MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings ownership group is taking the franchise in a new direction, firing head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman on Monday after an 8-9 season and missing the NFC Playoffs for the second straight season.
It’s the team’s third time in the last four seasons not being in the postseason, and fifth time in eight seasons under Zimmer. Mark Wilf on Monday was direct, while also appreciative of Zimmer and Spielman.
"We strongly believe we need new leadership to elevate our football team. Our goal is to consistently contend and win championships," Wilf said. "You are what your results are in this business, and we looked at that totality and we just felt there needs to be a change. We felt it’s time to make a change."
After being dismissed, Spielman addressed the team, while Zimmer did not. Vikings’ players Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks and Brian O’Neill offered their reaction to the changes Monday afternoon.
Thielen: "Eight out of my nine years I’ve been with Coach Zimmer, so obviously it’s tough to hear that news. We all have to look ourselves in the mirror. We’re all disappointed that we didn’t make the playoffs, that we didn’t give ourselves an opportunity to make a run at a championship. That’s what we’re all here to do," Thielen said. "It’s a results-driven business. If you don’t have results, there’s going to be change."
Kendricks: "We’ve got to take a long time to reflect personally and obviously as a team going forward. It was a very disappointing year, a lot of ups and downs. At the end of the day we’re here to win games, we’re here to win championships. It didn’t get done, it’s unfortunate that it’s part of the business."
O’Neill: "Obviously it was a tough morning here for everybody in the organization. I have a ton of respect and gratitude for them and what they’ve been able to do with getting me here and making me a part of this thing. For me it’s nothing but love and respect for those guys with how they approach their business and how they go about things," O’Neill said. "We understand that’s the nature of the business that if we don’t win, things change."
Wilf said Monday’s moves are not the first step in a complete rebuild. He and the players believe the Vikings can and will be competitive in 2022. There’s too much talent on offense and defense to completely start over.
"We don’t need to blow it up and completely rebuild. We have a lot of great pieces, we have a phenomenal locker room. We have a lot of really, really good football players and I think we’re close," Thielen said. "We’re not far away and if we get the right people in here, we could potentially take it to the next level."
"We have a lot of talent here and we expect to win. The guys that are in this locker room and the guys that are going to continue to be in this locker room give us a chance to play at a really high level," O’Neill said. "We expect to win and we expect to be back in the hunt next year. This isn’t a tear down."
Wilf stressed three things in the Vikings’ next general manager, and head coach: Strong leaders, communicators and collaborators.
The players never stopped fighting for Zimmer, but his hard-nosed, disciplinary approach clearly weighed on the team at least the past two seasons. Both Kendricks and O’Neill were asked about the Vkikings’ culture on Monday.
"A culture where communication is put at the forefront. No matter what your role is on the staff, you having a voice and being able to communicate things that you think can help facilitate wins. I don’t think that a fear-based organization is the way to go," Kendricks said.
"We spend so much time together and the season is so long that little personal things here or there could make a huge difference for a young guy. Guys play their best when they feel good about themselves and their role within a team," O’Neill said. "The more we can cultivate a culture that guys feel good about being themselves and that they’re important to the team and that everyone is in this together, they start to do better. The more we can understand that we’re in this thing together, I think we’d go a long way in making this a better place."
Zimmer won 74 games in eight seasons, but had just two playoff wins. Wilf said the plan is to hire a general manager who will have a say in the next head coach, and the process will be done internally. The next hires will say a lot about the Wilf family’s philosophy moving forward with the franchise.