After being in the running for multiple head coaching jobs over the last several years, Mike Zimmer finally got his opportunity to be a head coach for the Minnesota Vikings. After a win on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, his first season came to an end.
There were multiple ups and downs throughout the season, but in the end the Vikings finished with a 7-9 record, a successful season by many accounts considering where the Vikings were and the obstacles they experienced in 2014.
The 2014 saw a lot of adversity for the Vikings to deal with. They saw star running back Adrian Peterson miss every game but one for legal troubles, they saw starting quarterback Matt Cassel miss a majority of the year with broken bones in his foot and they were forced to start a rookie, and they had multiple injuries throughout the season to key players.
Zimmer knows that there are mistakes he made and things that, looking back, he wished he had done differently, but in the end he feels like he had a good first year and he believes he will be even better next year.
“Are there some things that I would do differently? Sure,” Zimmer said. “Did I make some mistakes? Sure. But I felt like each and every day I came into work that I gave this team, the fans and the organization the very best that I could give them. And 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 these different things. But were there things that surprised me? Sure. During games were there things that happened that the referee had to explain to me? Yeah. And all those. But I don’t think that’s unique with any coach, let alone a first-year guy. But the feedback that I got from the players was very positive. They might be just be telling me stuff, but it was very positive from the ones that I talked to.”
Being a head coach for the first time meant there was going to be plenty of new things he would need to get used to. One of the big things is being in charge of the team during game day, as opposed to being a defensive coordinator and just having to worry about one aspect of the game.
That inexperienced showed during the Vikings’ Week 7 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings had a lead late in the game and held the Bills to a fourth-and-20. If the Bills failed to convert it they would lose the game. Buffalo rushed to the line and the Vikings seemed to be a little flustered and confused about what they were supposed to do. The Bills ended up converting on the play and scoring later that drive to win the game.
After the game, Zimmer said he probably should have called a timeout in that situation, but acknowledged he doesn’t like to call timeouts on defense. He did learn from that experience, though, and it showed in their final game of the season against the Chicago Bears at home.
“Sunday when it was fourth-and-9 and it was kind of the same situation,” Zimmer said. “Everything was kind of helter-skelter. The clock was going down. They were going up. We couldn’t get the call. I called timeout on that one. Now they converted the fourth down, but I think I learned from the Buffalo game in that situation.”
With all the changes in the Vikings organization that have happened in the last year, and all the adversity that the team has had to face, Zimmer believes they have done a good job. But he is far from complacent. He knows they need to keep pushing because next year will be a new season and nothing that they did this season will matter next year.
“There was some good things that happened during the course of the year, but not enough good things,” said the head coach. “We didn’t finish where we needed to finish. Nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. Nothing in the NFL stays the same. Anything we did last year, whether good or bad, next year will be a different season. Different teams we’ll be playing against. Different players on those teams. Things happen so quickly.”
With constantly evolving in the NFL, Zimmer knows he needs to keep improving, so he rarely says he did a good job.
“I don’t really pat myself on the back too much. My arms aren’t that long,” he joked. “I kind of go back to the same thing to when I was a coordinator, I’ll let other people decide on what kind of job they think I did or didn’t do. The same thing for me. If I don’t work hard this offseason, and I don’t perform well next season, none of it will even matter.”
There are a lot of things for a head coach to do in the offseason. He must evaluate the talent they have, have input on what players they want to keep, and who he thinks should be let go. He also has to start looking at free agents to bring in and the college players that are eligible in the draft; all of that and more.
It can be a stressful time, but before any of that happens Zimmer plans to take some time to himself so he can relax a little bit. He said he plans on getting away and having some down time.
“A little red wine and a tractor,” Zimmer said with a laugh.
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