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Zimmer on What He's Looking For in OC & Lessons Learned Through Process

EAGAN, Minn. — For the second consecutive offseason, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is evaluating how to best fill the offensive coordinator position.

Zimmer opted for John DeFilippo, who had previously coached Philadelphia's quarterbacks during the Eagles run to winning Super Bowl LII, in February.

In December, DeFilippo was relieved of his duties after a stretch of two road games in which Minnesota combined to score 17 points at New England and Seattle.

Zimmer promoted Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski as interim offensive coordinator before Minnesota hosted Miami in Week 15.

The Vikings scored a season-high 41 points against the Dolphins and followed with a 27-9 win at Detroit in Week 16.

The two victories set the stage for a win-or-tie-and-get-in-the-playoffs scenario in Week 17 against Chicago, but the Bears top-ranked scoring defense limited Minnesota to 10, were able to control the flow of the game and eliminated the Vikings from making their third postseason trip in four seasons.

Rather than preparing as a No. 6 seed for a rematch with the Bears in Chicago, Zimmer has turned his focus toward internal review of what did and didn't work in an 8-7-1 roller-coaster season, his coaching staff and potential external candidates.

When Zimmer spoke with members of the media Thursday for his end-of-season press conference, he was asked multiple questions about the offensive coordinator position.

"I'm looking at all kinds of options there," Zimmer said. "We're sitting down and, again, we're evaluating everything. I think Kevin's a really good football coach, a very smart guy. I thought he did a good job for the three weeks that [we were in] a tough situation. But it's fair to the organization, to myself, to the fans, that we look at everybody."

Zimmer clarified that Stefanski's current contract goes through Tuesday, Jan. 8.

"We have exclusive rights to that, so obviously I'll decide before then," Zimmer added.

When asked what is important in the next offensive coordinator, the obvious answer was scoring more points.

"We didn't score enough when we were in the red zone," Zimmer said. "Obviously, I want to be able to run the football and play-action pass because I think that's the most effective way to affect a defense. But we didn't score enough points in the red zone, we weren't good enough on third downs; I mean, there was a lot of things that we need to improve on there. That's going to be big."

The Vikings ranked 19th in points per game (22.5), 20th in total yards per game (345.6) and 21st in the league in touchdown percentage when reaching the red zone (54.0).

Minnesota had 50 possessions inside the 20-yard line of opponents and scored touchdowns 27 times.

Ten of the 12 playoff teams had a higher touchdown percentage on red zone possessions.

Kansas City, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, ranked second in the NFL with a rate of 71.8 percent, scoring 51 touchdowns on 71 possessions. New Orleans, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, ranked fourth with a rate of 69.6 percent, scoring on 48 of 69 possessions.

The Rams ranked 18th in the NFL with a percentage of 57.5, but they had a league-high 80 possessions and racked up 46 touchdowns.

Nine teams had fewer total red zone possessions than touchdowns scored by the Rams once moving the ball inside an opponent's 20-yard line.

Zimmer also said he wants the coordinator to be able to minimize the damage that can be done by an opponent's top threat.

He didn't name names, but it's safe to say it will be important to mitigate the damage Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks in future meetings with the Bears.

"Part of it is making sure that we're able to – without getting too complicated, Xs and Os – but a lot of 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 that we can protect and be able to throw the ball or protect and be able to run the ball to a different spot," Zimmer said.

This will be Zimmer's fourth different offensive coordinator heading into his sixth season in Minnesota.

Norv Turner held the role initially from 2014 until November of the 2016 season. He was replaced on an interim basis by Pat Shurmur to finish out that year. The interim tag was lifted off Shurmur for 2017, but he left to become head coach of the Giants in 2018.

Zimmer interviewed DeFilippo and Stefanski for the post heading into 2018 before opting for DeFilippo. 

"Again, I still think Flip is a good football coach," Zimmer said. "I just didn't like the direction it was going at the time, and I was trying to make something happen to get us going again and get us going back in the right direction, trying to get us out of that 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 probably should have done a lot better than what I did," he continued. "And hopefully I'll do better this next time."

Zimmer said he doesn't think he "asked enough questions as far as what we were trying to get done, maybe. Not with [DeFilippo] personally – probably with everybody that we talked to."  

"We do a lot of research on guys, and guys' names pop up and pop up and pop up, and you kind of assume that that's the right way, but it may not be the right way for your particular football team," Zimmer said. "So I need to do a better job there, yeah."