Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor
Good morning. I don't do this anymore, so y'all go ahead.
Q: Would you like to do this again?
A: No, I'm enjoying what I'm doing right now, so I'm just fine. I'll do a drive by about every eight weeks. How about that?
Q: With the offense putting up the type of numbers it has, is this how you guys envisioned it when you got here?
A: I think we're what we want to be. That's where we're starting to work in that direction. We've done that. The one thing about the NFL season is it's so long. People always talk about the 2019 season, but it is so long you kind of have to take it in months and see where you're at and how you're doing, how do you get better. I think the thing that's been really encouraging for us is when you look at the real young players, some of the young players we're playing with—starting rookie center, got a rookie tight end who's basically playing as a starter along with Rudy (Kyle Rudolph), a young running back who's a big contributor and then we have a rookie receiver who's started what now, four or five football games. I think that's the thing that's really been encouraging for us moving forward and makes it exciting here going into the home stretch.
Q: Kirk Cousins is giving you some credit for helping him play faster. How would you evaluate his progress?
A: I think how you call plays can help a quarterback play faster, so you have to go to Kevin (Stefanski) with that. I think we have a lot of eyes on Kirk (Cousins). You have Klint (Kubiak) in there, you have me in there, you have Kevin who's coached quarterbacks, and Rick Dennison who's coached quarterbacks. I think as coaches, you're always trying to find out what your guy does best, how you help him play at his best. Making quick decisions, getting rid of the football initially, you can't talk about that enough because it's a game where if you hold the ball, bad things happen. We just try to put a big point of emphasis on that and the way Kevin has called games, I think, has been the most important thing with how Kirk has been able to translate that to Sundays.
Q: Has that mentor-mentee relationship gone how you hoped or planned with Kevin Stefanski?
A: Yeah, it's really been special. I know it's a unique, I guess title or job in this league but Zim (Mike Zimmer) and Rick (Spielman) give me a chance to do that. It's been fun for me. I'm able to sit there with Kevin each day as we game plan and get ready to go do things. I'm able to be with him, in his ear on a play-to-play basis as he calls the game on Sundays. I think it's been really exceptional. We have a really good blend of experience on our coaching staff, I'm talking offensively, and some bright young minds. Those things go together and Kevin is the one that really pulled everyone in the same direction and done a great job with it.
Q: Do you think he's moving toward that head coaching path?
A: I think Kevin's got a brilliant future. The key to getting in position to do those type of things is calling games, calling defenses, calling offenses, making decisions, handling a meeting room of a bunch of players, being able to get the most out of not only players, but coaches as well. Kevin's been exceptional and this is a great opportunity for him this year to do it in a full-time basis. He's doing a great job with it.
Q: How soon could that be do you think?
A: I don't know. I'm sure they don't want to lose him around here. Kevin's got a bright future. He's very young, very smart. There's a couple qualities, I was thinking about this the other day, is being able to be demanding but being very composed. Those are two things that I looked for in young coaches when, I know for me as a head coach, when I was looking for guys to come work for me, and those are two things that Kevin does extremely well.
Q: What do you think is allowing Kirk Cousins to play faster and put up career numbers?
A: Well, I think Kirk's always put up some good numbers. You go back and look at his career, he's done that. I think he's really bought in to what we're trying to be as a football team and as a group. I think Kirk knows he's on a really good football team. We can win a lot of ways when we show up on Sunday. This past weekend was a great example of that. We didn't play the way we wanted to play or had the game go the way we'd like to play it, but yet we turned him loose in the second half. He put it on his back and led us to a big win. I just think that he continues to understand himself better, his relationship with Kevin as we prepare to get ready for games when we sit in those meetings and talk about how Kevin's is going to call the game and Kirk gives him feedback and the job that Klint's doing with him on our day to day basis. I just think all those things are coming together and he's feeling more and more comfortable each week that he goes out there.
Q: The type of season that Stefon Diggs is having, is it all that more significant that he's doing it on a team that is by and large had a run first emphasis?
A: Not only that, obviously we ran the ball a lot early in the season, I think that's been well documented. I think the fact that Adam's (Thielen) been out and the way that Diggsy (Stefon Diggs) has played is even more credit to him. He has gotten doubled, you name it. People are trying to take him out of the football game. What we're having to ask him to do, and I've told him this, when you have a receiver on the field who you're trying to get the ball to and people are taking him away, you really have to challenge the receiver. You have to move. You have to motion and you have to do things maybe you're not comfortable with so we can get you open. He's bought in to that and a great example of that in the second half this past week.
Q: With Kevin specifically these last few weeks, what kind of growth does that give a coordinator when an offensive weapon like Adam Thielen is out?
A: That is a tremendous challenge. That's what you have to learn to do. People are so good in this business. Obviously Vic (Fangio), tremendous defensive football coach, but when you show up on Sunday and whether you're playing (Bill) Belichick or somebody who says this guy won't beat me, but yet it's your job as a coach to say, "Well, that's one of my best players, I've got to give him a chance to beat you." It's a chess match and it's one that takes a lot of work between player and coach to get him loose and give him a chance.
