Mark Wilf, co-owner and president of the Vikings, was asked why he thought replacing Leslie Frazier with Mike Zimmer would result in a big improvement from last year’s 5-10-1 record.
“It was not an easy decision to come to, but we felt the direction of this football team needs the kind of accountability and energy a coach Zimmer brings,” Wilf said. “I think it’s a performance business, and unfortunately our team didn’t have the record that we expected or were hoping for. It’s a performance business, we need to move on, and we think coach Zimmer is going to be that person to get us there.”
What was it about Zimmer that impressed the Vikings search committee?
“We interviewed a lot of gentlemen that we feel are going to be great head coaches in this league,” Wilf said. “But when we sat down with him his energy and his honesty and his directness and his track record — he’s been a proven coach, done great things on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s certainly an area of our team that’s going to be a strong thing that we need to improve on, as the whole team. He brings us all of that.”
Asked if it was tough for the Wilf family to fire Frazier, Wilf said: “Very tough, we have a lot of admiration for Leslie. He did a lot of great things for this ballclub and this organization and we wish him all the best for him and his family going forward. I know he has a position as a defensive coordinator in Tampa, so we’re happy for him and his family. We have a ton of respect, so it was a very tough time, but we wish him all the best going forward.”
Certainly, if most of the key free agents on the roster, such as Jared Allen, Everson Griffen and Toby Gerhart, aren’t re-signed for 2014, the Vikings will lack talent, but if they are brought back, we will find out if last season’s tough losses were because of coaching or a lack of talent.
Wilf was asked to give his first impressions upon meeting Zimmer: “Very honest, very personable, very strong in his presence, and someone who is going to be a good leader of players and men.”
He also said Vikings ownership had a chance to speak with Mike Brown, the longtime owner of the Bengals, who had nothing but positive things to say about Zimmer.
One of the important keys for the Vikings moving forward is how their draft picks continue to develop, considering how rookies such as Cordarrelle Patterson and Xavier Rhodes improved as last season went on. Wilf discussed that process going forward with Zimmer.
“Drafting talent is one thing, but developing that talent, especially given the structure of the league and so forth is not always easy, but we want to give those draft picks an opportunity to grow,” Wilf said.
Involved all the way
Wilf said he was present for almost every interview with a potential coach, adding that the process gave a great deal of insight.
“You’re always learning, and you’re always trying to find what works and what doesn’t work,” he said. “Yes you’re finding a head coach but at the same time you’re also learning how we can all get better in terms of getting this franchise in the championship direction.”
The Wilfs have hired three coaches in nine years — Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier and Zimmer. Wilf was asked what they look for in a candidate.
“I can tell you this, the process that we came to to hiring coach Zimmer was very thorough and we interviewed seven coaches in person and went through dozens of candidates in terms of reviewing them,” he said. “I think it’s a credit to Rick Spielman and their entire team that they put such a thorough process together and I think it’s a credit to coach Zimmer that he was able to stand out in such a good group and to be our head coach.”
The Gophers men’s basketball team has performed well to date in winning three conference games, but the next two games, at Iowa on Sunday and Wisconsin at home on Wednesday, will give you a better idea of how good Richard Pitino’s team is.
The Gophers will be facing a rejuvenated Hawkeyes team on Sunday. Iowa also has won three of its past four games against Minnesota.
Iowa, which has three close losses against top teams, finally got the big victory it has been looking for this season when it beat then-No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus last Sunday. The Buckeyes then came to Williams Arena and lost again, giving the Gophers their first signature victory as well.
If the Gophers are to have any chance of winning their next two games, they are going to need some improved offensive production out of senior Austin Hollins, who was supposed to be one of the Gophers go-to players this season.
Hollins has had a rough start to Big Ten play, averaging 7.4 points per game on 30 percent shooting.
• While most of the Gophers football squads in the past have lost a number of players at the end of a semester, Jerry Kill’s roster has had only two leave: quarterback Philip Nelson and wide receiver Jamel Harbison. Early rumors have Nelson going to Wyoming under new coach Craig Bohl.
• The Gophers football team again did well in the classroom with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0, or a B average. Across the athletic department, 24 of the 25 men’s and women’s teams had a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better.
• Three college seniors with local ties will be playing in the 2014 Senior Bowl in Alabama on Saturday: Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Miami (Fla.) offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson of Cretin-Derham Hall and Billy Turner, a tackle at North Dakota State who attended Mounds View.
• The Timberwolves would like to get into their new basketball facilities in the Block E building, which would include the Lynx and other offices, for the start of the 2014-15 season. Wolves owner Glen Taylor says progress is being made in negotiating a deal and hopes to have it done soon.
• Former Osseo basketball standout Sam Dower is having a great year with Gonzaga, and he had a season-high 28 points in Saturday’s 82-72 victory at Loyola Marymount. Two days earlier, he was 7-for-7 from the floor and scored 18 points in a 70-53 victory over Pepperdine.
• Harvard is looking to make its third consecutive NCAA tournament behind the stellar play of Siyani Chambers, the former Hopkins standout. Chambers, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season, is leading the team in assists at 4.7 per game and is second on the team in scoring with 11.4 points per game. Coming off the bench is Jonah Travis, a DeLaSalle product who averages 6.2 points per game.
• Virginia native and Minnesota Duluth product Matt Niskanen is tied for the NHL lead in plus/minus at plus-26. The Penguins defenseman has six goals and 19 assists this season.