With Mike Zimmer out and Kevin O’Connell in, the Vikings could be much, much better

Sport

As Labor Day weekend commences with what hopefully will be a relaxing Friday night, I write this item fully aware that, before too long, a stream of angry texts may begin to ping my phone.

Again.

Yes, former Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has done it before. Specifically, on the night in March that the Vikings gave quarterback Kirk Cousins his latest new contract. Zimmer accused me of trying to get him fired. He said I started the “ground swell” that resulted in Zimmer losing his job. (I didn’t realize I was so powerful. Then again, maybe I am.)

The exchange went downhill from there.

It was a glimpse of Zimmer’s old-school cantankerous nature. I didn’t write about it at the time (he never used the magic words “off the record”), but it’s relevant tonight, as the Vikings inch toward their first regular-season game without Zimmer as the head coach since the end of the 2013 season.

Tyler Dunne of GoLongTD.com takes a close look at the dramatic change in culture as the Vikings pivot from Zimmer to Kevin O’Connell. The whole article is worth a read. Certain aspects stand out.

Most significant are the on-the-record comments from former Vikings cornerback Terence Newman, who worked on Zimmer’s staff after his playing career ended.

“I think [Zimmer] felt the pressure and he put so much pressure on everybody else around him that there was no way we could succeed,” Newman told Dunne. “We couldn’t win. It was hard to focus on your job when you’re focusing on, ‘OK, if I make a mistake, I’m going to get cussed out.’ That type of environment is tough to work in. Period. I don’t give a shit what you do. It’s hard to work in an environment like that.”

The problem was simple. Zimmer was always pissed off.

“He was never in a good mood,” Newman told Dunne. “People sense that stuff. You come in and you have an attitude. What the fuck are you mad about? There’s this dude over here playing with a bum knee giving it everything he’s got. Could’ve sat out. But he said, ‘You know what? I want to be there for my boys. I want to go out. I want to push myself. I want to do what I can for my team.’ And then this guy’s over here grumpy about possibly getting fired and still making however [much] money he’s going to make next year because he’s got a guaranteed contract. Tell me how that’s fair.”

Newman explained that, “when you try to intimidate, you get guys who are scared to make mistakes.”

“You do your job, but you don’t do your job the best you can do it because you’re afraid of the repercussions and the consequences,” Newman said. “You get embarrassed in front of everybody in the meeting room, and that does nothing for anybody. There’s no positivity that comes from that. . . . It was an atmosphere that became very toxic. Young guys didn’t want to play for the guy.”

Frankly, it doesn’t sound all that different than the approach used over the years by Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The difference is that Belichick has won. Zimmer didn’t. At least, not enough.

“If you’re a coach who coached in the 90s — and you haven’t adapted to what you’re doing — you’re making a huge, egregious mistake,” Newman told Dunne. “You can’t just run your players into the dirt. You can’t go Bill Parcells, two-a-days, live, goal-line, live red zone plays. You can’t do that anymore. I mean, you’ve got guys who are beat up just from practice. They’ve got to go play a game on Sunday. And we literally beat the shit out of each other on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.”

Newman said the environment became “toxic.” And while we typically shy away from sharing opinions shared to the media on an off-the-record basis, an unnamed former coordinator provided a blunt and simple explanation for why he thinks the 2022 Vikings will thrive.

“Because the devil’s gone,” the unnamed former Vikings coordinator told Dunne. “Satan is out of the building.”

That’s harsh. And it may be a little over the top. Regardless, Zimmer was a little over the top, too. And hopefully I won’t be getting any over-the-top text messages later tonight.