Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
We started our evaluations from this past season trying to look back at everything that went on and where we need to go from here. There were a lot of good things that happened. Unfortunately, we didn’t reach the goals that we wanted to. It was disappointing we ended up finishing that way. But there are a lot of good, positive things. We finished top five in defense again. We finished number one in red zone defense. Finished number one in third down defense again. There are a lot of good things. There are a lot of things we have to get cleaned up. Like I told the team the other day, we are going to evaluate everything very thoroughly, including myself, and everywhere that we are going to go from there.
Q: What does that mean to you when the way players are supporting you and ownership?
A: Honestly it doesn’t mean that much. I never had any doubt that anybody was not supporting me or anything like that. I think if you look over the five-year track record, you might, but unfortunately, this is a, “What did you do for me now?”
Q: How are you looking at the offensive coordinator position?
A: I’m looking at all kind of options there. We are sitting down, and again, we are evaluating everything. I think Kevin is a really good football coach. Very smart guy. I thought he did a good job for the three weeks that we were in a tough situation that we had to do. It’s fair to the organization to myself, to the fans, that we look at everybody.
Q: How does it complicate Kevin Stefanski not being under contract and being able to talk to teams?
A: Well he is technically under contract until Tuesday. So we have exclusive rights to that. Obviously, I’ll decide before then.
Q: Did your team’s identity change this year?
A: I believe it did, yes. Quite honestly, the death of Tony Sparano really kind of threw things into a little bit of a downward spiral, only because the fact that this guy was type-A personality. He was very innovative in the running game, had a strong voice in that room and had a strong voice with me. Yes, I do feel like we lost a little bit of our identity. We are going to get that back.
Q: What is important for the next offensive coordinator and what kind of things do you want to see that person bring to the table?
A: I think the biggest thing we’ve got to score points. We didn’t score enough when we were in the red zone. Obviously, I want to be able to run the football and play action pass because I think that is the most effective way to affect a defense. We didn’t score enough points in the red zone. We weren’t good enough on third downs. There were a lot of things that we need to improve on there. That is going to be big. Part of it is making sure that we are able to without getting too complicated in the X’s and O’s. But a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about is, ‘We’ve got this great player. How are we going to block him?” Let’s get innovative with this so we can protect and be able to throw the ball or protect and be able to run the ball to a different spot.
Q: What have you learned from the experience this year of hiring John DeFilippo new and then having to make that change in the middle of the season?
A: It wasn’t. Again, I think DeFilippo was a good football coach. I just didn’t like the direction that it was going at the time and I was trying to make something to get us going again and get us going back in the right direction. I was trying to get us out of the little tailspin that we were in. I learned that, and I’ve thought about this a lot, I’ve learned a lot about the questions, the interview process, about things that I should probably do a lot better than what I did. Hopefully I’ll do better this next time.
Q: Are you talking about the interviews for prospective offensive coordinator candidates?
A: Yes, a lot of that. We do a lot of research on guys and guys names pop up and pop up and pop up. You kind of assume that’s the right way but it may not be the right way for your particular football team. I need to do a better job there, yes.
Q: Do you feel like you missed something in that process?
A: Not necessarily that. I just don’t think I asked enough questions as far as what we were trying to get done, maybe. I don’t think, not with him, personally. Probably with everybody that we talked to.
Q: Are you concerned about Kirk Cousins’ performances in big games and clutch situations?
A: I see that statistic and obviously it’s not a good statistic. Quite honestly, it’s about the football team. One guy doesn’t win games around here, one guy doesn’t lose games. I don’t take it that way. I have a lot of confidence in Kirk. I’ve talked to him, I’ve talked to some other people about how I can help him better and things that I can do moving forward and so he’s going to come out and play really good next year.
Q: In what ways did Kirk Cousins live up to your expectations and what you would like to see him improve on?
