Hey folks, since I’m back from a long hiatus and want to get right back into the thick of things, I’d thought I would post a blog biographing Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. It’s the end of the playing season for the Minnesota Vikings, and as the few teams left battle it out for the 49th Super Bowl ring, us Purple ‘n Gold fans can settle in for the off season and start internal franchise politicing.
One of the biggest pieces of meat on our plate is Head Coach Zimmer. He, along with Norv Turner, will constitute the largest and most interesting aspects of the Viking’s club news until the draft of 2015 starts to heat up.
Just briefly, since I touched on Offensive Coordinator Turner, I’d like to say here and now that he is a -huge- breath of fresh air for our team. And I’m not just saying that because he’s not Bill Musgrave! Honest! He has given the Vikings offense a new look and feel; one that actually works without Adrian Peterson. Musgrave’s rush, rush, screen pass offense was, I felt, a lazy scheme that had no personal stamp on it, but rather stunk of amateurism and was devoid of anything original. If I had to conjecture, I’d say Musgrave, being the droll opportunist he was, realized he could get paid to sit on his ass, and took that paycheck every month smiling at his good fortune that was Adrian Peterson. He knew that all he had to do was allow AP to do his thing, and he could be seen in a positive light… Except it backfired on him. Yes, AP was and is one of the best running backs to play football, and yes, AP could and did carry the team on his back for years – especially recently while the whole Ponder experiment was taking place, and we didn’t have an aerial attack. But Musgrave got fired, because everyone got wise to what he was doing, which was essentially nothing. I am mad everytime I think of how much better a team the Vikings could have been in recent years if our offensive coordinator had gone beyond just the minimum, and actually utilized ALL of our weapons, not just the Atom bomb.
Which leads us back to Norv Turner. This guy gets it. He understood Musgrave had gotten fired because sooner or later (sadly it turned out to be sooner), we wouldn’t have Purple Jesus and the offense would have to get a passing game going if we were ever going to get up off the ground. That’s why you’ll notice that when Peterson was ejected out of the club due to the accusations of child abuse, we didn’t just roll over, lose hope, and die. We went out there and won games. We showed up and in many instances, we straight up dominated without him. Here are some stats from the 2014 season: Peterson ran us 75 yards in the first game of the regular season. Afer he left, in the next 15 games we went 6-9. Losing record? Yes. But we faced one of the toughest schedules in the league that year, without Adrian, and (thank God) mostly without Matt Cassel behind center. In just about every single category, eg. running yards, passing yards, total 1st downs, total 3rd downs, we scored average compared to all the other 31 teams. Our new quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, fresh out of college and green as can be, came out of this season with a quarterback rating of 85.2! Cam freakin’ Newton’s rating was lower, Andy Dalton’s was lower, Nick Fole’s was lower. We were 14th overall in rushing, with Adrian Peterson playing one game out of the year. Tell me Norv Turner didn’t do his job. We ended the season 7-9, and our predicted win/loss record posted by profootball-reference.com was 7.5/8.5 BEFORE they knew AP was going to be out. We reached our expected win/loss ratio that had Peterson factored in!
So Norv Turner, we love you, please don’t leave… ever. Your now 30 years of NFL experience is a blessing to us in the offense department. We salute you, sir.
Back to our new Head Coach, Mike Zimmer. I remember when we fired Frazier and Zimmer came into our club, the big excitement was that his expertise in defensive schemes would help us our tremendously. He had worked as defense coordinator for the Bengals, Falcons, and Cowboys previously. Zimmer was working the Cowboys’s defensive backs when they won Superbowl 30 back in 1995. Since 2008, when he first joined the Cincinnati Bengals, until he left them after 2013 to join us, that team enjoyed 4 years of being ranked top ten in defense. In his last year there, they were ranked #3 overall.
