Make no mistake about it--losing Mike Tomlin hurts. Tomlin took an average defense and turned it into a unit that almost carried the Vikings and their stagnant offense to the playoffs. And now that he had a year of experience as a coordinator, the Vikings defense was poised to be special next year (with the right additions).
Instead, the effectiveness of the unit the Vikings were counting on to carry the load next season is suddenly in doubt. Rather than having a talented coordinator with connections to star free agents (see Rice, Simeon), the Vikings have to reconsider the very philosophies their defense is based on. Should they go out and get a defensive coordinator that utilizes the 3-4 to capitalize on their linebacker depth, Pat Williams All Pro play at nose tackle and slide Kevin Williams to defensive end? Do they stick with the Tampa 2, let Napoleon Harris go and concentrate on finding a defensive end that get to the quarterback? Or perhaps they should move towards a scheme based on blitzing and man to man coverage, making a shutdown corner to pair with Antoine Winfield the priority.
It's because of that uncertainty that Tomlin's departure hurts the most. It forces the Vikings' to focus on what type of defense they're going to play rather than what players they need to improve it. And really, there wasn't anything the Vikings could do about it. This isn't like when Scott Linehan left to become the Dolphins' Offensive Coordinator because Red was too cheap to pay him a coordinator's salary. Tomlin was going to become a head coach sooner than later and it's just the Vikings luck that Bill Cower's retirement opened up a great job with an ownership group willing to hire a young, inexperienced minority as a head coach. [I know this probably sounds racist but I wouldn't be surprised if the Rooneys had made it a point to hire a minority if possible, since they were the lead ownership group on the minority interview rule, otherwise known as the Rooney Rule.]
Unlike a lot of other Vikings' fans, I don't believe this ends any chance of success for 2007. While it would have been nice to have Tomlin around next year and in position to take over if Brad Childress and the Vikings failed to improve next year, a suitable replacement can be found that can keep the defense playing at a high level. Zygi Wilf has shown a willingness to pay for top notch coordinators and Brad Childress has already hired one good defensive coordinator. I don't know who the candidates to replace Tomlin are yet, but I know the the Vikings should be able to get a top notch replacement thanks to Zygi's open wallet, Childress' ability to identify quality defensive coaches and the massive amount of talent they have coming back. Hopefully, when they identify the next Mike Tomlin this time, he actually sticks around for more than a year.