A: Certainly there’s a lot of things in both areas. I really don’t want to get into specifics, sit here in front of all of you and tell you what he can get better at. I’d rather talk to him about those things. As far as the things he did good, number one he came in here and was a great teammate. He studied real hard, he worked extremely hard at everything he was trying to get done. I do think there’s some areas he could get better at and I’m sure he’d tell you the same thing.
Q: Was his play this season what you expected from him?
A: I think it’s more about the combination of the team, not one particular player.
Q: Is it as simple as great offensive line play and is that the most difficult thing to do is draft and build the offensive line?
A: Drafting and building any position is really hard. Obviously offensive line is a tough spot, but there’s plenty of them. I would not say that it’s as simple as that. I think there’s a lot of things that go on and we have to do a better job there. If you look at the five years that I’ve been here, defensively we kind of were going up and maintained where we were and offensively we’ve been down here. I have to do a better job of creating the defensive mindset and attitude, for the most part, on offense. It’s probably as simple as that.
Q: How much of a premium needs to be placed on improving the offensive line?
A: I think a premium needs to be put on everywhere. We’re just starting to go through the evaluation process now with most of the positions, but there’s a lot of guys that we can help to play better, and there’s a lot of positions that we need to get better at.
Q: In terms of support from ownership, would you be comfortable in a scenario where you coached into the final year of your contract without an extension?
A: Sure, I got no problem with that. Free agent after that, right?
Q: Was there any part of you that considered retiring?
A: No, I can’t believe that somebody even threw that out there. No, it was totally, 100 percent, what do they call it, “hashtag fake news”? No, none. I’m not a quitter.
Q: With the eye issues that you went through two years ago, was this season as stressful as that one was?
A: Every season is stressful. It wasn’t more stressful or less stressful. Every season is stressful. When you don’t win, it’s more stressful. The eye thing, it was difficult to deal with, but no, it wasn’t really [stressful]. Actually, the season went pretty fast to be honest with you.
Q: What do you think is one of the main things you lacked compared to playoff teams this year?
A: You can look at a lot of the statistics, but I think quite honestly this football team for the four years that I’ve had been here had that nasty, “we’re going to win regardless or no matter what the situation is” mentality. I don’t know that we had it this year. I talked to a couple of people during the season around the building and I actually said to them, “It’s just kind of a different vibe with this football team.” And I can’t figure out why, because we have a lot of the same guys back. We have good football players. I wasn’t really different than I normally am. But for some reason, we didn’t finish the games like we’d finished before. I don’t know why. We had the lead in a bunch of games last year that we finished, and this year we were playing catch up more so, so I don’t know if that’s it or not. But we’re going to get that mentality back, I can promise you that.
Q: Could it have just been the wide spread assumption that you were just going to take the next step forward?
A: It could be that. It could be the expectation level and everybody believed it. It could be a lot of different things, but we’re going to get it back.
Q: Beyond the offensive coordinator, do you anticipate any other changes to the coaching staff?
A: I don’t know yet. Again, I’m still going through the evaluations. We’ll see how we go, some guys are out of contract, and they may not want to stay here. We’ll work through that here in the next five days or whatever it is.
Q: When you say you’re going to get it back, how do you get it back?
A: I’ve got a plan.
Q: Care to share?
Q: What were some of the things in preseason that you were concerned about that came to fruition?
A: The thing I remember the most, it was a long time ago, but the thing I remember most about the preseason was that we were playing okay on defense, and that kind of showed through the first four weeks of the season. We didn’t play great. We got back to playing pretty darn good there for the most part, but there’s still some areas we have to get better there, too. And then maybe the continuity offensively, we had a new quarterback, we had a new coordinator. Those kind of things.
Q: Given the way the team was able to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 season to perform well in 2017, what can you take from that example to prepare for 2019?
A: I think it’s a good example. We’ve got good football players on this team, and we’ve got good coaches. We’ve got a great home field stadium. There’s a lot of things that we can build on. I told the team this one day, a year ago I felt like we had a big chip on our shoulder. This year, I don’t know that that chip was there. We’re going to get it back.
