Quietly, the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff is amid a gradual reformation. This has occurred in stages over the last calendar year, so the change may not rattle the individual worlds of onlookers. But the mutation is palpable.
One key person has remained intact, and that is – you guessed it — head coach Mike Zimmer. He is the maestro of the staff, joining the Vikings in 2014 while carrying the franchise to the league’s eighth-best record during the timeframe. Recently, the stigma surrounding his legacy is debatable because Minnesota is fresh off a fruitless 7-9 campaign. During Zimmer’s tenure, the Vikings alternate commendable years with average ones. This is Zimmer’s Vikings resume by wins and loss: 7-9 (2014), 11-5 (2015), 8-8 (2016), 13-3 (2017), 8-7-1 (2018), 10-6 (2019), and 7-9 (2020).
The Vikings did in 2020 what sturdy franchises do in bad seasons – they finished with an average record. This is what the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New Orleans Saints perpetrate during downtrodden seasons – records close to 8-8.
Minnesota probably has the roster personnel to win the NFC North in 2021. And with a reconditioned coaching staff, the approach has been revamped. Take a minute to digest the coaching overhaul since the end of the 2019 season.
While Zimmer’s staff has been relatively consistent for a lot of his tenure with the Vikings, the offensive wing of the operation constantly changes. Six offensive coordinators in eight years are proof. From Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur, John DeFilippo, Kevin Stefanski, Gary Kubiak, to Klint Kubiak, betting money suggests that Zimmer will tap a new offensive coordinator nearly every season.
Much of this turnover is derived from promotion. It’s how the NFL works. When an offensive coordinator does noticeable things, he/she is plucked for expansive duties.
Klint Kubiak is the youngest offensive coordinator that Zimmer has auditioned to date, so it remains to be seen how youthful playcalling will jive with the run-heavy standards usually evident for the Vikings. Zimmer tapped Klint Kubiak, son of Gary, to provide continuity within the offense. Klint will likely instill his father’s playbook and insert his own innovation along the way. The younger Kubiak mentioned last week the need to evolve with the times – something by which his father and Zimmer are often scrutinized.
Regardless, Zimmer’s offensive leadership is always fluid, and 2021 is no different. The team even hired long-time pass-catcher Keenan McCardell to coach wide receivers.
The nature of this change is interpretive. Zimmer spearheads the Vikings defense, effectively running his scheme with hands-on delight since 2014. Until 2020, Zimmer utilized the now-departed George Edwards as his defensive coordinator. But nobody really ever knew what Edwards did as Zimmer is so empirical to Minnesota’s defense.
But Edwards is gone now. Zimmer promoted his son, Adam, and defensive line coach Andre Patterson to “run” the defense in a partner role. Call it a threesome of authority – Zimmer, Zimmer, and Patterson.
What’s more, the Vikings plucked Karl Scott to run the defensive backs room, a hire from the University of Alabama. Additionally, Zimmer pried 49-year-old Paul Guenther from the Las Vegas Raiders to serve as a senior defensive assistant. Guenther ran the Raiders defense for three seasons under Jon Gruden.
Even with Zimmer as the king (or kingmaker) of the defense, more brains are being tapped to contribute – quite the departure from six consecutive years of George Edwards.
This one was in dire need of immediate repair.
The 2020 Vikings special teams were stinky – as in rancid. Field goal kicking, extra point kicking, punting, punt returning, and punt coverage compiled to resemble slapstick comedy. As a direct result of the special teams absurdity, Ryan Ficken will take control of the unit. He replaces Marwan Maloof, a coach who was not retained when his contract expired after the 2020 season.
Ficken has a Kevin Stefanski-like trajectory inside the Vikings organization. He’s been with Minnesota since 2007, around the time Stefanski was hired. Ficken’s assignment for special teams falls in “it can’t get much worse” territory. But sometimes when that phrase is uttered, it does indeed get worse. There is no reason to believe, though, that Ficken will struggle.
All three facets of the game have undergone recent overhaul pertaining to coaching. This is noteworthy because Zimmer is frequently chided for being stubborn or old-fashioned.
But his willingness to cast new members in his coaching production is apparent – unless the beholder is too immersed in anti-Zimmer resentment to recognize it.