The Minnesota Vikings employed the same strategy with their head coach as they did with prized players: If you have the one you want, sign him to an extension.
The Vikings announced a contract extension for head coach Mike Zimmer as the team reported to training camp on Thursday. Details on the length of the extension weren't immediately available, but it was a proactive move considering that Zimmer was under contract for at least the 2016 season.
“When we hired Coach Zim, I sat down with him and we talked about philosophy. We put a plan in place and we had the same vision,” General Manager Rick Spielman said in announcing the extension. “In my 26 years in the NFL, I have not had the experience and the cohesiveness with a head coach as I do with Coach Zimmer.”
Zimmer took over the Vikings in 2014 and produced a 7-9 team that appeared to be on the rise with a rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, leading the way. Last year, the Vikings were 11-5 and won the NFC North and expectations continue to rise with Bridgewater and Zimmer in place, Adrian Peterson returning for another season, and a defense that finished fifth in the NFL in points allowed.
Zimmer had interviewed for a handful of other coaching jobs before the Vikings in 2014 but had been turned down at every turn. As usual, he continued to look forward, not back, when asked about his long wait to become a head coach.
“All I know is this is the right organization for me. The people here are great people,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer built his reputation as a first-rate defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys from 2000-06 before taking the same job with the Atlanta Falcons for the 2007 season, then spending six years fortifying his reputation with the Cincinnati Bengals before the Vikings gave him his first shot as a head coach.
While the team has shown improvement in both of his seasons, he still hasn’t won a playoff game with him as head coach and he continues to set the tone that the Vikings haven’t accomplished anything yet. Still, management believes Zimmer is the one that can get the Vikings there.
“We’re all in this business to win championships. That’s why we come to training camp and that’s what our goal and our focus is every year,” Spielman said. “Our ownership deserves a championship, our fans deserve a championship, and there’s no doubt in our organization’s mind that Coach Zimmer is the right leader for this football team.”
Over the years, Zimmer’s defenses have been top 10 in yards allowed seven times, including the best in the NFL in 2003 with the Cowboys.
“I think the mentality that we’re trying to bring on both sides of the ball has shown up,” he said.
His 18-14 record in the regular season, the second-most wins by a Vikings head coach his first two season, trailing only Dennis Green, who had 20 wins.
“Over the past two years, Coach Zimmer’s leadership, his passion, his ability to prepare this football team, has shown results on the field,” Spielman said. “He’s assembled a great coaching staff. They are great developers of the talent on this football team.”
That feeling runs from the players to the front office to ownership.
“Mike has instilled a very positive atmosphere over the past three years and our players have thrived under his tutelage and leadership,” owner Zygi Wilf said. “His focus on helping our players develop and maximize potential, individually and collectively, is critical for our current and future success.”