MINNEAPOLIS - It’s amazing what a difference a year makes for the Minnesota Vikings.
It was Jan. 10, 2022, a day after the Vikings had beaten the Chicago Bears to finish the season 8-9. But after losing at Green Bay the week before, the Vikings were eliminated from the NFC Playoffs for the second straight year and third time in four seasons. Something had to change.
The Vikings’ ownership group knew that much, and decided it was time for a major shakeup at TCO Performance Center. Mike Zimmer was dismissed as head coach after eight seasons, 74 wins, two division titles and a 2-3 record in the playoffs.
Zimmer’s departure wasn’t a surprise, as speculation had swirled for weeks and grew more annoyed with every week facing questions about his uncertain future. The bigger bombshell was the dismissal of Rick Spielman, who joined the Vikings in 2006 and had been the head of the front office since 2012.
Reports emerged that Zimmer and Spielman didn’t talk for several weeks as a disappointing season came to a close, odd for any NFL franchise. In exit interviews with the media, Eric Kendricks spoke publicly that a "fear-based organization" wasn’t the way to go. Brian O’Neill spoke about TCO Performance Center not feeling like a welcoming workplace, players walking on eggshells.
Zimmer was a good head coach, and a great defensive mind. But he wanted to do things his way, didn’t mesh with Kirk Cousins and there was a clear disconnect with players before his tenure ended. He’s had a tough year since his firing, losing his son, Adam, to reported alcohol abuse at just 38 years old. Adam had been working remotely as an offensive analyst for the Cincinnati Bengals until he was found dead in his Inver Grove Heights home.
Mike Zimmer went to his Kentucky ranch after his time with the Vikings came to a close. He’s been an analyst for close friend Deion Sanders at Jackson State, and the thought is he’ll do the same for Sanders at Colorado.
Spielman has been spotted on social media, doing draft and player analysis through The 33rd team.
Everything changed for the Vikings on Jan. 27, 2022. They introduced Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as the new general manager. He knew the fit was perfect after his first interview with ownership group. Mark Wilf wanted a strong leader, communicator and collaborator, and Adofo-Mensah checked all those boxes.
Adofo-Mensah’s first big task appears, after one season to go on, to be a home run. He hired Kevin O’Connell to be the next head coach in February, shortly after winning a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator of the L.A. Rams.
O’Connell has a more proactive approaching, building relationships with his players and empowering them. He’s rarely critical of individual players, something Zimmer wasn’t afraid to be after losses. He said Cousins "didn’t want to be a good teammate" after missing a night training camp practice due to COVID-19 protocols for non-vaccinated players, after being a close contact with Kellen Mond. He got easily frustrated with kickers for big misses, cutting Daniel Carlson two games into his rookie season.
O’Connell and Cousins have a clear chemistry, which isn’t a surprise given they’re both quarterbacks. O’Connell, at least publicly, is empowering Greg Joseph and giving him confidence in key moments.
Zimmer didn't talk injuries, O'Connell starts news conferences offering injury updates.
But Iit’s not all rainbows and unicorns. O’Connell has had some challenges with game management, and the Vikings’ defense is among the worst in the NFL entering the playoffs. But what matters is they’re 11-0 in one-score games this season, finished 13-4 with nearly the same roster as last year, won the franchise’s first division title since 2017 and on Sunday, the Vikings will play their first home playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium since the "Minneapolis Miracle."
Sometimes all it takes to turn things around is a fresh voice. We don’t know how this season will end, but the Vikings will do it how they’ve done it since starting over in January: Together.