The Minnesota Vikings enter a new era starting Sunday when the team begins its first of many interviews for a new general manager and head coach.
Vikings president Mark Wilf emphasized throughout a half-hour press briefing that the team is looking for “strong leaders, communicators and collaborators” following the firing of Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer on Monday.
Those characteristics seem to be what they found was lacking within the organization throughout Zimmer’s eight-year tenure. Linebacker Eric Kendricks shined a spotlight on Zimmer’s potentially autocratic rule of the organization.
“I think just having that voice, no matter how big your role is, is important, to listen up and take each other’s feelings into account. Having a voice and being able to communicate things you think could help facilitate wins,” Kendricks said. “I don’t think a fear-based organization is the way to go.”
Inklings of a cultural divide in the locker room have begun to surface, but none have been as comprehensive as Star Tribune reporter Ben Goessling’s most recent article.
Goessling spoke with more than 20 people with or close to the team to paint the picture of the dissolution of the Zimmer era — one that was punctuated by an odd presentation in the 65-year-old coach’s final days in Minnesota.
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Zimmer Gives Odd Presentation After Backbreaking Loss
While Zimmer helped transform the Vikings franchise that floundered in the post-Brett Favre era, his final two seasons that saw the defense take significant steps backward ultimately sealed his fate.
Ownership gave Zimmer an ultimatum that the team be a playoff factor this season to avoid changes. But after a loss that likely squashed the Vikings’ chance of a playoff berth, Zimmer began framing his legacy in Minnesota with games still on the schedule.
“After a key loss in the final weeks of the season, (Zimmer’s) tone started to shift; sources said the coach gave a Wednesday presentation about all the bad things that happened to him in his eight years with the Vikings (Peterson’s suspension in 2014, Bridgewater’s knee injury in 2016 and so on), leaving players dumbfounded,” Goessling reported.
Zimmer faced plenty of adversity throughout his time in Minnesota, but he also sabotaged himself several times by his unwillingness to collaborate with offensive coordinators.
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Zimmer Grew Unruly With Offensive Staff
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported Zimmer’s firing on January 8, the day before the Vikings’ season finale against the Chicago Bears. La Canfora’s report noted that “Zimmer was under fire for the construction of his staff and has repeatedly clashed with offensive staff over the years.”
Zimmer had six different offensive coordinators in his final six seasons in Minnesota. The root of that trend came after Zimmer’s first season as head coach, when he began to try to seize more control over the offense.
After the 2014 season, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Zimmer went to Hue Jackson, asking his friend from the Bengals’ coaching staff to teach him more about offensive play-calling so he could better evaluate (Norv Turner). Zimmer grew more outspoken about pass plays he didn’t like, or a need to run the ball more, on the coaches’ headset during games in 2015, even as the Vikings ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing offense while Adrian Peterson won his third rushing title while leading the league in attempts…
The Vikings added Sparano and Pat Shurmur, two former head coaches, to their offensive staff before 2016. By the middle of the season, as Turner bristled at Zimmer’s feedback about how to navigate a slew of offensive line injuries, the coordinator resigned.
After the season, Shurmur shifted from Turner’s Air Coryell offense to the West Coast-based foundation the Vikings have used since. They thrived despite injuries to quarterback Sam Bradford and rookie running back Dalvin Cook in 2017, when the Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game.
Shurmur left after the season to become the Giants’ head coach. He called plays for 27 games under Zimmer; no Vikings coordinator who followed him would match that number, and the head coach would never lead the Vikings that far in the playoffs again.
Coming off the 38-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, the Vikings hired on Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, whose scheme quickly irked Zimmer, who had been torched by Philadelphia’s similar system just months earlier.
His displeasure with DeFillippo set off a chain reaction of coaching changes that left the Vikings further from a return to the NFC Championship.
“After the Vikings scored 37 points to improve to 4-2-1 in a win over the Jets, sources said, Zimmer lambasted DeFilippo in a team meeting for not running the ball enough; he made his issues with DeFilippo’s approach public after losses in Week 11 and 13,” Goessling wrote. “The Vikings would not score more than 24 points in six games following the Jets win, and after a Monday night Week 14 loss in Seattle where they narrowly avoided a shutout, Zimmer fired DeFilippo and replaced him with Kevin Stefanski.”