Vikings reflect on 1st year with ‘tough’ Zim

Mike Zimmer made an impression on his players in his first year as a head coach. They found him to be “tough” and “hard-nosed” but fair.

Mike Zimmer has just finished his first season as the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings with a 7-9 record. It was not where he or the players hoped to be at this point in the year, but it was an improvement from last year’s 5-10-1 record. There were improvements all over the field, and one of the biggest was the change in personality of the team once Zimmer took over.

As the players were cleaning out their lockers Monday, the change in mood was evident over last year. Part of that is because they won their game against a division rival on Sunday to close out the season, but also because the team seems to be heading in the right direction. A lot of that has to do with Zimmer taking over as head coach. Team often take on the personality of the head coach, and that appeared to happen this year in Minnesota.

“(Zimmer)'s got his head in the right place,” safety Harrison Smith said. “He's brought a completely different tone around here, of just being professional, playing aggressive football, playing tough, disciplined football. Like I said, we're not there yet, but he's got us going there.”

Even though the Vikings are seemingly moving in the right direction, the players are not satisfied with where they are. They are happy they made the improvements they did, but they know that they can still be a lot better.

Now they go into the offseason wanting to work for better things in 2015 when they return for offseason workouts and training camp next year.

“It’s funny how just a year can change on the turn of a dime, but every year is different and this year I think the thing that is a good sign going into the offseason is nobody is satisfied where we are at,” said defensive end Brian Robison. “A lot of people think that we had a good year comparatively to where we were a year ago, but none of us are satisfied where we are at. It still wasn’t good enough for us, so that’s a good thing when you can get a win and still not be satisfied, and go into an offseason and be able to build on this and hopefully be better next year.

“Yeah, we made big-time strides. But like I said, we’re not satisfied with it. We’re not happy with being the No. 14-ranked defense. We want to be that top 10; we want to be that top-five-mold type of defense. And if we can get up there, then we won’t be satisfied with that. We’re going to want to be No. 1. So we just got to go into this offseason, work really hard – everybody come back in shape – and then be able to put it on tape when we get back.”

When the season first began, there was some question as to what it was going to be like having Zimmer as a head coach. He has been a defensive coordinator for years and is known as a great defensive-minded coach. But he has never been a head coach before, so there was some speculation on how he was going to do.

Most of the players on the team had never played for him before, so it was going to be interesting to see how it all played out. They knew he was a fiery coach, and that it was going to be a big change from the easy-going Frazier.

“(Zimmer)’s just a tough guy,” said linebacker Gerald Hodges. “He’s a tough, tough, tough, tough coach, but he’s a great coach. He’s just solid. He’s a solid guy and he’s more than just football. His morals. His manly morals. That’s great about him.”

Defensive lineman Corey Wootton joined the Vikings for the first time in 2014, so he never had Frazier as a coach. He did know about Zimmer, though, and what he learned about Zimmer came from watching the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” and seeing Zimmer work with his team in training camp.

“I watch Hard Knocks a lot,” Wootton said. “I remember him on Hard Knocks. He’s definitely a hard-nosed coach and I definitely respect that about him. He stayed on guys, and wanted the best out of them. I think coaches like that bring the best out of you, and want the best from you.”

Even though he is a tough coach, the players said they grew to love and respect him. They realize that even though Zimmer is a tough guy, he wants what is best for them. He realizes their potential and wants them to reach that potential.

The players also say Zimmer knows when he needs to take care of his players, and he will do anything for them.

“The few guys that I was able to talk to that knew him, they just said that he was a hard-nosed guy who was going to really drive us to push ourselves to the limits, and they weren’t lying,” Robison said. “That’s the type of coach he is, but at the same time he’s one of those guys that you immediately fall in love with, and you immediately want to run through a brick wall for the because he seems to know when he needs to take care of guys and when he needs to push guys. So he’s just been a great deal for this organization.”

Zimmer has brought a new mentality to the Vikings locker room, and the players have bought into it. They feel like they can succeed with Zimmer as a head coach and are already looking forward to next season.

“I think this team has bought in and I think it shows up on tape as well,” Robison said. “I think mentally and physically we are much tougher than we were a year ago, and I just think that the things we’ve been able to improve on is only going to get better next year.”

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