to create turnovers and give the ball back to one of the best offenses in the game,,’’ Sullivan said. “We just didn’t get enough turnovers and stops.”
During the regular season, the Vikings were No. 7 in the NFL in total offense. However, due to their four losses being by an average of 22.3 points, they were outscored 427-424.
Some possible candidates to replace Donatell could include Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine, Pittsburgh linebackers coach Brian Flores, Seattle associate head coach Sean Desai, former Wisconsin head coach Jim Leonhard, Los Angeles Rams defensive backs coach Jonathan Cooley, Buffalo defensive line coach Eric Washington and San Francisco passing game specialist and secondary coach Cory Undlin.
For now. Sullivan plans to touch base with Donatell, who played a key role in the cornerback signing as a free agent last March.
“I’m going to reach out and just tell him, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and allowing me to evolve as a player,’ ’’ Sullivan said.
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