Q: Why do you think the heavier personnel with the fullback and the multiple tight ends is working for you this year?
A: I don't know. We're kind of built that way. Some teams you don't have that personnel. We've got three really good tight ends and they've been healthy, so we've had them up every week. We have the ability with the fullback to play the game that, maybe a third of the teams in this league carry fullbacks, so we're just kind of built to play that way a little bit. Sometimes it does calm the game down a little bit for you offensively, depending on how much defense, you're getting to a certain personnel. It's just the give and take and what gives you the best chance to make some big plays to still be consistent running the ball. It's just something that's worked for us and our health has probably ben a big part of that.
Q: What's it been like to watch Bisi Johnson continue to grow when you sort of helped find him?
A: That's been a big piece. When you lose a player like Adam (Thielen), I don't know how many games Adam's missed now, four or five, something like that, starts. This kid's been put on the spot and some teams are saying, "Hey, this is where you have to go with the ball," and we've been able to go to him. He's made some big plays for us in the game. I think the thing most encouraging is the volume of offense that we ask or guys to handle. As a young player, he's been able to handle it. He wouldn't be on the field if he wasn't getting it in the meeting room. He's done great job.
Q: You've been around some great running backs in your career. Is there anyone you can compare Dalvin Cook to or is he kind of unique?
A: I think they're all different. The one characteristic I would say that when I look at TD (Terrell Davis) and I look at some of these backs that I've had, Arian Foster and (Clinton) Portis, they have a toughness edge to them. Dalvin's (Cook) not the biggest guy in the world, but when he runs, he runs angry, pass protects. He'll stick his face in there, do those type of things. Those guys have an edge and Dalvin has it. The thing that Dalvin's done a great job for us, he's a three down player. He's on the field protecting Kirk (Cousins), catching the football, so we're able to get him other ways to help us win than just handing it to him.
Q: What was it like to see your former team on Sunday? Did you get a chance to reconnect with some of the guys there?
A: Yeah, if you stick around long enough in this league, you're probably playing somebody you know every week. Yeah, that was different. Obviously, I'm very grateful to my career there, spent a lot of time there. So yeah, I was able to see a lot of people that I was a part of some great things with. It was good to see them.
Q: What do you think has allowed Irv Smith Jr. to have the progression he has?
A: I'll tell you, I'll go back to the draft with George (Paton) and Rick (Spielman), I give them a lot of credit here. I think they saw a young player who was going to continue to grow and develop. That's what I saw too. He's very young coming out. I think Irv's getting even bigger. I think he's going to be an even bigger player as he moves forward. I think they knew it was coming, how quick it would come and the fact that we've got Rudy (Kyle Rudolph), we've got Conk (Tyler Conklin) here, we were able to bring Irv along a little slowly and now we're asking a great deal of him. I think it was the foresight of what could happen with this kid along the way. Hopefully, his best is yet to come.
Q: What do you know about Kirk Cousins now that you didn't know at the start of the season?
A: I continue to learn more about him every day—personally, how he prepares, how he thinks going into games, how we make him confident going into games. I think it's a process, just we continue to go. I think it's been really good. I think the best thing is we have a lot of eyes on him from the standpoint of guys that have coached quarterbacks. It's been a good working relationship. You have to give Sean Mannion and Jake (Browning) a lot of credit in that room. It's a great room. They're all working towards the same goal. Those two guys really help him prepare, so they deserve some credit, too.
Q: Was Kirk Cousins holding the ball early in the season, particularly at Chicago?
A: I don't know. I think it's a combination maybe of us and what some of the things we were doing. We have can make sure with Kevin (Stefanski) and I and how we're approaching things, we try to keep him out of those situations. I think it's a combination of all of us being on the same page, staying out of that situations. Sometimes in this league, it's third down and 14. You have to hand the ball off and go punt and play defense. Yet, you get in a game like we did last week where we were having to be aggressive in some tough situations. It's just handling situational football and maybe trying to limit some of those bad situations.
Q: Did he change at all after that Chicago game?
A: Yeah, I don't know how much he changed. I just think he stayed on the grind. He and I have had some great conversations. I know early in the season, I made a comment to him after one of the disappointing games, whether it was Green Bay or Chicago, I said, "You know Kirk, we just have to keep going right back to those situations and we'll get over the hump. We'll improve those situations." I think it's his commitment to do that that, his confidence in what we're doing, his confidence in his team to help him get over the hump on some of those situations, I think, has been really important.
Q: What's been the key to him improving so much in the red zone over the course of the season?
A: I'm probably going to be repetitive, but I think it's us finding some things he does really well. I think some of our ability using Dalvin's (Cook) screen game, some of those things has really helped us be a good red zone football team. As we put a plan together and Kevin (Stefanski) puts a plan together, we sit there and we walk in with this much stuff, Kirk (Cousins) does a great job of sitting down with us and getting it narrowed to let's go do this amount of things really well. I think it's just been the relationship and preparation how we're doing things. I think that continues to grow.
