One year after unrest could have torn apart Minnesota Vikings, head coach and star player on same page

A year ago this week, Adrian Peterson announced he wouldn't be attending the Minnesota Vikings OTA sessions. A year later, not only is Peterson working out with his teammates, he and head coach Mike Zimmer are on the same side of the fence preparing for big things in 2016.

Of all the signs that the Minnesota Vikings are serious in their assertion that they have what it takes to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, it has been that running back Adrian Peterson is a full participant in the early portion of OTA activities with the team.

Last year, the dominant storyline at Vikings offseason workouts was the one player who wasn’t there – Peterson. Embroiled in a contract dispute coming off a suspension, the perception was that Peterson wasn’t happy being a Viking.

Head coach Mike Zimmer tried to stay above the fray and the rumor-mongering. His only comment at the time was that Peterson was going to play for the Vikings or play for nobody.

A year later, he’s glad the circus has left town, but is aware that there are always issues that can be distractions for a team.

“It’s good, but there’s always going to be something,” Zimmer said. “It’s always a circus one way or another, but it’s nice to just concentrate on football.”

Such situations can be a significant problem for a star player and a head coach. When Brad Childress took over as head coach of the Vikings, he wanted star quarterback Daunte Culpepper to rehab his injured knee in Minnesota. Culpepper didn’t want to. In fact, Pepp felt disrespected by the new coaching regime and demanded a meeting with Chilly and higher ranking members of the front office. When he arrived at the meeting, none of them were there and, within weeks, Culpepper was traded.

His wasn’t an isolated incident. From the battles between John Elway and Dan Reeves to Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan to Chip Kelly and seemingly half of the Eagles organization, when a star player and a head coach find themselves at odds, one of them has to go.

Peterson and Zimmer appeared headed down that path, but cooler heads prevailed and the Vikings had their most successful season since 2009. The relationship between Peterson and Zimmer has been strong, as both realized they could use each other to reach a mutual goal.

Not only did Peterson mend fences, he believes he and Zimmer have an ideal coach/player relationship that is based on mutual respect and open communication.  “I feel like we have a real good relationship,” Peterson said. “We’re truthful with one another. We’re open. He can tell me what’s on his mind without holding anything back and I do the same as well. So when you have that type of relationship it’s easy to be on the same page and to not take things personal even if it comes across maybe in the wrong light. Or you don’t like what the other person has to say, you can take it as truth because you have that feeling and that understanding that person has your best interests.”

The situation between Zimmer and Peterson potentially could have become toxic. Oftentimes when the media serves as a conduit between a player and coach, little good comes of it.

Peterson felt he needed to be respected by the organization. Zimmer was trying to send the message to the other 89 guys on the 2015 spring roster that nobody is above the team and that it requires the effort of everyone being on the same page for the team to succeed.

With Peterson happy, healthy and preparing for what he is convinced can be a championship year for the Vikings, Zimmer is also focused on the future. There is no turmoil and it appears there is peace in the Vikings locker room, which is always a delicate balance.

When Zimmer was feeling the pressure of potentially have a protracted Peterson holdout, he was able to fall back on football as solace. A year later, with all the horses in the stable, the head coach is focused on football and has everyone around him to get on the same page as the team installs new plays and schematics.

“Last year, there wasn’t a lot of things I could do, so I just concentrated on football then, too,” Zimmer said. “I think when you’ve got all the guys here, it’s easy to focus on football and concentrate on it.”

A year after all the discussion surrounding the Vikings and Peterson was on a negative note, not only is Peterson back in the good graces of the organization, he is taking on the leadership role veteran players before him – from Kevin Williams to Brett Favre to Jared Allen   have taken on as part of being one of the organization’s old dogs.

Peterson sees a huge role for himself coming in 2016 – not just the obvious on-field leadership as the centerpiece of the offense, but as a locker room influence on a young team looking to find its way and build momentum for what they believe will be a Super Bowl-winning season.  “There’s a big role, Peterson said. “The older guys and the veterans understand what we’re trying to accomplish and the young guys do to a certain extent. I feel like it’s my job to embrace them and encourage them. Our vets would pull a couple of the young guys to the side and briefly talk to them and let them know that I’ve been watching and I’m liking what I’m seeing. Just make sure you make the best of your opportunity and bring your best foot forward to make every day count. A couple things like that I know that motivates those guys and keeps those guys hungry. I always end it with, ‘We’re trying to win a championship, so we want you to help us be a part of that.’”

A year ago at this time, there were more concerns that Peterson and the Vikings would find themselves in an irreparable situation, especially on May 24 when Peterson announced he wasn’t going to be attending OTAs. A year later, the Vikings not only are looking to build on their success from 2015, they’re doing so with their coach and their superstar lead dog on the same page.



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