Saint Paul, Minnesota- Unlike recent Vikings head coaches and lead assistants appeared to be, Mike Zimmer is not dressed as a football coach for Halloween. He is not a robot nor a puppet nor a cartoon; he is a believable football breather.
The Vikings have been in coaching turmoil since January of 2001 when Denny Green’s boys had the munchies and crashed the team bus into the Meadowlands like it was a 41 cent donut shop. Really, the unraveling of the Green era started long before that catastrophic Sunday oops.
Green’s tenure ended with a murmur and a fractured team. He was replaced by the giant Mike Tice, a better position coach than I think he gets credit for but he liked the idea of being a head football coach more than he was particularly capable of doing the job. To then owner Red McCombs, he was cheap rental truck, to Vikings fans and media, Ticey was entertaining but seemingly green and reactionary.
And then there’s Brad Chilldress. Chilly. Chilly, Chilly, Chilly. Uff duh. Chilly looked like he was at a Halloween party on the sidelines every Sunday. Chilly, the man who could not get out of his own way. The man with an ego the size of Mike Tice. The man whose stubbornness about his kick ass offense, namely not letting Brett Favre go Peyton Manning on the bit, cost the Vikings a chance at winning the Super Bowl in 2009. Leslie Frazier followed, and certainly looked the part but he made awful coaching hires and relied on a defense that wore flannel shirts and a coaching philosophy that wore parachute pants.
There is something different about the Zimmer era, a football being we haven’t seen since Jerry Burns because the guy only cares about Football, The Game of. Riding shotgun on this football odyssey is another NFL lifer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner who doesn’t care what you think of him and his only concern on Sundays is outfoxing his counterpart.
With these two men directly engaged in mystifying opponents, Vikings fans can now focus their attention on the disgusting officiating or the cheating opposing team or the beautiful green astro turf. Even better, as Donavan McNabb did during his inspirational 5 and a half game tenure with the Vikings, those elephantine puffy white clouds lolly gagging through the September sky. The Vikes will lose some games but there is rarely going to be a Sunday when these guys get out coached.
Bill Belichick and his post-apocalyptic grey sweatshirt come to town this weekend and Zimmer is not daunted. He faced the Patriots a few times as the defensive coordinator of the Bengals and last October his outfit held Tom Brady and company to 6 points. Zimmer, while no doubt acknowledging their pedigree, is not the type of coach who is going to be intimidated, scared, or reactionary in his play calling just because the Patriots are in town. The biggest fear there should be with the Patriots is the fact that they are 0-1.
In St. Louis, the Vikings displayed discipline in every phase of the game, aside from penalties. If you’re going to be a young and a winning football team in the twenty-teens NFL, you have to be the anti-Raiders. The Raiders of the 70s drew penalties like they grew hair outside of their helmets, it was part of the deal. Three decades later they are still drawing penalties but it’s not cool anymore. The Vikings had too many penalties on Sunday but I’d be surprised to see that continue.
Zimmer’s band stuck to the formula. Matt Cassell may have wanted to turn the ball over but he didn’t. Only once was a timeout burned because of a bad formation, and execution of plays were exemplary: downfield blocking, route running, chipping, etc. Especially on defense with all of the moving parts and bodies and formations, things where generally clean and confusing to the bumbling Rams who had no answer to Zimmer’s twister approach to the alignment of players.
“This is the best game plan I’ve ever been given,” defensive end Everson Griffen said late last week. “Ever.”
What a bunch of fools Vikings fans have suffered.
Zimmer and Turner are guys who look beyond the media, beyond the silly flapping of the gums by over-anxious fans, they look beyond perception. Their eyes are set squarely on the opposing sideline. That is it.
How many times have you heard “one game at a time”? When this pair of football eggheads say it, they mean it.
Over the years there have been many Sundays that I’d see an opposing coach flexing his throat muscles just a little better than the Vikings head coach, or executing a headset take off to yell at an official in a manner that suggested they knew what they were doing. When they’d show a close up of certain opposing coaches face there would be a look that I didn’t see on the Vikings sideline, a steely glare, a glimpse into their football soul. I’d be jealous of their football powers, they’d be a step ahead on clock management, on organization, on game planning, play calling, being ready for any crisis, on and on. I regularly thought that our coach was inferior to their coach in every way.
Well, Mike Zimmer, who knows where your journey may take us. You may end up with 15 men in the huddle at a crucial point of a big game but, you sir, look like a football coach, one of those football coaches I’d ask Santa for.