MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Vikings fired defensive coordinator Ed Donatell on Thursday, an unsurprising decision on the veteran coach after a dismal finish by his defense.
The Vikings ranked second worst in yards allowed in the NFL and fourth worst in points allowed during the regular season. They gave up 431 yards and 31 points to the New York Giants in their wild-card round loss last week.
Coach Kevin O'Connell was hired a year ago by the Vikings and made Donatell his first defensive coordinator, the fourth different NFL team for which he has filled that role. The 65-year-old Donatell has coached 32 seasons in the league — and 43 years in all.
“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,” O'Connell said in a statement distributed by the team. “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 his search for a replacement would begin immediately.
Donatell was previously defensive coordinator for Denver (2019-21), Atlanta (2004-06) and Green Bay (2000-03). He was also a longtime defensive backs coach for Denver, Chicago, San Francisco and the New York Jets, with whom he broke into the NFL in 1990. Donatell started his coaching career in college at Kent State in 1981.
The Broncos ranked eighth in yards allowed and third in points allowed in 2021 under Donatell, but depth and talent makes a difference.
The Vikings returned several healthy and established veterans at the core of their group this season in safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Patrick Peterson, linebacker Eric Kendricks and edge rusher Danielle Hunter, but the transition in schemes didn't go smoothly for all of them. The Vikings signed Za'Darius Smith to play the outside linebacker spot opposite Hunter, but their pressure rate during the second half of the season dropped off significantly.
O'Connell tactfully but clearly stated his disappointment with the results after a 34-23 loss at Detroit on Dec. 11 when Lions quarterback Jared Goff had his way against Minnesota's rush and coverage. Donatell worked tirelessly to make adjustments after that, but the spaces in the zones of the coverage were simply too easy to pass against and the rush was not enough of a factor.
The lack of contribution to the defense from recent drafts has become a big problem for the salary cap-strapped Vikings. From 2017 through 2021, they drafted a total of five defensive players in any of the first three rounds. Two are still with the team: cornerback Cameron Dantzler, a third-round pick in 2020 who finished the season as a backup, and outside linebacker Patrick Jones, a third-round pick in 2021 who is also a reserve.
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