Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Zimmer's challenge includes fixing offense
By Ben Goessling
His defensive credentials are well known, but Mike Zimmer will have to fix an offense in Minnesota.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Mike Zimmer has coached 20 seasons in the NFL. He has been a defensive coordinator for 14, and has run some very good defenses in that time. In other words, he has been waiting a long time for a chance to do what the Minnesota Vikings hired him to do Wednesday: run an entire team.
The Vikings' new head coach has to set the direction for an entire 53-man roster, not just a defense. His input in the draft room will hold more sway, and he will be the one who gets the phone call at 3 a.m. when one of his players has been arrested. He will have to manage more egos in the locker room, answer more questions from reporters, and spend more time in the spotlight than he has at any point in his 20 years in the NFL and more than 30 as a coach.
Perhaps most important, he will have to put together an offensive staff who can solve the Vikings' chronic problem at quarterback.
That will be one of the first challenges facing Zimmer, and it could be the most daunting. The Vikings probably will take another young quarterback in this year's draft after devoting three years to Christian Ponder, who has given the Vikings little more than inertia at the position during three years of Adrian Peterson's prime. The Vikings defense was the second worst in the league last season, and Zimmer's record as a defensive coordinator is exemplary. But the Vikings aren't hiring him for that job, and of all their problems, none would inject more momentum into their team if it's fixed than the one at quarterback.
Zimmer will have to find a coordinator and a quarterbacks coach who can lift the Vikings out of their doldrums at quarterback. Zimmer will weigh in on the next big decision the Vikings make at the position, and he will determine how quickly a young quarterback plays. Those decisions, as Leslie Frazier learned in Minnesota, change the direction of a franchise, and just as the quarterback situation has defined general manager Rick Spielman's time with the Vikings, it also could define Zimmer's.
By all accounts, Zimmer had the respect and admiration of his players in Cincinnati, who appreciated his passion during the week and fiery manner on game days. He has the support of none other than Bill Parcells, who kept Zimmer as his defensive coordinator when he took over in Dallas. If ever there is a time for him to be a head coach, it's now.
But the Vikings have hired coordinators with no head-coaching experience the past two times they have had an opening, only to fire them after 4 1/2 and 3 1/3 seasons, respectively. They will now bet once again that a defensive coordinator can make the leap to the top job and direct a team with major problems on the opposite side of the ball from where he's made his money. That was ultimately a large part of what did in Frazier, and for the Vikings to move into their new stadium with any sense of momentum, Zimmer will have to be better.