MINNEAPOLIS -- When he was introduced as the Minnesota Vikings' new coach in January, Mike Zimmer said he wanted to embrace the challenge of spending the next two years at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, rather than treating it as an experience to be approached with gritted teeth.
To that end, Zimmer has already started the process of preparing for the Vikings' two years outdoors. He told reporters at the NFL owners meetings last week he had talked to St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher about his time with the Tennessee Titans, when the team spent its first two years at the Liberty Bowl and Vanderbilt Stadium, and is researching the issues other teams faced in similar situations (the Seattle Seahawks played at the University of Washington in 2000 and 2001 while CenturyLink Field was being built, and the Chicago Bears spent 2002 at the University of Illinois while Soldier Field was renovated). Zimmer also said he'll talk to Gophers coach Jerry Kill about cold-weather games he's experienced at the stadium in the past.
"I'll try to take those things (that happened to teams in the past) and hopefully not run into those issues," he said. "Most of these NFL guys probably don't want to go in and play at a college stadium, I would assume. They're used to playing in the pros, even though it's a great stadium. If we can get that to be a big advantage for us, that can really help us, if I can figure out all those other things."
The Vikings had one of the NFL's biggest home-field advantages in the Metrodome, and in addition to losing that, they'll play home games outdoors for the first time in 33 years. Zimmer said he didn't want to tailor the team's next two drafts to the fact the Vikings are playing outside, only to move back indoors in 2016, but the Vikings will have to turn around an abysmal outdoor record to be successful in Zimmer's first two seasons. They're just 6-28-1 in their last 35 outdoor games, and went 1-6-1 outdoors last season (winning only at London's Wembley Stadium last September). They will play 13 games outdoors in 2014, and if the NFL keeps using the Week 17 rotation it's employed for the past four seasons, the Vikings should end the season with a trip to Soldier Field and conclude next season with a visit to Lambeau Field.
Assuming the Vikings get two December home games when the NFL schedule is released (likely later this month), they could be spending plenty of time in cold weather this year. Over the last five seasons, the Vikings went just 1-4-1 in games where the temperature was below 40 degrees, with their only win coming in their snow-delayed Tuesday night game against Philadelphia in 2010.
History isn't on the sides of teams moving into temporary homes -- the Bears dropped from 13-3 in 2001 to 4-12 in 2002, and the Seahawks slipped from a playoff berth in 1999 to a 6-10 record in 2000 -- but in Zimmer, the Vikings at least have a coach who sounds up for the challenge.
"It's not really a concern, but I've thought about it quite a bit," he said last week. "We have (two other) outdoor teams in the division, so it'll be somewhat different."