The two-year anniversary of the hire of Mike Zimmer offers the opportunity to reflect on a season in which the Vikings won 11 games and their first NFC North crown since 2009.
Vikings Entertainment Network was able to share Zimmer’s post-game victory speeches throughout the season (highlights are in the video above).
The journey to the division title began nearly a year ago with the preparation work for this year following what was considered by many as a largely successful debut.
Zimmer, his staff, General Manager Rick Spielman and the personnel department have already begun work toward next year, but here’s an opportunity to reflect on 10 moments that stood out in Zimmer’s second season.
2015 NFL Combine
Thanks for the compliments, but no thanks.
Zimmer received a lot of credit from media in the days between the season’s end and the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine last February. He said receiving heaping doses of praise “bothers me so much” because of the amount of work he felt was left to do.
“When I go back and evaluate a lot of this tape, I can see how we can play a lot harder, how we can be tougher, more physical in a lot of different ways,” Zimmer said. “It’s going to be a big emphasis for me going forward with the team and continuing to try to put my imprint on what I want this organization to look like.”
“I can’t wait for our first meeting with the players so I can kind of set the record straight on all this because I know they’re hearing the same thing I am.”
2015 NFL Draft
With the 11th pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Vikings selected cornerback
“It’s extremely important that you have guys with great character, great leadership, great competitors and then obviously, the athletic ability that he has. That’s always been big to me and everybody says that I love corners, and I guess I do, but I love good football players more than I love corners. I felt like he could help us a whole lot in a lot of different ways. Everybody bases the Pro Bowl on how many interceptions you get and you may get six or eight interceptions a year, whereas, my whole mentality is how many times do you deny your guy the football? You have the chance to do that 40 times a ball game, maybe. So, I think that’s important for our corners that we have here with the Vikings.”
Zimmer at camp
Zimmer changed a few elements of his second training camp as the Vikings arrived for their 50th at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The changes included adding more inside run drills to “continue to preach the toughness and the mentality that I want for this football team.”
He was also asked about how his comfort in leading the staff and players through camp and the season.
“I feel good about understanding the communication between [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and myself and the expectations of the fans. There are so many things you don’t realize your first time going through, like how tough the job is in a lot of different ways. But I feel much more comfortable and knowing the players better and knowing the set-up better. It’s exciting. It’s just as exciting this year as it was last year, maybe more so.”
Hall of Fame Visit
The night before the Vikings opened the 2015 preseason against the Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game, Zimmer made sure that the travel plans included a tour of “Football Heaven” for current Vikings players. The visuals included the famed bronze busts of former Vikings greats, as well as players that Zimmer has coached over the years, other unique memorabilia and this year’s Lombardi Trophy that will be hoisted by the winner of Super Bowl 50 next month.
“I think they appreciate all the people that have played before them and what they’ve done for the game. It’s nice to see this year’s Super Bowl trophy. I think the guys really liked seeing all the Super Bowl rings and then a lot of the past history of former great Vikings.”
Passing of his father
A significant amount of Zimmer’s philosophy and approach toward life was learned from his father, Bill, who passed away this August. Zimmer coached the Vikings in their home preseason opener against Tampa Bay before traveling to Florida for the funeral.
“It’s been rough. My dad was a heck of a mentor. I got some letters from people saying what influence he had on a lot of people’s lives. He had been sick but we didn’t expect it.”
“He taught me so many things about the way to work, the way to get up in the morning. If you’ve got a problem, continue to work on it to get it fixed. Maybe the biggest thing I take, is he’d take a high school team and one year ran the wishbone, and the next year, they’re running the spread offense. He wasn’t afraid to try things, to learn new things, so it was good.”
Zimmer said focusing on the team helped ease the pain.
“It does. You’ve got to concentrate. You get out here and go to work, you get around the guys and that helps, too.”
The Vikings completion of another training camp in Mankato had potential to be quite the milestone, but Zimmer didn’t like what he saw from his team. He stopped practice early, then made sure he didn’t miss an additional moment to convey that his expectations had not been met. He opened by saying he appreciated the hospitality on campus, but quickly followed with a lesson.
“We finished up our last day at Mankato, I want to thank Minnesota State. They’ve done a great job with their facilities here and welcoming us to their campus. … That was a terrible practice. It was not up to my standards and they better get better quickly or there’s going to be a lot of heck going on.”
Zimmer was asked what he didn’t like about practice and said “everything.”
Kidding around and great kids
Every so often, Zimmer allows himself to kid around with the media. More frequently, he refers to players as great kids, regardless of the player’s age, from Terence Newman, one of the oldest players in the NFL to
“Yeah, Terence is a great kid. He is top of the line, as first-class a kid that you ever want to meet. He’s always been very open to coaching, he’s always wanted to work really hard. He’ll take every rep if you let him, even at his age. When he was younger, I remember the first time I talked to him was at the combine. I think I asked him, ‘Would he tackle anybody?’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ ”
A follow-up question asked, “You still call him a kid?”
“Yeah, I call them all kids. To me they are.”
Grateful to U of M
The Vikings became the first team playing home games in a temporary stadium to make the playoffs and posted a mark of 11-5 in two seasons at the University of Minnesota. Zimmer will always appreciate his first two seasons as a head coach after spending 20 as an NFL assistant.
“I think it’s been really a great two-year run at the University of Minnesota. There’s a lot of people to thank for the coordinated effort that it has taken to do that. It’s been good. It’ll be different for me now because that’s all I really know is going over there to that place, but hopefully we can get in the new stadium and get excited, but we’ve got a ton, a ton of work to do.”
The Vikings earned the right to host a playoff game as the temperature dropped to minus-6 degrees Fahrenheit with a minus-25 wind chill. It was the coldest game in Vikings history.
Zimmer, his face still reddened by the brutal cold wind, expressed his appreciation to the fans who showed their hearts of the Vikings despite the elements.
“Before I get started, I’d like to say I thought the fans were outstanding today. They sat in the coldest game in Vikings history. They were loud. They were educated. I thought they did a great job. It’s disappointing that we lost today. I thought we played well enough to win.”
Adrian’s return and future
Zimmer and the Vikings welcomed back
“I think Adrian Peterson can do anything that he sets his mind to do. I do believe that. If it’s being more versatile, being more involved in the passing game or it’s protection or running routes, any of those things, I do believe he can do anything that he sets his mind to do.”