EAGAN, Minn. — First on Mike Zimmer’s to-do list is hiring two new coordinators. Then comes discussions about a contract extension for the Vikings coach.
Zimmer must replace offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who agreed Sunday, Jan. 12, to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and defensive coordinator George Edwards, whom Zimmer said Monday has left the team since his contract expired. Zimmer said he wants to hire an offensive coordinator who runs the “same system.”
As for Zimmer, he has one year left on his contract. He said Monday in his final news conference of the season that he will be looking into finalizing an extension.
“I love these players, this organization,” said Zimmer, who is 57-38-1 in six seasons as the Vikings’ head coach. “The owners have been outstanding to me. So I believe there will be conversations in the near future, and whatever happens, I’m happy with it.”
Following a 10-6 regular season, Vikings president Mark Wilf put out a statement on Jan. 3 saying Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman, who also has one year left on his contract, will be back next season. The sixth-seeded Vikings upset No. 3 New Orleans 26-20 in an overtime wild-card playoff game at the Superdome on Jan. 5, then saw their season end Saturday with a 27-10 loss at San Francisco in a divisional playoff.
For now, Zimmer is taking a more relaxed approach after the season. For the first time, instead of conducting player evaluations immediately, he is giving his assistant coaches this week off before getting to work on the evaluations next week. Zimmer said he doesn’t want them to be “biased in whatever happened in the last ball game,” when the Vikings struggled in all phases.
But Zimmer is getting right to work trying to replace Stefanski and Edwards. He said hirings “may be by the end of the week or it may be a couple of weeks.”
Since Zimmer calls the defensive plays, the hiring of a replacement for Stefanski is considered the first priority. The Vikings changed schemes last year, going with one that relies on zone blocking, and Zimmer wants to keep that system in place.
“Right now, it’s a little early,” he said replacing Stefanski. “We’re going through the process of all that, and we’ll determine that as we go. I haven’t made any determinations yet. Obviously, we talked about it a little bit. …. I want to make sure the fit is right. If we do bring somebody in from the outside, I want to make sure it’s the correct fit.”
The Vikings could go with an internal candidate. However, Zimmer declined to speculate on the possibility of either assistant head coach/offensive adviser Gary Kubiak or his son, quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, taking over as offensive coordinator. Another candidate could be offensive line coach/run game coordinator Rick Dennison.
“I like the scheme,” Zimmer said. “I like the continuity we have offensively with the coaches, and I feel like if we add a couple more pieces and continue to work on the execution of staying with the same play calls, the same system, the same motions and formations, it’ll definitely help the offensive players.”
Zimmer said keeping the same scheme would provide a continued comfort level for quarterback Kirk Cousins entering his third season with the Vikings.
“Obviously, he is going to have a new offensive coordinator,” Zimmer said. “It will be his fifth coordinator in five years, I think he told me (Sunday), or at least (the fifth) voice in his ear on game day. So, I mean, there’s nothing I can do about that, but I think it’s important not just for Kirk, but for the entire offense to have the same system.”
After being ranked 20th in the NFL in total offense in 2018, the Vikings improved to 16th in 2019. They were ranked in the top 10 for much of the season until they slipped in December, when star running back Dalvin Cook missed most of the month because of injuries.
Zimmer was pleased to see Stefanski get the opportunity with the Browns. Stefanski, who spent 14 years as a Vikings assistant, was interim offensive coordinator for the final three games in 2018 before the interim tag was removed last January.
“It was great,” Zimmer said. “Kevin is a good young coach. He got this opportunity, and so I’m happy for him.”
As for Edwards, who was hired when Zimmer took over as coach in 2014, Zimmer said it was simply time for him to move on.
“He was at the end of his contract and it was a situation where it was probably best,” Zimmer said.
If the Vikings consider an internal candidate for defensive coordinator, one possibility could be defensive line coach Andre Patterson. In addition to being a long-time, highly regarded position coach, he has experience as a head coach at Cal Poly and defensive coordinator at Texas-El Paso.
On defense, the Vikings showed significant slippage in 2019. After three straight years of ranking among the NFL’s top four defenses, they were No. 14 in total defense this season. They had uncharacteristic struggles against the run, highlighted by allowing 186 yards on the ground Saturday to the 49ers.