Mike Zimmer said he feels no added pressure, believes he has earned long-term job security, admits in hindsight that he probably should have kept Daniel Carlson, and allowed himself to envision the party — or two — he’d throw if his Super Bowl contender did indeed win the first championship in 59 seasons of Vikings football.
The Vikings’ sixth-year head coach discussed those topics and more while sitting down with the Star Tribune in his TCO Performance Center office before the third preseason game.
Here are some highlights:
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On his job security:
Zimmer is 47-32-1 in the regular season and 1-2 in the postseason. He has two NFC North titles and a trip to the NFC Championship Game.
“All that stuff is out of my hands. I feel my winning percentage is 60 [.594]. I think Dennis Green’s might be 61 [.610]. Bud [Grant’s] was 62 or 64 [.620]. And Jerry Burns was in the 50s [.547]. And those three guys are in the Vikings Ring of Honor. So, I feel like we’ve won quite a few games. But the job security thing really isn’t up to me. It’s up to others, I guess.”
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On what made him think he and John DeFilippo actually could coexist last season:
The run-first coach fired his pass-heavy new coordinator 13 games into a disappointing season.
“I don’t really want to talk about him. I felt like he was a good coach. He is a good coach. I thought that would be a good fit when we decided to do it. But it just didn’t turn out that well. I hope he does good. I really do. I guess I wasn’t good enough in stressing how we win here, I guess is the best way to say it. And, in fairness to John, Tony [Sparano, the line coach who died on the eve of last year’s training camp] was a good sounding board to me, and he was a good sounding board to John as far as knowing the things I wanted.”
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On whether he regrets releasing Carlson:
Last year’s fifth-round draft pick lasted two games before being released after missing three field-goal attempts in the 29-29 tie at Green Bay. As a Raider, Carlson made 16 of 17 attempts last year and seven of eight this preseason.
“He’s done good since he’s left. And maybe the pressure of being on a team that supposedly is going to the Super Bowl wasn’t the same as it was for him out there [in Oakland] last year. So, I don’t know. In hindsight, 20-20, yeah, I probably should have kept him. But we did what we felt was right at that time. And he had missed some in the preseason and all that. So, we just felt like we can’t lose this season because of the kicking game.”
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On kickers and how they’ve been his Achilles’ heel:
“The crazy thing is, OK, take a defensive back. Xavier Rhodes. I expect him to do his job. If he doesn’t do his job, I’m going to get after him. But like with kickers, they have the one job they have to do. And you expect that they better do their job. But if you say anything bad about kickers, you’re being mean or something like that. … So, I think it’s just the accountability of, ‘Hey, this is your job.’ And we understand they aren’t going to make every kick. But [Blair Walsh] missing a 27-yarder in a playoff game? And the one at the end of Green Bay [last year], which puts us in the playoffs? You know, it’s just frustrating.”
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On the instability of the long snapper, holder, kicker and punter positions throughout training camp and the preseason:
“It probably wouldn’t have gotten to that point if we were making all the kicks and we felt the holds were good. It’s hard to tell. Was it the hold? Was it the snap? Because we had two snappers. … But, yeah, it is a little concerning,” Zimmer said during the Aug. 21 interview.
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On this year’s offensive coaching staff:
Zimmer assured a like-minded offensive staff when he promoted Kevin Stefanski to coordinator and hired Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach/offensive consultant. Longtime Kubiak cohort Rick Dennison was a package deal as line coach and run-game coordinator.
“I understand preseason is preseason but when I’m on the headphones with the offense during the game, and I’m listening to the communication between Kevin and Gary and sometimes Dennison, it’s just like music to my ears. It’s like, ‘Man, the collaboration with these guys is outstanding.’ Kevin might want to run a play and Gary will say, ‘No, I don’t like that one.’ So [Stefanski] calls something else. And Gary might suggest something and Kevin will say, ‘I’m really thinking about doing that later one so I’m calling this.’ The communication between those guys and even when they installed the system and went through every little detail, it’s just been really good. … I’m sure there are going to be some hiccups, but at least we have ways of guys to play fast. Not thinking too much and sitting there at the line of scrimmage and making checks and doing this and doing that. Just get up there and, ‘Let’s go, baby.’ ”
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On what led him to Kubiak:
“I didn’t know Gary really well. I had heard from somebody that he said, ‘I’d really like to coach with Zim.’ [Zimmer wouldn’t say who.] And so that kind of got my ears perking a little bit. … I don’t think I’ve ever beaten him, but I always knew that that scheme was very, very difficult."
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On what gives the Vikings so much faith in Kirk Cousins, whose career record is 34-38-2, including 0-1 in the playoffs:
“The biggest thing we felt like he was a very talented guy. He can throw the football. Good athlete. Really accurate. We felt like defensively we could help him. I went and saw him right after we signed him. He said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I said, ‘I want you to be yourself. We have a good team around you. You don’t need to do anything crazy special. All you have to do is be yourself and that will be good enough for us.’ If we can play complementary football, I think that will play to his strengths. … I just feel we got away from [our identity] last year. … At New England [13 runs, 44 passes], we were averaging like 8 yards a carry. And we were throwing the heck out of the ball. And they’re up there in a three-down front with eight guys standing on the line of scrimmage trying to pressure us every snap because they knew we wouldn’t stick to the run.”
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On whether he feels more pressure this season:
“I feel pressure every year. Do I feel more pressure? No. But I want to do good for the team and the franchise and the owners. I want to do good for them. But I don’t feel more pressure. I think I’m a pretty good coach. I’m at 60 percent [.594] and all that stuff and hopefully it goes higher this year. But I want to win for everybody else. I’m not worried about getting fired. I’m not worried about retiring. Nothing like that. I like this team.”
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On how much longer the 63-year-old wants to coach:
“I honestly don’t know. I don’t even think about it. It’s hard to stop. I love teaching. I don’t like losing, so that might make you [retire]. And the grind is obviously hard. But it’s 16 weeks. Heck, anybody can do 16 weeks.”
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On his reaction at the end of last season when Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio speculated that Zimmer might resign:
“I was pretty upset. If people would call and ask me, I would tell them I’m thinking about it or something like that. But for people just to go out there and write it. And then I started getting a bunch of calls and texts about it. … That irritated me quite a bit. But I can get irritated easily.”
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On what he did to celebrate winning the Super Bowl as Cowboys defensive backs coach during the 1995 season:
“It was my second year in the league. I thought, ‘Man, this is easy.’ But it was a hard year. Really, I didn’t celebrate all that much when we won it. But next time I will.”
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On whether he would retire if he won another Super Bowl this year:
“I’d keep going. If you win one, you got to win two. I can envision the parade that we’re going to have in the Twin Cities. I know we’re going to do that. We would probably have a huge party somewhere. Put tents all over these four damn fields out here and have one hell of a party. Bring in Kenny Chesney or Toby Keith or somebody and have one hell of a good time.”
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What about Zimmer Ridge Ranch in Kentucky?
“Maybe we’ll have two parties.”