The NFL is a family business, and the Minnesota Vikings are no different.
Bloodlines are bound on both sides of the ball. Gary Kubiak’s son, Klint, took over as offensive coordinator following Gary’s retirement last offseason. Meanwhile, head coach Mike Zimmer has helped his son climb the NFL coaching ranks, most recently promoting his son, Adam, as a co-defensive coordinator back in 2019.
Adam, 36, had six years of experience as a position coach and eight years as an NFL assistant before his promotion—a dwarfed resume compared to fellow co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson.
Patterson, 59, had 16 years of experience as an NFL defensive line coach and another 21 yards in high school and college football as a head coach, defensive coordinator and assistant coach.
It was a rare move in Minnesota, which is the only team in the NFL to have co-defensive coordinators.
However, one former Vikings player spoke out on the promotion, calling it a “slap in the face” of Patterson.
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‘Nobody Ever Thought He Would Be the Coordinator’
In a long-form feature on nepotism in the NFL, Defector’s Kalyn Kahler spotlighted the Vikings’ existing family ties as an example of how coaches with a family history in the NFL often get further in their careers than those who don’t.
Several sources, who remained anonymous, decried Mike’s decision to promote Adam.
Here’s what Kahler gathered:
“No f****** reason [Adam] should be a DC,” a person close to the team told Defector. “Nobody disliked him, but nobody ever thought he would be the coordinator, let’s put it that way.”
No reason, other than the obvious one. “What’s the term—nepotism, right?” said one former Vikings player. He said he and his teammates quickly picked up on the reason “Big Zim” had promoted the coach they called “Little Zim.”
“Everybody knows why Adam is there, they all know,” said the person close to the team, who we’ll call Source A for clarity.
Patterson had been coaching football since 1982 and coaching in the NFL since 1997, and he’d never been named a defensive coordinator in the league. Patterson’s own son, A.C., is also on the Vikings staff as assistant running backs coach, so he isn’t one to throw stones in a glass stadium, but the former Vikings player described Andre’s promotion alongside the much less experienced Adam as a “slap in the face.”
The Vikings declined to comment on Adam Zimmer’s role with the team.
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While Mike is the defensive play-caller during games, Adam has been allowed to call plays during practice. Adam also called the defense during parts of this past preseason too, Kahler reported.
“It’s some cute s*** so he can feel some type of way,” the former player said.
Patterson has been the vocal leader of the defense and often speaks to both the unit and the entire team, Kahler reported. He was promoted to the title of “assistant head coach” last offseason to go along with his co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach roles — a move likely to appease the veteran coach, a source told Defector.
“Probably to make him feel better,” a second source close to the team, called Source B, said.
The problem isn’t Adam’s ineptitude, but the matter of Patterson being much more in the same breath as his fellow defensive coordinator. In his tenure with the Vikings, Patterson has sculpted raw, mid-round draft picks in Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter into Pro Bowl talents, while Adam is… Mike’s son.
“You have to achieve at such a high level and you look at Andre Patterson, he has performed at a high level every time and he can’t get a sniff, and Adam just had to stick around,” Source A told Defector. “They aren’t even in the same weight class.”
Adam has been around the NFL since Mike got his first NFL coaching gig with the Dallas Cowboys in the ’90s. But Adam’s path was paved for him straight out of college. He graduated in 2006 and immediately began his NFL coaching career in New Orleans as a coaching assistant to Sean Peyton, who Mike coached alongside in Dallas.
Adam moved on to a job as the assistant linebackers coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI when he crashed his car a few hours after the Chiefs lost to the Indianapolis Colts in December 2012. When the coaching staff was fired following that season, Adam landed a job with the Cincinnati Bengals as an assistant defensive backs coach for none other than his dad, the defensive coordinator at the time.
He hasn’t left Mike’s side since.
In an additional section, Kahler added that throughout Gary Kubiak’s lone season as offensive coordinator, he was preparing his son, Klint, for the job as keeping promotions in the family business has not escaped the Vikings.
‘It’s All a Gentlemen’s Club’
The Defector piece highlights several other counts of nepotism in the NFL and a lack of transparency on the matter that’s become an issue in addressing opportunity gaps.
A 2020 NFL diversity and inclusion report showed that nine of 32 current head coaches are either the son or father of a current NFL coach. The same report found that 63 coaches total (including coordinators and position coaches) are biologically related or related through marriage—53 of related coaches are white.
“Nepotism isn’t exclusively for white people (as several white people interviewed for this story were quick to point out to me), but the percentage of family hires is overwhelmingly white: 78.3 percent. Coaching is overwhelmingly white, of course—75 percent of all NFL coaches are white, according to the league’s 2021 data—but how does a majority stay the majority? Hiring blood relatives certainly helps,” Kahler wrote.
Meanwhile, since Bruce Arians took over as head coach of the Tampa Buccaneers in 2019, he has spoken about the importance of having different voices on a coaching staff. His staff has four black coordinators, two women assistant coaches, and one coach who is related to a current or former coach, Kahler reported. In a league where 75% of the players are non-white, the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers are breaking the traditional mold of a coaching staff.
From the 2021 NFL diversity and inclusion report: “men of color were hired for 34% of the recently filled head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and general manager openings—a noticeable increase from the 2019-2020 hiring cycle during which men of color were only hired for 23% of the openings (7 out of 31 positions).”
However, the NFL’s family tradition has kept certain franchises stagnant and restricted some coaches from breaking through to more pivotal roles.
“The former Vikings player told me he’s interested in getting into coaching someday, but he feels jaded by the whole process,” Kahler wrote.
“For me, my whole dream is fixed to the NFL and then you get in and know the ins and outs and you’re like ‘All right, I see what’s going on here, I’m going to get my checks and then let me get out of here.’… Do I want to sell my soul and become a football coach and deal with all the fucking— knowing what I know now from being in the league, it’s all a gentlemen’s club.”