EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Tuesday that the decision to relieve John DeFilippo from his duties as offensive coordinator and promote quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski to an interim role was based on the urgency of now.
The Vikings are 6-6-1 and would be the last team in the NFC Playoffs if the postseason began this week.
Three games remain, starting with Sunday’s contest against Miami (7-6) at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings lost to the Seahawks 21-7 on Monday night in Seattle, endured a redeye flight home and began accelerated preparations for the Dolphins Tuesday morning.
Zimmer emphasized during a conference call with media members that the move was “my decision.”
“It wasn’t anybody else’s, as far as players or other coaches or anything like that,” Zimmer said. “I just felt like in the best interest of the team in these last three weeks, which are important weeks for us during the season, we had to shake things up and try to get better as a football team together.
“I didn’t feel like we were going in that direction based on the past four or five weeks,” Zimmer said. “And really, honestly, it wasn’t about one game. It’s about the direction we were going throughout the latter part of the season.”
Zimmer said it was “an extremely difficult decision.”
“I went around and around about it, because I feel like I hired him, it’s my job to try to help him continue to get better,” Zimmer said. “I obviously didn’t do a good enough job there. I’ve always felt like if you hire a guy you should stick with him and try to help him and help him mature as a coach.
“This one, unfortunately, with the timing and the situation with the last three ball games here, with us still having an opportunity to do something, I felt like I don’t want the season to be wasted,” Zimmer continued. “Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but these three games to me are very, very critical, and we need to play good. Again, it’s not just one person. It doesn’t fall all on him; it falls on myself and everybody else that has anything to do with this team, because we didn’t get it done. It was an extremely difficult day and extremely difficult decision.”
Here are four additional topics covered by Zimmer.
1. Wasn’t personal, but was production-based
DeFilippo helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis as Philadelphia’s quarterbacks coach on Feb. 4. He was announced as Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator to replace Pat Shurmur on Feb. 9 after Shurmur became head coach of the Giants.
The Vikings offseason to-do list started with hiring an offensive coordinator, followed by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins when free agency opened.
The Vikings were in the top 10 in multiple categories earlier this season and had more than 400 yards of offense in four of their first eight games, but they have slipped to 17th in yards per game and 20th in points per game entering Week 15.
The Vikings are 1-3 since their bye and have scored 20, 24, 10 and 7 in their past four games as teams have directed heavy resources toward pressuring Cousins effectively and double-teaming Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
Zimmer said DeFilippo is a “good man, hard worker” and that they “always had really good dialogue.”
“At the end of the day it is a production business. It’s difficult,” Zimmer said. “It’s hard thinking about it, hard making the decision. I have a lot of respect for John. I think he is a very, very brilliant mind. But we weren’t producing is the end of it.”
2. Stefanski’s opportunity
While there is disappointment that things didn’t work out as planned with DeFilippo, there can also be a bright spot with the opportunity in front of Stefanski.
When the Vikings were evaluating candidates for Shurmur’s old post, they considered Stefanski, whose tenure with the Vikings is the longest and dates to 2006.
“I think the biggest thing with Kevin is he has been here for a long time, so he knows how we do things here, number one,” Zimmer said. “Number two, I think he has a good grasp of his players.
“Kevin is a very brilliant guy. I interviewed him for the coordinator job this past offseason,” Zimmer added. “We’ve got a lot of smart guys in that room. I will try to help him the best I can and so will everybody else and hopefully the players will, too. This really wasn’t about one guy. This was about a lot of us not holding up our end of the bargain. It was more of a corrective thing than anything else. It’s unfortunate in this business, but sometimes it looks like it was one guy but it really isn’t.”
3. Adjusting on the fly
The Vikings have a short week of preparation and a lot on the line.
Zimmer understandably declined to provide specifics for how the Vikings will adjust, but he does expect some changes to occur.
“I think everybody is going to be a little bit different with what they are doing, when they’re calling plays, when they’re game-planning,” Zimmer said. “So I think everybody is going to be a little bit different with what they are doing. I am not going to discuss it, what I think and what I want.”
4. Assessing Cousins’ play in Seattle
Cousins finished 20-of-33 passing for 208 yards and a touchdown (passer rating of 89) in Seattle. In the first half, however, he was 4-for-8 with 27 yards, getting 15 of those on the second snap of the game. A fumble during a sack was returned for a touchdown that gave Seattle a 21-0 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Zimmer was asked if Cousins’ performance against the Seahawks affected the decision and said, “no, not really” because multiple factors were involved.
“There was a lot of things that happened offensively last night that was not good enough play,” Zimmer said. “I wouldn’t put that all on the quarterback. There were times where we didn’t get in the right situations, and there were times where we didn’t get open in other situations. This really didn’t have anything to do with the quarterback or last night.”