Mike Zimmer has been a breath of fresh air for Minnesota Vikings fans since he was named head coach in 2014. He is a hard-nosed, blue-chip, hard-working football coach who will usually tell it as it is, regardless of who it upsets.
Fans seem to be thrilled by this, as recent coaches rarely carried themselves the same way. The attitude change has made its way down through the locker room and it is apparent for anyone who follows the team.
Even players that have been here through the coaching change can see the difference throughout the locker room.
“I do. Nothing against the old coaching regime, but just what Zimmer is trying to install in us, just some things, how to win, how to win on the road, being the most physical, being the most disciplined team, just things like that,” said wide receiver Jarius Wright. “He basically installs that each and every day with this team. One thing coach does say is, ‘It’s not about what you talk about, it’s about what you emphasis.’ He emphasizes things like that, so I think we’re definitely picking up on it and definitely becoming a physical, more disciplined team.”
Zimmer often points toward coaches such as Bill Parcells or teams like the New England Patriots as what he hopes both he and his team can become. He wants to be able to win week in and week out and then year in and year out by doing things their own way.
“I’ve kind of admired teams throughout the past that they get beat and they go on, they win, they go on,” Zimmer said. “So that’s kind of really been our mindset about the things we have to do and moving forward, too. We’re just trying to focus on one week, one day, this particular week and worry about the next week the next week.”
The Vikings are in a position that they have not been in before this season. They have lost two games in a row, and are 1-3 in their last four games. It is an odd spot for the 8-5 Vikings that held sole possession of first place in the NFC North not too long ago, but now they need to get back on course before things get turn too far south.
The ability to do that is what Zimmer admires in successful teams and he is hoping that his team proves to have that ability as well. And he knows that bouncing back starts with practice and preparing the right way.
“You kind of see them based on who they are and the teams that are winning and you see how they bounce back from losses, you see how they focus on the job at hand, the preparation, things like that,” Zimmer said.
It takes a strong will and a certain toughness to be able to shrug off a loss and move onto the next game as if nothing has happened, especially if the team gets into a bit of a rut late in the season like the Vikings are in now.
But Zimmer has been working hard at getting those types of players in the facility. He spends a lot of time trying to see what players are like in the predraft process and in free agency.
“You talk to a lot of the coaches, what kind of competitor is a guy, how does he handle adversity, how smart is he, is he moody on the practice field, does he pay attention in meetings? There’s a big combination of things I think that helps figure out (what kind of a player he is),” Zimmer said. “How does he react when you get after him, how’s the best way to coach this guy, does he put the team first, is he all about stats?”
It takes a lot more than just a single coach to turn a team around, but everyone seems to be buying into what Zimmer is preaching. Even though the Vikings have lost three out of their last four games they seem as confident as ever heading into their Sunday matchup with the Chicago Bears and that all starts with Zimmer.
“Like I said about the old coaches, I don’t like to talk about old players either,” Wright said. “But just the guys we have here now, they really bought into the system when Zimmer first got here and just a year of his work you can tell with the team on how good his theory or the direction he wants to go in is working.”