The Minnesota Vikings are just a few good decisions away from being great. Unlike other teams with vacant general manager and head coaching positions, they have the foundation of a winning team in place. Justin Jefferson is a transcendent superstar. Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, and Danielle Hunter give the defense something to rely on. Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook have expensive contracts, but they’re giving Minnesota’s next general manager and veteran starting coaches in two crucial places.
Get the right coach and general manager, and the Vikings can join the franchises in the upper echelons of the league. We’re talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks. The (gasps) Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. Even the New England Patriots. But if the new general manager misses his coaching hire and gets nothing from his first two drafts, Minnesota will remain in football purgatory. Or worse.
Continuity is what separates the best NFL organizations from the worst.
- Bill Belichick has ruled the Pats since the turn of the century.
- Mickey Loomis has been the general manager of New Orleans since 2002. Sean Payton has been training them since 2006.
- Kevin Colbert has been the Steelers’ general manager since 2000. Mike Tomlin has been coaching them since 2007.
- Ozzie Newsome served as general manager at Baltimore from 2002 to 2018. Eric DeCosta, their current general manager, has been with the Ravens since 1996. John Harbaugh has coached them since 2008.
- Ted Thompson began managing the Packers in 2005 and Brian Gutekunst took over in 2018 after spending 20 years with the organization. They probably kept Mike McCarthy too long and managed to sign Matt LaFleur in 2019.
- Jean-Schneider and Pete Carroll have been together in Seattle since 2010.
Continuity is often confused with mediocrity. Nobody wants marvin lewis and Andy Dalton; they want Zac Taylor and Joe Terrier. But an ownership group looking to have the same people in place isn’t content with mediocre results. It’s a winning formula – but only if the people you have in place can win you a championship and you can rest assured that your commitment to continuity doesn’t negatively affect the people you put in power.
Rick Spielman had been with the Vikings since 2006 and took over as general manager in 2012. Mike Zimmer has been coaching them since 2014. Continuity turned Spielman into a recluse and Zimmer into a tyrant. Spielman only spoke to the media when the league required it, and Zimmer did not greet his players in the hallways and created a “fear-based” culture.
Both also had their merits. Spielman knew how to read the scoreboard and he found value with his late picks. Zimmer’s defenses were innovative and he maxed out great players like Smith, Antoine Barr, and xavier rhodes.
But their once endearing quirks have become vices over time.
Spielman understood late-round value but began to rack up an ominous amount of picks. Negotiate for Sam Bradford seemed a justified emergency. the Yannick Ngakoue and Chris Herdon the agreements seemed reckless. By being more available to the public, he would have better explained how he values picks and why he feels the need to add players just before the season.
Likewise, Zimmer was first embraced for his grumpy demeanor. Who doesn’t kiss a guy who uses his platform to McDonald’s by flame for shorting him a burger? He loves his players, but he doesn’t tolerate fools! In Zim we trust! However, it eventually became difficult to play, especially for younger players. It’s not a winning formula in a league where rookies are expected to make an immediate impact.
What made their behavior particularly difficult to explain was that they had more job security than almost anyone else in the league. Spielman could miss a trade or miss a draft class, and Zimmer didn’t have to win 10 games every year. They both had money left on their contracts when the Wilfs fired them.
Ultimately, the Wilfs will benefit from their commitment to the sequel, even if Spielman and Zimmer never built a suitor. Not only have the Vikings been relevant most of the time, they’ve owned the team, but they have trusted people within the organization helping them in their search for general manager and coaches. Chief among them is cap wiz Rob Brzezinski, who has been with the organization since 1999.
It looks like they narrowed their search for GMs to Ryan Poles and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Whoever they choose will select the next coach. Maybe the Vikings will find their next Payton and Loomis or Tomlin and Colbert. But they might not.
The Wilfs are not footballers, but they have to do two things. They need to make sure that the people they have in place will take the Vikings to heights they never reached under Zimmer and Spielman. And they need to make sure the person they hire creates the culture they want and is transparent in their actions.