Mike Zimmer is in his first season as head coach, and he is not satisfied with the way it’s going. With the Vikings off to a 2-4 start, Zimmer is making it clear that some players need to step it up—on and off the field. From unnecessary penalties in a game, to showing up late to practice, to more confrontations with the law, there seems to be no end to the mistakes. And the Coach is fed up with it.
According to the Star Tribune, Zimmer used the word “undisciplined” multiple times to describe his squad following Sunday’s home loss to Detroit.
“Some of the things we’re doing are leads to undisciplined play,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got to change a lot of these things. I had to fine a lot more guys this week, for whatever reason, for being late to meetings. I’m not going to let them slide. I’m going to keep fighting. I’m going to keep pounding my head. Like I told them, the fines are going to start going to the max now. I’m tired of it.”
Nobody expected this melodramatic start for Minnesota. With Adrian Peterson out of the picture and Matt Cassell suffering a season-ending foot injury in Game 3, the team has had to adapt. And Zimmer doesn’t seem to have unrealistic expectations; he just wants the players to show up 100 percent. “I can handle getting beat,” he said. “I can’t handle getting our butts whipped like that [against the Lions].”
Zimmer did not publicly target any specific players. Rather, he addressed blanket issues, one of the biggest being poor blocking and protection of the quarterback. En route to a 17-3 loss to Detroit, rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater seemed to be running for his life on every play, scrambling to simultaneously find open receivers and escape the defense. By the end of the fourth, Bridgewater had been sacked eight times. Eight. (In case you’re wondering, the NFL record for sacks in a game is 12). One of the largest problems on the offensive line this season has been Matt Kalil. Kalil delivered an outstanding rookie season, but something drastically changed after that. Now in his third year, the USC alum is frequently ranked by Pro Football Focus as the worst offensive player in the league.
Zimmer is a man that doesn’t hide how he feels. When Zimmer came to Minnesota, he carried a reputation of being a players’ coach, and he certainly lives up to that standard—in all of its facets.
When I visited the Vikings training camp for three days this summer, the first thing I noticed about Zimmer was his involvement with the players. In viewing games on television, it’s the same thing. He is not the type of coach to simply delegate to assistants or pass instructions down a line; he is fully present. He is there to coach. He is there to form relationships with his players. He is there to support them. But when things go poorly—as they are now—he is there to straighten them out.
“I want them to understand that it’s not okay to lose,” Zimmer said. “That’s what I want them to understand. I want them to understand that it’s not OK to lose, that we have to change the mentality and the mindset of this. I can remember telling the defense the same thing in Cincinnati a long, long time ago that we have to develop this mindset that it’s not okay to lose, it’s not business as usual. I’m not very accepting of these kinds of things.”
It takes more than a few months for a new coach to make a team his own, and it will be interesting to see what changes Zimmer will make to the roster. Already, he is threatening to reduce playing time. Fullback Jerome Felton says this type of move will certainly get the players’ attention. “[Game time is] what matters to players. That will get it solved real quick,” Felton expressed.
Veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn also responded to the discipline problem, saying that one aspect is an issue of accountability among teammates. Munnerlyn, who came to Minnesota this season largely to play under Zimmer, explained that it really shouldn’t be the coaches’ job to make sure players are following through. “Man, it’s your job […] We’ve got to get better.”