EAGAN, Minn. — It’s been a long time since Mike Zimmer called his first game as a coordinator, but he reached back in the memory bank this week to give interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski some help in preparing for his maiden voyage on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
“I gave him a few tips on my first game I had to call when I was a coordinator 100 years ago, how I prepared for the game, things that I do, so he appreciated that,” Zimmer said.
Stefanski was given the play calling duties after the team fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo following a 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
On Friday, Vikings’ head coach explained some of the challenges that a play caller faces with a hectic and fast environment on the sidelines.
“It’s a little different when you’re reading it off a script at practice and then you go out to the game and there’s 70,000 people yelling and they’ve got a different personnel group and you’ve got 25 seconds to do it and the thing cuts off at 15 and now you’ve got 10,” Zimmer said. “It’s practice and getting used to it. I’m sure he will do a good job.
Zimmer said the team “did the best we could” to create mock situations for Stefanski throughout the week of practice.
Stefanski has been with the organization for 13 years in a number of different roles. He said on Thursday that he’s been preparing himself for the opportunity by being engaged with every game as if he was calling plays.
“I think every assistant coach and probably every fan is calling the plays with the play caller,” Stefanski said. “Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. We’re up there, you’re always thinking about what you may be calling in that situation. I’ve tried to do that since day one as a coach. I think that is incumbent upon you to take yourself through what you may do here. The play calling thing, I am going again to rely on, we have a great staff and we have good players and to steal a line from Pat Shurmur, ‘It’s about the players, not the plays.’ It’s something that we are going to work on on Sunday and let it go.”
Zimmer explained the Shurmur quote further on Friday, explaining that play callers can’t get too caught up on one call.
“Get them in the right place and let them play,” Zimmer said. “The calls are important, obviously, but a lot of times you can make a bad call and the players can make up to help you or you can help them by making a good call. The biggest thing is, there’s a lot of times I make bad calls and guys make good plays, but you can’t dwell on it because you don’t have time during the game. After the game you go back and think ‘I should have done this here’ or ‘I should have done this there.'”
The Vikings’ offense has struggled for most of the second half of the season. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is only averaging 6.4 yards per attempt over his last five games and Minnesota has come up short in three games versus winning teams despite solid defensive performances.
Stefanski will have an opportunity to turn things around quickly against a Miami defense that ranks 26th in points allowed.