By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings hired Brian Flores as their defensive coordinator on Monday, their first step toward trying to revive a once-dominant unit that ranked among the NFL’s worst last season.
Flores was a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach this season for Pittsburgh, after three years as head coach in Miami.
Prior to being hired by the Dolphins, Flores was an assistant for 11 seasons for New England, the last eight on the defensive side. The Patriots won four Super Bowls during his time there, which included four years as a scout. The last of those was in the 2018 season, which was Flores’ first as the defensive play-caller. The Patriots jumped from 17th to seventh in the league that year in opponent passer rating (85.4) and were tied for fifth with 28 takeaways.
After he was fired by the Dolphins, Flores, who is Black, filed a class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by the team and the NFL. The case is still tied up in the court system.
With the Steelers, the 41-year-old Flores drew rave reviews from players who saw him as an extra head coach on Mike Tomlin’s staff. The Steelers were tied with the Patriots this season for the fewest rushing touchdowns (seven) allowed in the league.
Flores replaces Ed Donatell, who was fired last month after one year with head coach Kevin O’Connell. The Vikings were second-worst in the league in yards allowed and fourth-worst in points allowed during the regular season. The NFC North champions were then ousted from the playoffs in the wild-card round by the New York Giants as quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 301 yards and rushed for 78 more.
The Vikings also interviewed Seattle associate head coach Sean Desai, Pittsburgh senior defensive New Orleans co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen and their own assistant head coach Mike Pettine, who was Green Bay’s defensive coordinator from 2018-20 and also the head coach for Cleveland from 2014-15.
Nielsen was hired as Atlanta’s defensive coordinator. Desai withdrew from consideration. The Vikings also had interest in former Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, but he made a lateral move to take the job with Carolina and never wound up interviewing with Minnesota.
The Vikings under Donatell favored a four-man rush with two high safeties backing their zone pass coverage, but over their last eight regular-season games they forced only seven turnovers and totaled 12 sacks. Jones picked them apart underneath in the playoff game, going 24 for 35.
Four cornerbacks will be free agents next month: primary starters Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley and Chandon Sullivan and backup Kris Boyd. The Vikings also have four core defensive players carrying eight-figure salary-cap hits: safety Harrison Smith, outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter and inside linebacker Eric Kendricks. Only Hunter has not reached his 30s.
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