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NFL: Zimmer, Vikings aim to get over hump with changes inevitable

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – For the first time in his six years with the Minnesota Vikings, coach Mike Zimmer told his assistants to take a break right after the end of the season before the staff reconvenes in a week or so to assess the roster.

The extra time, Zimmer theorized, will minimize the personal sentiment and recency bias in their evaluations. From the exhilaration of the overtime win at New Orleans to start the playoffs to the sobering lopsided defeat by San Francisco that ousted them, the Vikings sure have a lot to sort out for a team that reached the conference semifinals.

Can they stay on a championship track by committing to the same leadership and stars, or do they need a more significant renovation for a franchise beginning its 60th season and still missing a Super Bowl trophy? Zimmer spent an hour on the phone on Monday with his longtime mentor, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, pondering the big picture.

“We’ve been to the conference championship. We’ve been to the divisional game. We’ve been in a wild-card game where we lost by a field goal,” said Zimmer, who is 59-41-1 with the Vikings including the playoffs. “Just trying to figure out, ‘How do we get over this hump of getting to the next level and eventually winning this thing?'”

Zimmer’s contract has just one year left on it, as does general manager Rick Spielman’s deal, but team owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf issued a statement of confidence in both of them before the win in New Orleans. Extensions could be coming soon, considering the tension and uncertainty that expiring contracts can create.

“I love these players, this organization. The owners have been outstanding to me,” Zimmer said. “I believe that there will be conversations here in the near future and whatever happens, I’m happy with it.”

Change has already started in earnest on his staff, however, with offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski landing the job as coach in Cleveland and defensive coordinator George Edwards being let go amid the expiration of his deal. So Zimmer will not only start the 2020 season with a new offensive coordinator for the fifth straight year, he will now have a different-looking defensive staff for the first time since he arrived in 2014.

Defensive line coach Andre Patterson and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, his son, are two internal candidates for a post that has less responsibility than on most teams due to Zimmer’s preference to call the plays.

Though Stefanski was the play-caller and drew praise for his humility and adaptability when offensive adviser Gary Kubiak arrived, the playbook Kubiak brought from his successful days with Denver and Houston proved to be a sound fit for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who directed the running game, made a significant impact on an improved position group, too. Quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, the other son on the staff, makes a third internal candidate for offensive coordinator. Zimmer sounded on Monday as though that’s his preference.

“I like the scheme, I like the continuity that we have offensively with the coaches, and I feel like if we add a couple more pieces and continue to work on the execution of staying with the same play calls, the same system, the same motions and formations and things like that, it’ll definitely help the offensive players,” Zimmer said.

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