EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf on Monday explained the importance of keeping training camp practices open to fans, the organization's belief in its football leadership and its ongoing search to hire a new Chief Operating Officer to replace Kevin Warren.
"We're trying to do little tweaks wherever we can to make this a great experience for the fans," Wilf said. "We're proud of the fact that we have 16 practices open to the public.
"I think that's something that we want to continue, and this kind of state-of-the-art facility allows us to do it," Wilf continued. "It allows the fans to be close to the action and allows the players to be here at home where they can focus on their work, the class work and field work."
While some other teams are reducing the number of dates for practices that are open to fans, Wilf said the Vikings wanted to maintain an openness in the second year of holding camp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. The facility occupies about 40 acres within a 200-acre parcel called Viking Lakes that is being developed separately and will feature a signature Omni hotel, as well as residential, retail and commercial spaces.
"We have the best fans in the NFL. We want that excitement here," Wilf said. "Viking Lakes is a great community. We want people to be part of it. We want people to be part of the practices. We know we're stewards of this franchise, and we're nothing without our fans. We appreciate them."
Wilf said crowd involvement at open practices, including this week's night practice on Saturday at TCO Stadium, gives players and coaches a "more game-like environment" as the team prepares to open its preseason slate in New Orleans on Aug. 9.
He expressed optimism for 2019, when Minnesota will seek its third NFC North title in a five-season span and a return to the postseason after an 8-7-1 mark a season ago left them out of the playoffs.
"Obviously last year was disappointing, but we have great expectations for this year," Wilf said. "We love the things that happened in the offseason, starting with our coaching staff and the addition of the Kubiaks (Gary and Klint), and [Rick] Dennison, Kevin [Stefanski] on the offensive side. They work together really well.
"Free agency, whether it's Anthony Barr staying on, or extending guys like our receivers or Kyle [Rudolph] or [Eric] Kendricks, we've made a commitment to provide the resources, whatever we can to make sure our team is competitive on the field," Wilf added. "Our goal is to win the division and win Super Bowls."
Wilf said Vikings Owners are confident in Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman, in what "they've built and are continuing to work with."
"We are confident that leadership will get us where we want to go, which is winning Super Bowls," Wilf added.
Warren, who helped the Wilf Family Ownership group purchase the Vikings in 2005, is transitioning to become the sixth Commissioner in the history of the Big Ten. After working as an attorney on the negotiating agreement, Warren was brought into the Vikings organization. He was promoted to COO in 2015.
"Kevin really has been with us since day one, since we really started looking at purchasing the team almost 15 years ago. He'll be sorely missed," Wilf said. "He's a tremendous inspirational leader, he really has elevated our franchise – not just in the community but across sports, and across business. Implementing some of the goals in terms of fan experience with our stadium and our headquarters, being part of the community, the partnerships we've developed – he's really elevated our franchise."
Warren is scheduled to start in the Big Ten in mid-September.
Wilf said the Vikings are conducting an "extensive process" in their search to hire a new COO and are considering internal and external candidates. He said the position is "primarily" on the business side of the organization but will be able to add input "if there's something that's seen right or wrong on the football side."
"We have a tremendous executive team on the ground here, and we're looking to get the best candidate here who can help us move forward as an organization and a franchise," Wilf said.