Q: Has the up and down outcomes of the past several seasons concerned you?
A: Yes, there’s a lot of different reasons for that or possibilities. You get new players. You get different schedules. You get the first-place schedule, you get the third-place schedule, whatever it is. Quite honestly, most of the teams that we lost to were pretty darn good this year. But if we want to get back to the caliber of where we want to be, we have to beat the good teams, so that’s a part of it.
Q: Was being on the opposite side of most playoff teams by running for less yards than you allowed a reason you changed coordinators?
A: I just want to be more balanced. But that’s true, most of these teams, even though they’re passing teams, they still run the football and it makes it much more difficult for the defense if you can run the ball. It slows the defense down, the pass rush, which helps your offensive line, play action slows down the defensive line. All those different things I think help make you an effective offense. We need to do a better job there, yes.
Q: Do you put any more weight on coaching candidates who you’ve worked with in the past?
A: No, not really. I know where you're going with that question, but it's not a good question. I mean, it's a good question, but probably you're fishing in the wrong pond.
Q: Is it a priority for you to bring someone in that has that mentality and approach like Tony Sparano?
A: Well, that’s part of it, yeah. I really felt like a year ago with the players we had there we had that mentality with the players. I’m not saying things about the offensive line this year, but they were tough guys too. But I think you need that kind of a leader in that room that can help with those things and Tony was very innovative in the running game. Like I said before, he was extremely influential in that room. I used to talk with him every morning. When I’m talking to the defense during the game he would be influential throughout the series offensively and getting them going about what they’re going to do the next series. That was a little bit of a factor. I do think that Clancy [Barone] and Andrew [Janocko] for the situation that they were put in did an unbelievable job. It’s tough. I got that phone call we’re coming back and going to have a kickoff party on Monday. I got that call Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. from Kim [Klawiter] that he [Tony Sparano] passed away, so we’re getting ready to go to training camp in two days. The whole thing was another one of those sections for my book, I guess.
Q: How did you navigate the season without him personally without having that voice and ear of Tony Sparano?
A: The other part that people don’t realize in this job is you get close to people’s families and lives. His wife, I would text her once in a while and see if she’s okay, making sure their family is okay. That’s part of it too, it’s not just about the football even though that’s what everybody wants it to be. Every time you put that pin on that said “TS” you’re thinking about him and things that you miss about him as well. I know the offensive line room was devastated when that happened because they really loved the guy, as did everybody that worked with him. He was a grumpy little Italian guy that was very, very good at his job and a good friend of mine. I think there’s no book on it, on how to do it, but you just got to figure out how to do it the best way and if it works, it works and if it don’t, it don’t.
Q: Was there ever a time that you missed the voices of veterans like Brian Robison, Joe Berger and Terence Newman switching roles in adversity?
A: It’s really hard for me to say that because every year you’re going to have guys leave, you’re going to have new coaches, you’re going to have new situations that happen. I think some of the guys that took over some of the leadership roles did a good job. But it’s hard for me to say that that was a factor or not. A lot of the guys you mentioned were really good leaders. But we still have a lot of leaders on this football team. And a lot of them lead differently. Harrison Smith leads differently than Anthony Barr does or Riley Reiff leads differently than Kirk Cousins does. It’s hard to say.
Q: Do players lobby or try to be vocal about things they would like?
A: Not really too much. I ask a lot of players. I told a lot of them that I want to get their opinion on some things the day they left. But I said I don’t feel like today is the right day right after you get knocked out of the playoffs. I’m going to call some of the guys. Some guys won’t say anything to you. And some guys will tell you whatever they think. So you have to pick the right guys and then you have to take it and figure out what’s the best thing. Typically they’ll lobby for you for players once in a while, but they don’t understand salary caps or anything else. So you just listen and nod, kind of like I do with you.