EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has endured plenty of ups and downs in his five-plus seasons in Minnesota.
But one thing stands alone at the top of the list in terms of positives for Zimmer, who pointed at the offseason hire of Gary Kubiak as “the best thing that’s ever happened to me since I’ve been here.”
Kubiak has nearly 10 years of head coaching experience in the NFL and has an 82-75 overall regular-season record. He is in his first season as Minnesota’s assistant head coach/offensive advisor.
“Gary has been tremendous,” Zimmer said. “He’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me since I’ve been here.
“He’s very smart. I talk to him a lot about what he’s done as a head coach. We talk a lot about offensive and defensive football,” Zimmer added. “I love his demeanor and the way he and [Vikings Offensive Coordinator] Kevin [Stefanski] can communicate during the game and also during the weekly game plan.”
Kubiak’s name is at the forefront of the news this week considering he has plenty of ties to the Broncos, who are Sunday’s opponent at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Kubiak was a three-time Super Bowl champion while with the Broncos, including as Denver’s head coach in a 24-10 win in Super Bowl 50 against Carolina. He spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons as the head coach in Denver, compiling a 21-11 record.
Kubiak also won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 when he was the Broncos offensive coordinator. Denver’s offense ranked first in yards and points per game in 1997, and the Broncos were second in yards and third in points per game in 1998.
As a player, Kubiak spent nine seasons as a quarterback for the Broncos.
View exclusive images shot by Vikings team photographer Andy Kenutis as the Vikings and Cowboys competed against each other in Dallas for Sunday Night Football.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Monday:
1. Respect for Fangio
Zimmer said earlier this offseason that he was ecstatic Vic Fangio finally earned a top coaching job in the NFL.
“I wish he didn’t now,” Zimmer quipped of the Broncos head coach, whom Zimmer will see on Sunday.
Zimmer then turned serious with his respect for Fangio, who was a defensive coordinator for 19 seasons with five teams, most recently for the NFC North-rival Bears, before he finally earned his first head-coaching gig this season.
“He’s been a good defensive coordinator for a long, long time,” Zimmer said. “I’m not saying anything bad about anybody else, but a lot of these guys come in and then one year [later] they get a head coaching job and [other] guys never get an opportunity.
“I felt like Vic was a guy that earned that opportunity because of the body of work he had,” Zimmer said. “I don’t think he’s a guy who’s a politician or glad-hander, from what I know of him. It’s nice to see guys get opportunities based on what they’ve done, not a one-year [performance].”
Fangio’s defensive units have finished in the top 10 in yards allowed per game nine of the 19 seasons. He’s also coached nine defenses that have been in the top 10 in points allowed per game.
2. Looking for answers on Allen
There isn’t much tape for the Vikings to study on Brandon Allen, who was named the starter after the Broncos placed Joe Flacco on Injured Reserve.
Allen has just one game of NFL experience, which came in a Week 9 win over Cleveland.
“It’s difficult because he hasn’t been there the entire time; you got a one-game summary of it,” Zimmer said. “Really, we have to prepare for the offense, and then we have to prepare for the players, and then with him being different, just trying to re-study everything that he’s done.
“But it is more difficult having that small of a sample size,” Zimmer said.
Allen, a sixth-round pick by Jacksonville in 2016, completed 12 of 20 passes (60 percent) for 193 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 125.6 as he earned the win in starting his first-ever game.
3. Avoid the trap
Don’t be fooled by Denver’s 3-6 record. Zimmer certainly isn’t.
Even though the Broncos are a few games below .500 — helped by an 0-4 start — Zimmer said he expects a competitive bunch to show up in Week 11.
“Every game they’ve played, the score has been seven points or less, except [three],” Zimmer said. “They lost three [separate] games by a total of two points.
“We’re going to have our hands full and are going to have to play really well on Sunday to win,” Zimmer added.
Denver has seen its share of heartbreakers so far in 2019, including a 16-14 loss to Chicago in Week 2, a 26-24 loss to Jacksonville in Week 4 and a 15-13 loss to Indianapolis in Week 8. The Broncos also lost by one score [eight points] in Week 1 against Oakland.
Despite having six losses, Denver’s total point differential on the season is just minus-21.
4. Kendricks making the jump
Eric Kendricks has led the Vikings in tackles in each of his first four seasons in the NFL, so it’s no surprise he’s doing so again in 2019.
The Vikings linebacker has 97 total tackles [according to coaches’ stats], far ahead of the 61 combined tackled by teammate Anthony Barr.
Zimmer was asked if he’s seen Kendricks make a leap in his fifth season in the league from good to great.
“Everybody says how great he’s playing, and I think he’s always been pretty darn good,” Zimmer said. “To me, is there a big jump? I don’t know. I guess I have to evaluate it at the end of the season. He’s a ‘see ball, get ball’ guy. He always has been.
“And that’s kind of why he’s been able to make plays, because he sees something, he goes – and he doesn’t hold back. He’s not afraid to shoot his gun,” Zimmer added. “So, I think he’s just playing with a bunch of confidence, feels secure about the system, understands where everybody’s going to be, and I think that’s [been important] for him.”
Kendricks also leads the Vikings with 11 passes defenses. He additionally has four quarterback hurries, 3.0 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks and a forced fumble.