A head coach's first season is an opportunity for him to lay the foundation for expectations of a program, install offensive and defensive systems and illustrate his philosophy of the game.
Mike Zimmer took the helm of the Vikings on Jan. 15, 2014, becoming the ninth head coach in franchise history. His sessions with the media covered multiple topics and occurred in a variety of settings. Here are some of Zimmer's highlights from 2014.
1) Jan. 17: Introductory statement — Zimmer's first press conference with the Vikings
"My family and I are thrilled and excited to come to Minnesota, a place with such tremendous passion and proud tradition. I walk down these hallways in the building here and I see all the jerseys up on the wall of all the great players who have played here — Hall of Fame players. I can walk down to the end of the hallway and talk to Hall of Fame coaches like Bud Grant. I want to thank the Wilf Family, ownership, and to General Manager Rick Spielman for the opportunity that you presented with me. I am a Midwest guy. I grew up in an area very similar to this watching NFC North football, the "Black and Blue" division. I was hunting and fishing in areas very similar to around here. I want Vikings football to be a tough, smart and aggressive team that plays with passion and that works relentlessly for one common goal. I pride myself in making each player better with technique, and teaching them every aspect of the game. I want our fans to be proud of the way we play — tough, resilient, physical football and a team that makes big plays and represents them on the field and in the community. We don't win alone. We win as a team and I am determined to bring a championship to Minnesota and I can't wait to get to work. Thank you."
2) July 24: Arrival day at training camp — Zimmer had already worked with his staff and players in organized team activities, but camp elevates the interaction to total immersion. Here he explains how he developed plans for his first camp.
"I went back and took a lot of the things we did in Dallas with (Bill) Parcells. I went back and looked at a lot of the things we're doing with Marvin Lewis. I talked to Norv Turner about it a lot. I guess when you're an old coach, you get more experience that way. It's just a combination of a lot of things I think. I think over time you get a chance to say, 'Well I'd do this a little bit different,' or 'I'd do that.' We may change things as I continue to look at the football team and see where we're at in different areas, where we might need to adjust the camp. I think that's part of coaching and teaching is being able to adjust to the players that you have and how you have to adapt to alright well, 'We're short on corners today so we need to do it this way or we need to do it that way.' It's just part of the business."
3) Sept. 8: His first victory Monday — Zimmer the day after leading the Vikings to a convincing 34-6 win over the Rams at St. Louis
"Well, after watching the tape I thought we did some very good things. It was a good win for our program, the development of where we are. I think it was important for our team to try and build some confidence in what we're trying to accomplish. Clearly there were many, many things that we have to clean up in order to be a good football team or to where my expectation level is and hopefully the team's expectation level. But it was a good start, and we look forward to trying to build upon what we've done and, like I told the team this morning, we have to keep grinding, we've got so many things that we have to work on, so many areas but we were, I think, we were a tough-minded, aggressive, tough, physical football team."
4) Sept. 28: After first home victory — Zimmer immediately after Teddy Bridgewater debuted as a starter in a 41-28 victory by the Vikings
"That was some game, wasn't it? A lot of back-and-forths throughout the day. I thought our guys played very hard. I thought obviously we did a good job offensively. Defensively we had a few bonehead things that we've got to fix. I've said all along — I like how this team competes, I like how it works, I like how it studies. I told them in the meeting the other day I said, 'Faith is belief without proof,' and we have to go out and prove it that we can do these things. Today they went out and fought their rear ends off. As long as you keep fighting, we keep trying to eliminate the mistakes that we're making, we get the kind of proficiency we did from the offense and really the special teams did a great job too. Defensively we still have some things we've got to work on. You'll have a chance to win if you do these kinds of things. I think it was a great team win. Atlanta is a really good football team. They've got obviously a great quarterback, they've got lots of weapons offensively and our guys fought them all day long.
5) Oct. 12: Zimmer showed multiple times during the season that he doesn't believe in sugarcoating things. There wouldn't have been sugar available to anyone after the Vikings lost at home to the Lions, and the coach showed blunt honesty in assessing a performance he thought was inadequate
"Well if we don't take care of things better than we did today it doesn't matter what we have ahead of us. I'm extremely disappointed in this loss. I can handle getting beat but I can't handle getting our butts whooped like that."