Q: What role do you find yourself in making in-game adjustments and how are you influencing the game from the coaching box?
A: Kevin (Stefanski) would probably have to answer that. What I try to do is I help Kevin with situational football, what's going on. I'm listening to him call the game. I may make a suggestion, "Hey, Kevin, come back with this. You're getting played this way, so think about this." It's just a great conversation back and forth. I can't tell you how many times I may say something and Kevin will say, "Say that again." We're just constantly conversing on what's happening and a lot of eyes on what's going on on the football field. He's doing a great job pulling the trigger. He's really an excellent play caller and I think he's getting better each and every week because his feel for our players and what our team does best continues to grow.
Q: Are you surprised more people don't go with your zone blocking schemes?
A: I don't know, there's a lot of people that do it, but obviously it's not something you can do all the time. We've actually had some success doing some other things this year. Rick (Dennison) and Andrew (Janocko) have done a really good job putting our game plan together each and every week. I think our guys have been receptive to change, and the fact that we have a young center who's become a really good player I think leading the group, it's been special.
Q: Have you enjoyed coming back like this?
A: You know what, I really have. I really have. It's different, I will say that. I go home a little earlier than I used to, but I really have enjoyed myself. It's keeping me young as a coach. Coach-speak, I should say, it's keeping me young. I go on the field, I love working with young players. I'm actually running the scout team for the offense, I do that. I love working with those young guys. Going on to the defensive end, I'm making sure how we get Kirk (Cousins) prepared to play. I think all those things have really given me a lot of juice back, and I'm really enjoying what I'm doing.
Q: Is it what you expected it would be?
A: Yeah, you know it was my vision, but I think like anything else, I walked in here with a great group. It's a very experienced coaching staff, especially from the defensive standpoint. Obviously with Zim, a tremendous amount of experience. But I think they told me what they wanted me to do, they kind of explained my role to me, and it's truly been exactly that. Looking forward here to the stretch run.
Q: What has it meant to you to be able to see your scheme through and see its legacy take shape and what it's doing for Minnesota?
A: Well I think we all have a background. We come from something, so my label is with the zone and the movement and those type of things, but I think you always have to grow as coaches. I think that's why we're having some success here, because there is some growth. There's a lot of things Kevin (Stefanski) has done in the past, Rick (Dennison) has done in the past, and we have some bright young minds in there that come in there with some great ideas. I think we're expanding on what we do, but we know what our base is and where we started.
Q: Has this year given you the itch to do more at all?
A: The itch, no. It has not given me the itch. I'm doing just fine. I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I had my chance to be the head coach, I really enjoyed it, but I'm enjoying what I'm doing now.
Q: How has your relationship evolved with Mike Zimmer?
A: It's been great. I try to stay out of Zim's way. I know the job he has to do, and I know the job that I have to do for him. But we have some great conversations. When you've been a head coach before and you come off of a game, a lot of time assistant coaches don't know what the head coach is dealing with that day. I know when Zim is dealing with when other things are going on, so we have a lot of conversations. When I see him coming down the hall, I can see him from a distance because my office is in the corner up there, I know he's usually coming down to sit and just talk for a little bit. But I've really enjoyed it, very impressed with Zim and his work and the job he's doing with this team.
Q: Would you turn down any offer that came?
A: I said that's not for me anymore. I'm enjoying what I'm doing.
Q: As you guys continue to have success, do you think guys will be able to differentiate between you and Kevin Stefanski?
A: Absolutely. All you got to do is sit down with Kevin for about five minutes and you realize the type of individual you're dealing with as far as his football knowledge, the way he interacts with people, the way he handles himself. So that's a big, big job in this business as you work towards being a head coach, but obviously he's doing a great job, and like I said, he's got a bright future.
Q: With the relationship that you have with your son Klint and that Mike Zimmer has with Adam Zimmer, how special is it? Do you see it progressing to Klint or Adam being head coaches someday?
A: Well, I don't know. You don't look that far ahead. Being a coach and being in the same building with your son, I'll tell you the truth, it's special. I get a chance to see him, but I think the thing that you're most proud of is when you're watching your son become a good coach, watching him work, watching him put in time to become a good football coach. Klint is lucky from the standpoint of he's got a lot of people looking over his shoulder as he coaches that quarterback every day. I'm one of them, Kevin (Stefanski) is one of them, Rick (Dennison) is one of them, and that's what makes you a good coach. When I was raised as a young football coach, I was an offensive coordinator and running meetings, and Mike (Shanahan) is sitting there and sitting in the back of the room every day, critiquing me. "Hey, come here, you said this, you said that." That's what gives you really a good chance in your career, so we've got some guys that have got that opportunity.
Q: Do you go to the farm for the bye week?
A: I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't ever get away from football, but we're trying to self-evaluate right now and see what's going on. But we've got some big games coming up here, so a lot of work to do.