With Mike Zimmer producing a 7-9 record in his inaugural season as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, general manager Rick Spielman raved about the job Zimmer did with a young roster.
The Vikings, of course, dealt with plenty of adversity along the way with the suspension of running back Adrian Peterson and numerous injuries and setbacks on offense.
“This was his first opportunity to be a head coach and there’s no question about his leadership and the respect he has from those guys in the locker room,” Spielman said. “He’s as honest as it gets. He’ll tell you, if he screws up, ‘What do you want me to do? I screwed up.’ I think that helps make us such a good team because we’re both similar.”
Spielman put Zimmer through the training camp paces, trying to prepare the rookie head coach for some of the decisions he would face during the regular season. Zimmer was open about those discussions in training camp, but he wasn’t afraid to admit during the season when he felt he made a mistake or might have considered another option with his coaching decisions.
“It’s just like players, they learn by going through those live situations and you have to make those split-second decisions,” Spielman said. “He may have admitted he’d done some things differently and he’ll continue to grow in that phase.”
When Zimmer was first hired, he seemed to take exception with the perception that he was blunt. But after his first season with the Vikings, it still fits as one of the best descriptors of his coaching personality.
Spielman said Zimmer is “demanding” and has “high expectations,” but one postgame session in particular stood out to Spielman as he evaluated a season that is now more than two weeks in the rear-view mirror.
After the Vikings beat the New York Jets 30-24 on Dec. 7, Zimmer made it clear in his post-game press conference he wasn’t happy with the Vikings’ performance, despite their win. It wasn’t any different as he sat with Spielman following that game.
“We won the game but we didn’t play well. That game, I’ve never seen him as upset after that game than any of the other games where we lost close ones,” Spielman said. “That just tells you where his expectations are and where his expectations are for our team. He’s going to do everything in his power to make sure our players and team meet those expectations. It wasn’t a win and, ‘Oh, great job guys.’ It was a win and a ‘but.’ And after the win, came the rest of the story.”
After the season, second-year linebacker Gerald Hodges assessed what he learned about Zimmer.
“He’s just a tough guy. He’s a tough, tough, tough, tough coach, but he’s a great coach,” Hodges said. “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.”
When Zimmer was hired, he and Spielman talked about their similarities with both having fathers that coached. After a year of working together, Spielman is clearly pleased to be paired with Zimmer.
“He’s really a good guy. It’s everything I hoped for and envisioned when we went through the process,” Spielman said. “I think the biggest thing is he probably, out of any new coach, had to deal with more adversity than anyone. How he handled that adversity, to me, he should be highly recognized for it. Because it was never, no matter what hit us, injuries or what else, there was never an excuse. ‘All right, it’s our job as coaches to figure it out.’ And we got positive results out of that.”
Spielman pleased with Zimmer’s first season
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