So yah, Zimmer was talked about as being huge for our defense since the outset, even though he came to us in the capacity as Head Coach. I’ll go over this season’s stats and my impression of the intangibles that can’t really be covered by stats both in a little bit. Right now I just want to focus on the man himself, and his past achievements.
I really can’t say how good a football player this guy was back in his youth, because frankly there’s not much to go on. He did play quarterback briefly in college in the mid 1970s, before a thumb injury moved him to linebacker. Then he injured his neck, and he was done playing altogether. But the man must have had a deep-rooted passion for football, because even though he couldn’t play it due to injuries, he still felt compelled to be right in the middle of the action in coaching capacity.
Zimmer’s first coaching job was part-time assistant coaching, and, except for this last transistion to Minnesota, every single coaching job he’s taken has been in the defense department. He was inside linebackers coach, defense backs coach, and defensive coordinator in both college and the NFL. All defense, all the time, baby.
Looking back at his past coaching record, I don’t see one year he took off to do anything else. Since 1979 he’s been coaching defense, without any break whatsoever that I can ascertain. And everywhere he went to coach, the teams improved in defense. He transistioned from coaching on the collegiate to the professional level in 1994, when the Cowboys hired him to be assistant defense coach under Barry Switzer. He was promoted up the coaching ladder within the Dallas Cowboy’s organization, and finally became defense coordinator 6 years later in 2000. Just 3 years after that, while still with the Cowboys, due to his coaching expertise Dallas gave up the fewest yards in the NFL. He used the 4-3 defensive scheme to achieve this.
Now, this next bit of information I’m about to divulge about him speaks a lot to his ability to improvise and succeed under pressure. Apparently in 2005, then Cowboy’s Head Coach Bill Parcells favored the 3-4 defensive scheme. So when he was hired that year, Parcells made Zimmer coach the defense under that scheme. Zimmer effectively went from what he was comfortable with and excelled at, the 4-3, to the 3-4, on a whim of the Head Coach, and ran with it. The 2005 Cowboys defense held their opponents to an average 19.25 points against!
I already spoke above about his success with the Bengals, and he only did one year with the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta didn’t have an exactly stellar defensive year when they had Zimmer in 2007, and they finished that season 4-12.
While researching his past coaching resume, a picture of the man slowly began to develop before me: someone who was driven, hungry for victory, did excellent under pressure, was willing to go out of his comfort zone, and, most importantly, was very very good at making the defensive side of the team he was coaching one of the best.
Well, how did he do as his first year ever as Head Coach for the Minnesota Vikings in 2014?
We already know he was part of the talent that got our team past the difficulties of losing one of the best RB’s in football history to finish 7/9, when I thought it was going to be more like 2-14.
Robert Blanton had a breakout year at strong safety with 72 tackles and 34 assists. Harrison Smith, our free safety, also had a great year with 72 tackles, 21 assists, and 3 sacks. Overall, we were top ten in defending the pass, but ranked an abysmal 25th in defending the run. That puts us exactly square in the middle in general defense, an improvement from 2013, to be sure.
what extent Mike Zimmer had on our defense, given that he is coaching as Head Coach, not defensive coordinator, is hard to gauge. I’m certain he had a hand in it. As a whole I believe he lead our team to a great year. And by great, I mean a year that could have easily been 1-15, or even 0-16. Up until this season, our whole team structure and foundation had been built on just one man, Adrian Peterson. We had no quarterback, we had lost our one phenomenal wide reciever in Percy Harvin. Greg Jennings is good, but what is a good reciever without anyone to throw the ball to him? Our defense was just starting to take form, with people like Floyd and Griffen.
We had just recieved Teddy, and Anthony Barr. We had a huge question mark for the year, that Zimmer turned into an exclamation mark. After 2014, I now have hope that our team will now be a playoff contender in a year or two. We have all the ingredients, we just need to stir the pot a bit. We’re drafting 11th pick, let’s make this draft a great one, and for God’s sake let’s keep Teddy healthy!