Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf on Tuesday expressed his support in the partnership between General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer during a session with reporters at the Annual League Meeting.
Wilf spoke with The Athletic's Chad Graff and ESPN's Courtney Cronin, providing an assessment of 2018 and an outlook for 2019. He also addressed the importance of supporting mental health initiatives and diversity efforts by the NFL, as well as the Wilf Family Foundations $1 million donation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a special Founders exhibit.
Additionally, Wilf discussed the organization's first year at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, the upcoming Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium and whether or not the region might one day host an NFL Draft, which is scheduled to be held April 25-27 in Nashville for the first time.
The Wilf family ownership group hosts Spielman, Zimmer and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren for assessment meetings after each season.
The same was true this year after the Vikings finished 8-7-1 and out of the playoffs a season after appearing in the NFC Championship Game.
"We said to Coach the same thing we've said from day one," Wilf explained. "I mean, we think he's an outstanding football coach, and we have full confidence in him. He's a great coach, and we're excited about the year ahead, and that's pretty much it. We relayed to him … the same thing that he feels and Rick feels.
"We're not satisfied with last year; we're disappointed," Wilf continued. "We know with the kind of roster we have, the kind of coaches we have, we have all the confidence we have a team that can be a championship team."
The Vikings picked up an option on Zimmer's contract, extending it through 2020, and the move was announced by Spielman in February during a session with reporters at the scouting combine.
"The bottom line is we have tremendous confidence in Coach Zimmer," Wilf said. "He's an outstanding football coach, he's a great leader of men, he's a straight-shooter. We appreciate all of that about him. It's as simple as that.
"He's as disappointed, I'm sure, and as frustrated as we all are," Wilf continued. "We know where we want to go, we know what we have, but it's not an easy hill to climb. But he has the experience, the football knowledge and, really, the confidence and trust of the players. They look up to him, as we all do, as the leader of our football team, and like I said, we have great hopes for this upcoming season."
Wilf explained that the Vikings Owners believe "that Rick Spielman and Coach Zimmer are a great team — we have a great belief in them."
Wilf expressed excitement for Kevin Stefanski becoming offensive coordinator and Gary Kubiak being added as an assistant head coach/offensive advisor.
"I think we feel really good about all that," Wilf said. "Free agency's gone, we think, well for us, so we're making steps, but we never sleep on this because our goal is to win championships. The bottom line when you ask about Coach Zimmer is that we have all the confidence in the world that he, Rick Spielman, our entire football organization and our players, that we can win a Super Bowl here."
Here are five other topics addressed by Wilf:
1. On supporting mental health initiatives
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen stepped away from football for several weeks in 2018 to focus on his mental health. He recently re-worked his contract to help the salary cap-strapped Vikings and met with Zimmer, who described the three-time Pro Bowler as in a "great frame of mind" and excited to get back to football.
Wilf said he wants all players to know the organization will support them through tough times.
"We need to be there for our players. That's for their health, that's for their family situations, and mental health is an important part," Wilf said. "We're full believers as ownership and as a franchise that we need to do more to make sure our players and our entire organization have the proper resources available from our ownership to make sure they're taken care of in those areas. We as a society overall need to do more, particularly in the mental health area, and hopefully … as prominent as the NFL is, we can help in that."
2. On the Hall of Fame exhibit and supporting diversity efforts
The upcoming Hall of Fame exhibit will highlight multiple people who helped lay the ground work for the first 100 years of the NFL, including female contributors.
"We love the game of football," Wilf said. "It's brought so much joy and excitement to my family, and also what the game of football has meant to our communities, generally, so we thought, 'Why not give back to the game via the Hall of Fame?'
"[Hall of Fame President] David Baker and the entire team there do such an incredible job, and the city of Canton. … There will be a part of it that's focused on women in the NFL, so we thought the overall concept was really exciting. It's an honor and privilege to be a steward of a great franchise and a great league. We're building off great legacies, so we're honored to give back."
Asked more about the women being featured in the exhibit, Wilf credited the Hall of Fame and an NFL Films feature on matriarchs within the Lions, Bears, Chiefs and Steelers organizations and said that the Vikings organization is committed to diversity initiatives.
"We know in our own organization, we're very big on promoting diversity of course on our football team and coaching staff but also in our executive business ranks," Wilf said. "Kevin Warren, our COO, has done a great job promoting that within our organization, whether it's [ethnic] diversity or gender diversity or LGBTQ, whatever it is, we're trying to be as — we need the NFL to look like America because it's America's game."
3. On the past year at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center
The Vikings moved into their new headquarters, Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, in March 2018, bringing all employees under one roof for the first time in decades.
The team hosted training camp at the facility, as well as three weekends of high school football games in an effort to make private headquarters as public as possible.
"It's been an incredible experience for our organization to have all of our employees under one roof, to have the kind of facility that takes care of players," Wilf said. "They can rehab or recover or be their physical best, and also the coaches, to have the kind of technology to work more efficiently and our personnel department. That's been great, but it's also been a great community asset. We had a great training camp. We're going to try to broaden that a little this year.
"The high school football, we're working on a schedule there to grow that, so we want to get it open to the public as much as possible," Wilf said. "We have a new hotel you'll be hearing about in the coming weeks and months that will be another part of Viking Lakes, so the Viking Lakes property is going to have a lot — we view it as a live-work-play environment where people can have a great experience and be a forward-thinking real estate project, so a lot of exciting things. We've come a long way, and we're coming up on our 15th season [as owners]."
The hotel and Viking Lakes development is separate from the team.
4. Final Four is fast-approaching
U.S. Bank Stadium is set to host the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four next month, and Minneapolis will be abuzz with multiple free and ticketed events around the April 6 national semifinals and April 8 title game.
Wilf said Minnesota can continue to be proud of how well Super Bowl LII went and he anticipates the same to be the case for the Final Four.
"I think everyone had a pretty full meal of what a national event can bring for the community with the Super Bowl," Wilf said. "We were so pleased with Super Bowl LII. It was great for the community. We had a great host committee, great buy-in by the fans, by our business community, and everyone really embraced it. You'll see the same thing here at the Final Four. I think Minnesota is a great place to show off, a great community, and the building, I think, is still the premier building in the world for sports and entertainment. The Final Four will be no different, so we're excited to show it off to the world."
5. Does that mean that Minnesota might be in consideration to host an NFL Draft?
"I'll defer to the league on how they roll-out announcements on the draft and so forth. We remain interested in having these national and highly public events," Wilf said. "When we lobbied for the stadium and talked about it, I think, I don't know if it gets overlooked or not, but it's always worthwhile noting that the economic development that we spoke about and the boon to the business community really has occurred. You see what's going on in downtown Minneapolis, in the economy overall. I'd like to think that what we've done downtown with the stadium played some part in that, and we're very proud of that."