6) Oct. 31: A coaching strength of Zimmer historically has been the play of the secondary. The development of Xavier Rhodes in his second pro season and first in this system was one of the most encouraging aspects. By season's end, Rhodes approached the coach to thank him for making him a better player, and Zimmer took a moment to collect his emotions when relaying that story. This quote is from the season's midpoint about the timeline for developing cornerbacks.
"It's really hard to say. I'm just thinking back at some of the young corners that I had, and guys develop at different times as well. The ones when they do get it, then the game becomes really simple for them, at least the way we try to do it. It's hard and it's one of the hardest jobs there is, what we ask them to do, but it's simple as far as once you understand the game it slows the game down quite a bit, I think. But it takes a long time to understand all of those things. Guys were joking the other day that if the DBs have a bad practice the team has a bad practice and if the offense has a bad practice the team has a bad practice. I spent a lot of time with those guys."
7) Nov. 23: Many people love football because it combines action, strategy, passion and emotion in a dramatic setting; facing fourth down and deciding whether or not to go for it rests on the head coach. Zimmer's decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 25 early in the second quarter against the Packers led to a game-tying touchdown on the following play. He talks about his mindset on that decision.
"I want our team to have an aggressive mindset. I want to try to do things to sustain drives. There's times in ball games where you take those chances, and if you hit them their offense gets to stay off the field, you get to continue to sustain drives. It's a lot about mindset too and them believing that you can get it done too. There's times when you're not going to, you're going to have to punt the ball. I told them upstairs we're going to go for it if it's close."
8) Dec. 7: The game ended in overtime with an 87-yard catch-and-run by Jarius Wright after Bridgewater identified the Jets were planning an "all-out blitz" and correctly checked into the play. While it was a thrilling finish and sign of Bridgewater's progression at the sport's toughest position, Zimmer honed in on how unhappy he was the game went to overtime in the first place.
"We didn't cover anybody today. We let them out on third downs. We didn't protect the quarterback near as well as I thought. We were sloppy with the ball. I don't know, how much time do you got?
"I'm trying to be honest. That's not the kind of performance that I want to have. Quite honestly I think we should have won that game handily. I expected us to win it that way. We go out, we score the first play of the ball game. We get a penalty on the extra point, we have to kick the ball on the 20-yard line. Good teams don't do these things. Just because you win doesn't cover up your mistakes just like sometimes when you lose you play good too. My expectations are way higher than that performance.
9) Dec. 24: Bridgewater consistently showed calmness under pressure that is ahead of many rookie QBs in their first season. The quarterback demonstrated competitive fire that helped him get to this level and a steady demeanor that makes the Vikings believe Bridgewater can perform in the role at a high level for a long period of time.
"He's like the anti-me. No, he's very calm all the time. He's very even-tempered. I'm trying to think if I've ever seen him upset that you can visually see and I have not seen it."
10) Dec. 30: Two days following a 13-9 season-ending win over Chicago, Zimmer assessed his first year on the job.
"Well honestly I never felt overwhelmed from the day I walked in. I was really lucky to walk into a place like this that has such a great support group. The people upstairs — the ownership, Rick [Spielman] and Rob Brzezinski and George (Paton) and (Scott) Studwell and all of those guys — they've helped me in so many different ways. And then I was fortunate enough to have really good people that I could lean on like Norv Turner, who has been through this for quite a bit of time. Are there some things that I would do differently? Sure. Did I make some mistakes? Sure. But I felt like each and every day I came to work that I gave this team and the fans and the organization the very best I could give them. I believe in my heart that I'll be even better next year with everything that I do just because I've been through all of these different things. Were there things that surprised me? Sure. During games were there things that happened that the referee had to explain something to me? Yeah, but I don't think that's unique with any coach, let alone a first-year guy. The feedback that I got from the players was very positive. Now they might be just telling me stuff but it was very positive from the ones I talked to."