The legions of Vikings zealots were concerned about new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo when the full squad assembled for training camp one year ago. The concern was that the 40-year-old coordinator would be hired elsewhere as a head coach after the Eagles-style magic that he was certain to bring to the 2018 Vikings.
The DeFilippo departure did not come in the manner anticipated last July. With the Vikings 6-6-1 with three games remaining, coach Mike Zimmer received permission to fire DeFilippo on Dec. 11, 2018, and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski.
On Friday, 227 days later, Zimmer permitted himself to take a shot at DeFilippo’s strategizing during a media session that followed the first full-squad walk-through.
Zimmer was asked about the outlook for the offensive line, after another shake-up of the offensive staff. He mentioned schemes that might be simpler for blockers.
“I think the things that we’re doing will be able to help those guys in protection,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in our best interest to sit in the shotgun and drop back 35 to 40 times — for us or anybody else, really.”
This was a Zimmer zinger with two prongs:
Not only was Zim demeaning DeFilippo’s offensive scheming in Minnesota, he was puzzled by what Jacksonville was thinking in hiring DeFilippo for 2019.
He must have thrown in that “for us or anybody else” for a reason, right?
Zimmer is entering his sixth season — the Vikings’ longest tenure since Dennis Green’s decade concluded with one game left in the 2001 season. Mike Tice was 1-1 in playoff games in four seasons, Brad Childress was 1-2 in 4½, Leslie Frazier was 0-1 in 3½ and Zimmer is 1-2 in five.
Zimmer had one playoff loss on Blair Walsh’s field-goal gag. His lone playoff victory required a miracle.
He has also had the Vikings end two straight seasons by no-showing: at Philadelphia in the NFC title game after 2017, and a home loss to Chicago that knocked them out of the playoffs in 2018.
This was Year 2 since the Vikings abandoned Mankato and moved training camp to Eagan. The parking lot in the distance was filling up by noon, an hour before the first actual camp practice.
The stadium floor was devoted to games for kids, and most of the fans seemed to be parents. There were small gaggles of adult males that were familiar in the Mankato days: a practice, some beers on the hill, maybe a couple more downtown.
I’ve been wondering why Zimmer has seemed to be bullet-proof with even these hard-cores, considering it was “Super Bowl or bust” with the new $84 million quarterback exactly one year ago, and what followed was an 8-7-1, non-playoff bust.
I approached a trio of gents who looked the part of serious fans and asked: Does Zim still have your confidence as the Vikings coach?
Jason Brisbin, Andover: “I think he does. I don’t think he’s had a normal season here. There have been seasons with key injuries. There was the death of Tony Sparano right before camp last year.
“They did make the wrong call on the young offensive coordinator in DeFilippo. I guess you can blame Zim for being in on that, but I like the fact that he did make the change when it wasn’t going to work.”
Jason Kapanke, West St. Paul: “I like Zim. He’s a defensive guy and has made us excellent there. And, I think having a veteran coach with a track record like Gary Kubiak is going to be a big help to the offense.”
Reporter: “Zim had one of those in Norv Turner and ran him off?”
Kapanke: “True, but with the offensive talent here now, I’m optimistic, as long as No. 20 [Dalvin Cook] does his part and stays healthy.”
Nathan Wolf, Prior Lake: “I think head coaches are like players. They learn. I think he’s getting better.”
Reporter: “This is Year 6. His impatience reached new heights last season. Remember, way before he fired DeFilippo, he ran off the rookie kicker, Daniel Carlson.”
Wolf: “Carlson was really bad, though.”
Reporter: “Zim gave him two games. Then, Carlson wound up in Oakland for the last 10 games, and he made 16 of 17 field goals.”
Wolf: “I still think Zim’s the right coach for us.”
There it was: Zim in a 3-0 landslide.