MINNEAPOLIS -- In his introductory news conference as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach, Mike Zimmer made it clear that he wanted to be involved in every aspect of the team, not just the ones where he'd made his reputation as a defensive coordinator for more than a decade.
"I want to hire an offensive coordinator, yes, and I want him to have his ideas, but I want to be the head coach and I want to be in charge of this football team and I want to be in charge of everything that we do here," Zimmer said on Jan. 17. "So there will be times when I’ll go in the offensive room and talk to them about certain plays and doing different things and what I have seen on tape. Being a defensive coach and knowing a lot of things that hurt certain defenses, I know a lot of coaches in this league from playing against them for so long. But my goal is to be the head coach, not the defensive coach, and then have an offensive coach to be the offensive coach."
Zimmer wouldn't have hired an offensive coordinator with as much clout as Norv Turner if he wasn't planning to empower that person, but it's clear Zimmer also won't limit himself to the defensive side of the ball. His predecessor, Leslie Frazier, also became a head coach after working as a defensive coordinator, and seemed too deferential to his coordinators at times. Frazier said on Sept. 16 he had overridden his coordinators' calls on some occasions, and wouldn't hesitate to do so in the future, but the entire reason he was discussing the topic was what had happened the day before in Chicago, when Frazier had castigated himself for not getting more involved in the defensive play-calling at the end of a 31-30 loss to the Chicago Bears, where Jay Cutler found Martellus Bennett for a touchdown with 10 seconds left.
We don't -- and won't -- have all the details on coach/coordinator interactions, so it's difficult to make a full assessment of the relationship, but at a minimum, it seems safe to say Zimmer wants to make sure he's directly involved with the entire sphere of the Vikings' decisions. He spent last Thursday night talking offensive strategy with Turner at the NFL scouting combine, he said, and is intent on tapping Turner's knowledge to learn more about the offense.
"I’m still growing that way," Zimmer said on Friday. "Obviously I’m trying to get all the defensive things in place as far as playbook, terminology and all that and we keep working our way over that. I’m learning offense, the offensive system and things. The one good thing about Norv, we talk about different things and I said, ‘Do you ever do this off of it?’ and he’d say, ‘We used to do that.’ So we communicate.”
Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have said they'll lean heavily on Turner as the Vikings think about taking a quarterback in the draft, but Zimmer won't be shy about weighing in on the decision, either. He'll ultimately be judged on how smoothly he can transition from running one phase of the game to running a whole team, and when the Vikings' biggest offseason move might be on the side of the ball Zimmer hasn't coached, it makes sense for him to get involved quickly.
"It will be a collective decision between Rick and myself and Norv," Zimmer said of the quarterback move. "When I was in Cincinnati, they wanted to find out what kind of defensive players I wanted and guys who I liked and things like that. And just because I liked them didn’t mean they were going to take them. I think it’s important that's the same thing with Norv. I think he’s evaluated quarterbacks a lot longer than I have. I’ve played against them a lot longer than he has. I think it’s part of the process, too.”