The first time Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf hired a head coach, they were first-year owners without a general manager. They locked in on Brad Childress and hired him less than a week after firing Mike Tice in the locker room following the 2005 season finale.
The second time the Wilfs hired a head coach, they still didn’t have a general manager. They simply removed Leslie Frazier’s interim tag soon after the 2010 season.
The third time the Wilfs set out to hire a head coach, the process would be different. Considerably different.
For starters, they finally had a general manager, Rick Spielman, to spearhead the process. Secondly, the organization went in with no preconceived notions of who it wanted or whether that person would be offensive- or defensive-minded.
On Dec. 30, the day Frazier was fired, Spielman explained how he had come up with 13 categories from which the new coach could come from. He also said he would cast his net wide, move methodically to find two or three finalists and bring them back to Winter Park for the Wilfs to inspect.
The Wilfs, however, changed the script. They hit the road with Spielman and sat in on seven interviews in an eight-day span. It would have been eight interviews in eight days, but Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden took the Redskins job the morning that Spielman and the Wilfs were in Cincinnati to meet with Gruden.
The plan after those seven initial interviews included bringing Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles back in for second interviews this week, and possibly Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn back next week. Because Seattle is playing in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Quinn wouldn’t have been available for a second interview until next week, per NFL rules.
The Vikings, however, never made it past Zimmer’s second interview. They hired the 57-year-old, a 20-year NFL assistant who has spent the past 14 seasons as a defensive coordinator for three teams.
After processing all the numbers and information gathered in eight interviews, including two with Zimmer, Spielman said it was something else that ultimately helped him pull the trigger on the guy he wanted.
“You kind of go off your gut and your instinct,” Spielman said. “I don’t want to compare it to, but it’s like when I met my wife. Not that I had a lot of options, but you just know.”
Mark Wilf said ownership shared that gut feeling about Zimmer, who has never been a head coach in 35 years at the collegiate and pro levels.
“He is sincere, down to earth, no-nonsense and direct,” the Vikings president said. “Vikings fans will love coach Zimmer.”
The Vikings’ final say on personnel will remain the same since Spielman was promoted in 2012.
“I will always have the final say on everything, but again, I will always work to get consensus,” Spielman said. “I really believe in a team effort and to hear all those different opinions. But ultimately those decisions will end up on me.”
Zimmer said his direct, honest personality won’t get in the way when he and Spielman come to a stalemate.
“We will be fine,” he said. “I can get mad at people. I’m sure he can get mad at people. But we understand that both of our butts are responsible for each other, so the first time we say the heck with you and we go in the other room and we don’t come back out, it’s over. Collectively, we are going to do whatever we need to get fixed.”