Second year’s a charm for Vikings coaches
History often tells us that it takes two years for a new coaching staff to fully hit its stride with the team it inherits when a change takes place. New schemes and philosophies begin to take hold and the roster starts shaping to fit those schemes.
As Mike Zimmer and his staff start their second year as the decision-makers with the Minnesota Vikings roster, they come into the 2015 season with high expectations. Rightly so. History has shown us that when a Vikings coach hits his second season, improvement follows.
Bud Grant took over the Vikings in 1967 after the Vikings had a volatile six-year run under Norm Van Brocklin. In his first season, the future Hall of Fame coach had a dismal first-year record of 3-8-3 – last place in the NFL Central Division.
The following year? The Vikings won the NFC Central – the first of five straight and 10 of the next 11 division titles. Once his system got in on both offense and defense and he started stocking his roster with “his guys,” the success followed.
In his first season as head coach in 1986, Jerry Burns had a 9-7 record and didn’t make the playoffs. In his second year – the strike year of 1987 in which the Vikings were convinced the strike would be adverted, signed nobody of note and paid the price for it – Burnsie went 8-4 with his regular starters, made the playoffs and put together arguably the best two-week run that era’s playoff history by beating the best New Orleans team to date on the road and then taking out Joe Montana and the 49ers the next week before falling in the NFC Championship Game.
For the second time, Year 2 brought postseason success.
Denny Green cleaned house when he replaced Burns and enjoyed immediate success when he took over in 1992. In his second season, Green’s team was 5-6 heading into December, but won his last three and four of the final five games and made the playoffs – the first of many times Green-led teams would make late-season runs to make the playoffs.
When things went south in 2001, Green was replaced in 2002 by Mike Tice. That first year, the Vikings got off to a 3-10 start before winning their final three games to salvage a 6-10 season. The following year? Ask Vikings play-by-play guy Paul Allen about that one. The Vikings finished 9-7 after blowing a double-digit lead in the final minutes at Arizona to give Green Bay a playoff spot and the Vikings a ticket home.
In Brad Childress’ first season, the Vikings finished 6-10, losing eight of their final 10 games down the stretch in 2006. Chilly didn’t make the playoffs in 2007, but the Vikings won five of their last seven games to finish 8-8 and started a two-game improvement that would last for two more years – improving from 6-10 to 8-8 to 10-6 to 12-4.
When Chilly was shown the door following a disastrous 2010 season that saw the Metrodome roof collapse, Brett Favre get embroiled in a “junk mail” scandal, Randy Moss cause a so-called “schism” within the team, a home game was played in Detroit and a road game was played on a Tuesday night as a precaution for a blizzard that never came to Philadelphia. Leslie Frazier took over and the trend continued.
In his first full season as head coach, Frazier’s 2011 Vikings tied a franchise-worst record of 3-13 and were one of the most brutal teams in the NFL. The following year? Thanks to a 2,097-yard rushing season from Adrian Peterson, the Vikings finished 10-6 and made the playoffs.
As Zimmer and his staff enter their second season, the Vikings are becoming one of those trendy teams to pick as a surprise playoff contender for a team on the rise. Zimmer is coming off a 7-9 season that wasn’t a huge improvement over Frazier’s last team, but the signs of coming together were there, especially given the rash of injuries the Vikings sustained (and the loss of Peterson after Week 1).
With an offense a year more versed in Norv Turner’s scheme and Zimmer bringing in more players that are ideal fits in his defense, there’s every reason to believe that the Vikings will be better than the 7-9 team that they put out on the field in 2014.
If history tells us anything, they should also be in contention for a playoff spot, whether that means knocking Green Bay off its perch atop the NFC North or being in the battle for a wild card spot. The empirical, historical evidence would seem to be stacked in their favor.
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