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Vikings' owner Mark Wilf: 'We're on to next year'

Twenty-six days after the sucker-punch finish to his team’s season, Vikings owner and President Mark Wilf was channeling his inner Bill Belichick when he declared “we’re on to next season” during a press conference inside the Super Bowl 50 media center in San Francisco.

“You never forget the tough losses,” Wilf said when asked how long it took ownership to get over Blair Walsh missing the 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in the 10-9 wild-card playoff loss to Seattle at TCF Bank Stadium.

“They’re very hard to take, but I think time heals things and the NFL is a 365 treadmill. We already went to the Senior Bowl. We’re right back working. We met with coach [Mike] Zimmer and [General Manager] Rick [Spielman]. We had some conversations this week and are already starting to plan for this coming year. So we’re on to the next year.”

Asked about Walsh’s kick, Wilf said, “Obviously a tremendous disappointment.

“But this was not one person’s loss. It’s a team loss and as well as we played, he won us some game earlier in the year. We win as a team and we lose as a team, as I’m going to quote coach Zimmer. The fact of the matter is, sure, we would have liked to have kept going. We feel we have a strong team here. But we had a lot of great steps this year. We won the division. It’s a tough division, a lot of tough teams. Beating the Packers in that last game and winning the division and having the confidence of how we played in that playoff game, I think that’s going to bode well for the future for all young players to have that kind of experience.”

Wilf is in San Francisco as part of the Minneapolis contingent that’s organizing Minnesota’s Super Bowl in two years.

Some other highlights about the team:

—On the one thing the team needs to take the next step in 2016: “I don’t think it’s any one thing. I just think we have to get better at every position. We have to get better in every area. I’m not going to tell you any specifics because we’re still working through evaluating all the talent out there. But I know we’re going to be a better football team because a lot of young guys who made a lot of good steps this year. We’ll have a good, young core of players moving to next year.”

—On how Zimmer has bounced back from the playoff loss and moved on to preparing for 2016: “He’s been around the league a long time. He’s had tough losses and he’s as tough a competitor as I’ve ever seen. He knows what it takes. He’s had the experience of having been in a Super Bowl and won them back in Dallas. He knows that we’re close, but there are no guarantees in the NFL. We got to get back to work April 18 or whenever it is when the players come back and go right back at it again.”

Former Vikings assistants Pagac, Woods helping Denver's top-ranked Super Bowl defense

Denver’s top-ranked defense reached Super Bowl 50 based on its ability to rush and cover in coordinator Wade Phillips’ aggressive 3-4 scheme.

Helping Phillips teach that scheme in the first season of his second stint in Denver were two former Vikings assistants who now fill similar roles in the rush and cover departments with the Broncos.

Joe Woods and Fred Pagac were with the Vikings from the time Brad Childress was hired in 2006 to when Leslie Frazier was fired after the 2013 season. Woods was the defensive backs coach, which is the same role he fills in Denver. Pagac spent most of his time with the Vikings as linebackers coach and is now the outside linebackers coach on the team with the best outside linebacker duo (Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware) in football.

“Minnesota was great because of the people and the fact that we were there long enough to raise a family in one place for longer than a lot of coaches get to,” Woods said.

As for whether Super Bowl 50 takes some of the sting out of that heartbreaking loss to the Saints in the NFC title game six years ago, Woods said, “You know, for me, mentally it does a little bit.”

When Childress was fired and Frazier promoted to interim coach 10 games into the 2010 season, Pagac was promoted to defensive coordinator. He stayed in that role until returning to linebackers coach only in 2013.

This is Pagac’s second Super Bowl. He was with the Raiders when they lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII during the 2002 season. Ask “Pug” whether he feels this should be his third Super Bowl based on how the Vikings lost that game in New Orleans and he’ll say, “It should be my fourth. I was with the Raiders for the ‘Tuck Rule’ game, too,” a reference to the controversial playoff loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Pagac doesn’t like to talk much to reporters, especially during a season. But he handled this week’s media access periods well. He even told a story about how his college coach, Woody Hayes at Ohio State, changed his life forever.

Pagac was a rookie tight end for the Bears in 1974. He went on to play for the expansion Bucs team that went 0-14 in 1976 and was released in 1977.

“I owe coach Hayes probably everything,” Pagac said. “I got released in 1977 and I was working construction. I had my daughter then. He called me and had me come back as a graduate assistant. That’s how I got into coaching. I didn’t know I was going to be a coach. I didn’t even know I wanted to be a coach. He saw it in me before I saw it in me, and he called me back.

“I went back back as a graduate assistant and spent 23 years at Ohio State. I thought I had a chance to be the next head coach there. It didn’t work out and that’s when I decided to go to pro ball.”

Pagac is 63, but he’s five years younger than Phillips, who’s currently the hottest assistant in the league. Of course, things change quickly in this league. Last year, Phillips was out of work.

“The key to Wade’s success?” Pagac asked. “Being who he is. Good person, knows football, been doing it a long time, lets the players play and does what the players do well. That’s about it.”

Woods said he still texts coaches from that Vikings staff. He shared a text with Frazier when he recently got the defensive backs job in Baltimore. Frazier’s son, Corey, a former safety at Rice, is now working as an intern in the Broncos’ scouting department.

Super Bowl 50
5:30 PM, 2/7 (CBS)

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