When Bill Parcells was hired as coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2003, one of his first decisions was to retain one member of the former staff in defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who had held that position since 2000.

The Cowboys made the playoffs in 2003 under Parcells as Zimmer helped guide the defense to a No. 1 ranking in the NFL in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.

The coaches would stay together through 2006, when Dallas reached the playoffs for a second time under Parcells, before the coach retired following the season. Zimmer went to work for a season as Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator before really making his name in the same position with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Parcells hasn’t coached since, but he has kept in close touch with Zimmer — including attending the Vikings’ 28-10 victory over the Giants on Oct. 6.

“We have been friends for a while and I have a high regard for him,” Parcells said of Zimmer.

Asked where the Vikings stand at 6-2 going into Sunday’s game at Kansas City, Parcells, a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in 2013, said: “You know, Sid, we are only halfway through the season here. I think this time next month [we will know more]. They have some tough road games. I think that will be a key time for the Vikings.”

Still, the 78-year-old Parcells said it is clear that these Vikings are a long way from where they were last year, when they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs — especially on offense.

“They are much improved from what they were last year, obviously, their offense has been playing a lot better,” Parcells said. “Their quarterback [Kirk Cousins] has been playing a lot better, and you know … that Dalvin Cook is a very explosive player and you know the receivers are doing a good job. Offensively they are giving people some problems.”

After finishing 2019 ranked 19th in the NFL in scoring offense and 20th in total offense, this season the Vikings rank No. 10 in scoring offense and No. 3 in total offense.

The last time the Vikings finished as one of the top three offenses in the NFL was in 2003, with Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss leading the way.

“[Stefon Diggs] is doing great,” Parcells said. “[Cook is] very explosive, he can catch the ball, you know I like the kid that they have backing up Cook, too [Alexander Mattison].”

When it came to Cousins, who is second in the NFL in passer rating, Parcells said he has been very good, “especially in the last month.”

Offensive changes working

Parcells, who gave coaches such as Zimmer, Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Anthony Lynn, Tom Coughlin and Charlie Weis assistant coaching jobs before they went on to their own success as head coaches, said Zimmer made smart hires in bringing in Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison to help change the offense alongside young offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.

“I don’t know them too well personally, but I coached against Kubiak once or twice, I think they have a good system,” Parcells said. “They understand their system and they know what kind of players can play it and they are doing a great job with that system right now.

“They are definitely better.”

No prediction on division

Parcells didn’t want to predict whether the Vikings, a game behind the Packers in the standings and with one of their two losses coming at Green Bay, can win the NFC North.

The simple fact is that the division is one of the best in the NFL. The Packers, Vikings, Lions and Bears have a combined record of 19-10-1, and when they play outside the division they are 14-5-1.

“They’ll have to play well,” Parcells said. “Green Bay looks formidable, and Detroit is a much better team than anyone thinks.

“Green Bay looked good [in beating the Chiefs 31-24 last Sunday]. [The Vikings] have to win some games. They have to beat Kansas City, they have to go to Dallas, they have Seattle, they have a tough schedule here. We’ll know a lot more after Thanksgiving.”

Parcells said he is nervous for Zimmer because of the Vikings’ upcoming schedule, and he wasn’t ready to think about whether the Vikings have what it takes to win a Super Bowl this season.

“It’s too early to talk about that,” Parcells said. “They just have to try to get into position by Thanksgiving to get into a position to make a run over the last month.”

And finally …

Parcells is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL, but he still follows all of football. That includes colleges. Before he got off the phone he asked, “Does Minnesota have a chance to beat Penn State?”

When I told him that because the Gophers are playing at home I think they have a chance to win that game, he had one last question:

“What kind of attendance will they have?”

JOTTINGS

• Who would have thought the Gophers football team would begin November ranked ahead of Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa?

• Gophers coach P.J. Fleck on Penn State counterpart James Franklin: “One of my best friends in the profession and also one of the coaches I respect the most in this profession, and I have a chance to visit with him every year, he is one of the best coaches in the country. One of the top five coaches in the country.”

• Pro Football Focus works mainly on NFL stats, but it also ranks college performances and recently wrote that the Gophers wide receivers are the fourth-best group in the nation.

• The Vikings have won only once at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, 35-15 in 1974 to finish the regular season at 10-4. The Vikings played in the Super Bowl a month later.

• The Twins drafted Pat Mahomes, the father of Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in the sixth round of the MLB draft in 1988. The older Mahomes went 18-28 with a 5.82 ERA in 114 games over five years for the Twins before pitching for five other big-league teams.

• The Chiefs held their training camp at Wisconsin-River Falls from 1990 to 2009 before moving to Missouri Western State University. That meant they would scrimmage the Vikings, who were training in Mankato, often.

• Last season through eight games, the Packers were 3-4-1 and Aaron Rodgers had a QB rating of 98.9 and had taken 23 sacks. This year’s Packers are 7-1 and Rodgers has a 106.7 rating and has taken 17 sacks.

• Packers running back Aaron Jones was taken No. 182 overall in the 2017 draft and Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was taken 41st. Cook has 823 rushing yards and nine scores compared to Jones, who has 466 rushing yards and eight scores. Jones also has 355 receiving yards while Cook has 293.