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Like any relationship that goes sour, you don’t really fully see how bad things were until you are free of it. Let’s be honest: The last four years have been miserable for Minnesota Vikings fans.

One way to think about it might be trying to pinpoint the games from the last four seasons that you’ll remember fondly in 10 years. In 2018, Kirk Cousins outplayed the Super Bowl champs in Philly. In 2019, Mike Zimmer gameplanned brilliantly against the Saints in the Superdome. Justin Jefferson’s takeover games. And, uhh, well, there were some real tail whoopings put on the Detroit Lions, man. But that’s about it.

The subsequent seasons following the Minneapolis Miracle were entirely about setting the bar high and failing to reach it. Signing Cousins as the final piece to a Super Bowl team and then missing the playoffs. Bringing the band back in 2019, only to be played out with a sad song in San Francisco. Rebuilding the defense twice in 2020 and 2021, only to see that it was constructed on a foundation of sand.

As the whole operation circled the drain, press conferences got uglier, infighting increased, players became more disgruntled and neither Cousins or Zimmer could get Jefferson 17 measly yards to break the team’s single-season receiving record. A cherry on top of literally nothing fun happening for Vikings fans in years. The final image of the 2021 season was fans booing the team off the field for not attempting to get Jefferson the record.

That’s not even to mention the legitimately heavy things that have happened. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano passing away right before 2018 camp. Everson Griffen’s mental health struggles. Jeff Gladney cut after being indicted on domestic abuse charges. Dalvin Cook accused of abuse against a former girlfriend. Not being allowed inside US Bank Stadium in 2020 and everything that went along with COVID and vaccination debates within the team.

A general manager and head coaching search won’t heal all wounds of the last four years but it gives the Vikings an opportunity to update everything like getting the newest iPhone. The last one had a cracked screen and half the apps wouldn’t work anymore. The new phone shoots movies better than Scorsese and connects to wifi in the Netherlands. The football version of that is hiring a head coach who is built to manage modern football players and a GM who is focused on getting the most out of every cent of cap space.

When Eric Kendricks was asked what he’d like to see from a new coach, he mentioned that the organization shouldn’t be “fear-based.” If you’ve been paying attention, you knew exactly what he was talking about. Ask Kellen Mond, who got senselessly slammed in a Mike Zimmer press conference following the Packers game. Zimmer struggled with player relations throughout his time, from the cornerbacks picking their own scheme in Green Bay in 2016 to Stefon Diggs’ exit, which he later said was because the team wouldn’t hear him out about the offense. Zimmer’s head-butting with Cousins, right or wrong, was part of a pattern.

You don’t have to be a big old softie to be a player’s coach. Working closely with players to collaborate on schemes, techniques and tactics isn’t for wusses, it’s for smart people. Back in the day when Mike Holmgren was working for the 49ers, he would ask Joe Montana to pick out the plays he liked most. Bruce Arians used the same strategy with his quarterbacks – maybe you’ve heard of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck and Tom Brady.

Some of the names getting attention in NFL circles for head coaching positions are Byron Leftwich, Kellen Moore, Brian Daboll, Eric Bieniemy and Nate Hackett. What do they all have in common? They get along with their quarterbacks.

Leftwich was hand-picked by Arians to work with the greatest quarterback ever. All they’ve done is won a Super Bowl and then led the NFL in passing. Moore has the Cowboys’ offense leading the charge to a 12-5 season. Daboll has been behind Josh Allen becoming a top NFL QB. Eric Bieniemy has worked closely with Patrick Mahomes to adapt to defenses’ new strategies against the young superstar. Hackett played a role in returning Aaron Rodgers to excellence after a few years under Mike McCarthy that were below his usual production.

Are any of these fellas a lock to be the Vikings coach or to be Mr. Perfect once they are in charge? Of course not. But they fit the mold of coaches who are winning. The Andy Reids, John Harbuaghs, Sean McVays, Kyle Shanahans, Sean McDermotts.

It isn’t an age thing. It’s an approach thing. Once upon a time, if you were punting on fourth-and-1 from your own 50, you were just like 90% of other coaches. Now you’re giving up points to the other 75% of the league that’s figured out you can’t do that anymore. The NFL, by the way, set a record for teams going for it on fourth down this year. Collaborating with players is just smarter and everyone around the league is figuring it out. The Vikings have a chance to modernize in this area and learn from the Zimmer teams that freaked out in the biggest games and biggest moments.

On the GM side, the last four years have been an exercise in job-keeping. Desperate flailing in the wind while hoping and praying to get enough out of Cousins to reach the playoffs. Moves like extending Cousins, trading for Yannick Ngakoue, trading a fourth-rounder for Chris Herndon, cutting a kicker after one bad game – these weren’t made with a pragmatic, methodical plan to work toward the bigger goal of the Super Bowl. They were swings in hopes of just being relevant enough to sell the owners on one more year.

Now the Vikings have basically a clean slate for their new GM, who can be on the cutting edge rather than the chopping block. Whoever takes over will have an opportunity to build up draft capital, pick their own quarterback and build that gosh darn offensive line like it’s never been built before. Maybe shed a few bad contracts while they’re at it.

Again, none of this is to say the next decision-maker will find football valhalla but the potential for what’s next has to be much more exciting than hopes and dreams of the No. 7 seed. The opportunity sits in front of the Vikings to put their names among the teams that are leading the charge rather than losing ground. That’s surely better than the next disgruntled receiver or being told the next cheap free agent signing will be the one that puts them over the top. 

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