EAGAN, Minn. – There's a lot of change happening within the Vikings organization.
Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman were relieved of their duties as head coach and general manager, respectively, Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf and Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf announced Monday morning.
Veteran players Adam Thielen, Brian O'Neill and Eric Kendricks spoke to Twin Cities media members via videoconference and shared their thoughts on the dismissal of Spielman, who addressed the team during its morning meeting, and Zimmer.
"I'm thankful for Rick Spielman and him bringing me here, obviously giving me an opportunity, and all he did for me through the contract situations and things like that," said Thielen, who initially joined the Vikings in 2013 on a tryout basis. "Coach Zimmer, obviously a lot of appreciation for him and a lot of respect for what he's done here.
"I was here the year before he got here, and what he's done with this team and this organization, he's left it in a better place," Thielen added. "Brought a lot of great people, a lot of great men in that locker room and a lot of great football players, so [I'm] thankful for those guys and all they've done."
O'Neill, a 2018 second-round draft pick by Spielman, called it a "tough morning" for everyone within the organization.
"I was able to find out shortly before I came into the building that that was going to be the case, and then throughout the team meeting, Rick kind of let us know what was going on and what the situation was," O'Neill said. "Just the way he expressed his gratitude for all of us, and us being able to thank him and show our respect and appreciation for him bringing us here. He was responsible for all of us players being in this building."
O'Neill expressed gratitude to Zimmer, as well, for helping him develop into a better player.
"I have a ton of respect and gratitude for them and what they've been able to do with getting me here, making me a part of this thing and, really, I feel very fortunate to have worked with both of them and our whole entire coaching staff for the last four years," O'Neill said. "For me, it's nothing but love and respect for those guys with how they approach their business and how they go about things."
Players at the NFL level understand the nature of the business and that tough decisions often have to be made.
It doesn't necessarily make things easier, though, and Thielen emphasized the importance of self-reflection and continuing to put forth full effort in improving the team's on-field production.
"We all have to look ourselves in the mirror. The first thing that I do is I look myself in the mirror after a tough loss or after a season, after a win, looking myself in the mirror and saying, 'What could I do better?' " Thielen said. "I'm just thankful for this organization, that we have a great ownership group that wants to win. They want to do whatever it takes.
"We're all disappointed that we didn't make the playoffs, that we didn't give ourselves an opportunity to make a run at a championship because that's what we're all here to do. This state, these fans, they deserve it," he added.
Thielen said amid the frustration, there's excitement throughout the team about the "great foundation" that exists in the locker room.
When Mark Wilf addressed the media Monday afternoon, he explained that ownership is not looking at adjustments as a "rebuild," per se, because the Vikings have existing components to achieve success.
Asked if O'Neill views the situation similarly, the right tackle didn't hesitate.
"I completely agree with him. He's right. We have a lot of talent here, and we expect to win," O'Neill said. "With the guys who are in this locker room and the guys that are gonna continue to be in this locker room – [they] give us a chance to play at a really high level. And that's the expectation we have for ourselves this year."
O'Neill acknowledged that an 8-9 finish "wasn't the end result we would have wanted" but retained focus on future possibilities.
"Knowing what's still here and what's coming back, and what they're going to be able to do and everybody in this organization's gonna be able to do – we expect to win, and we expect to be back in the hunt next year," O'Neill said. "This isn't a tear-down. This isn't trying to restock the whole entire roster. We have pieces, and we have guys who are going to be here for a while who are talented and will put us in winning situations. I'm gonna do everything in my power to get myself and my group ready to come back stronger, bigger, better and faster next year."
Kendricks also stressed that the Vikings goal hasn't changed, and their sights set on a championship haven't wavered.
"I just want to win games, man. I just want to," the linebacker said.
"It's going to be a new team next year full of new people and some things maybe stay the same, some things may be consistent. But it's a new mindset," Kendricks added. "We've got to have a different strategy this next year in order to have different results. We've got to be on the same page. We've all got to step up, and we've all got look in the mirror and find out what we can do better amongst each other."
Kendricks, O'Neill and Thielen all shared thoughts on what constitutes a positive team culture.
Kendricks, whom the Vikings drafted in the second round in 2015, touched not only on football prowess but on the organization's off-field ethos.
"Work ethic is a huge thing. At the end of the day, the work needs to be done," he said. "Personally you know, I want to get better at my craft, but it's also about becoming better people.
"Obviously the Xs and Os are one thing, it's about winning games," Kendricks continued. "But the best coaches that I've had are the ones that have made me a better person off the field and people that I would want to surround myself with, and just consider them an ear I can talk to and get things off my chest. Not necessarily football-related but just about life in general."
As the Wilfs immediately undergo their search for Minnesota's next general manager and the 10th coach in franchise history, the players understand they have a responsibility in this, as well.
Thielen pointed out that a leadership change isn't necessarily a magic solution.
"A coaching change alone or a new GM isn't going to automatically get us to a Super Bowl. Us as players, we have to do our part. We all could've done better this year to help this team get over the hump," Thielen said. "We have to find a way to have a great offseason, to be prepared when a new coach does come in here, when a new GM comes in here, [so] we can show them what kind of team we have, what kind of guys we have on this team. We have to go out and prove it every single day.
"I think that's exciting, because we have an opportunity now to go get better individually and come back as a team and get better," Thielen added. "I'm looking forward to just a new freshness and excitement around here. We'll see what that brings us. We don't know what that's going to look like in a month or two, but excited about what that could be."