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Zulgad: Surrounded by uncertainty: What does future hold for Zimmer, Pitino and Evason?



Some thoughts on the Minnesota coaching scene while heading to Fort Myers to cover one guy, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who currently has more job security than almost anyone in town.

MIKE ZIMMER

Is Zimmer going to get an extension or not? A year ago at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, general manager Rick Spielman announced the 2020 option on Zimmer’s contract had been exercised. This year, Spielman declined to say if Zimmer’s contract would run past 2020.

There has been an assumption that Zimmer will have his contract extended this offseason but it’s interesting that no announcement has been made. There was talk that if the Vikings had lost their opening-round playoff game at New Orleans that the Vikings might have worked out a trade to send Zimmer to the Dallas Cowboys. The fact the Vikings upset the Saints before losing to San Francisco in the second round ended that discussion.

The Vikings have won two NFC North titles and two playoff games in Zimmer’s six seasons as coach but it looks as if there’s a chance he will be asked to coach in the final year of his contract. Spielman also has a contract that runs through 2020.

That puts a lot of pressure on two of the most important members of the organization to make win-now decisions that might not be best for the long term. There is no incentive for Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf to keep their plans for Zimmer and Spielman quiet. The NFL’s new league year will begin on March 18 and any free agents who are going to be recruited by the Vikings probably would like to know who their coach is going to be in 2021.

The verdict: Is there a reason the Vikings haven’t made a decision on Zimmer? Is there a lack of agreement internally on the direction the Vikings want to head? Right now, it looks as if Zimmer will be allowed to see what he can do next season and then a decision will be made on a coach who will turn 64 on June 5.

RICHARD PITINO

This has been a disappointing season in what has been an up-and-down run for the Gophers men’s basketball coach. The Gophers crushed visiting Nebraska, 107-75, in their Big Ten regular-season finale on Sunday and are 14-16 overall and 8-12 in the conference. Nebraska (7-24, 2-18) is the worst team in the Big Ten and beating the Cornhuskers by 32 points doesn’t erase the negatives, or the fact the Gophers will open the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday as the 12th seed against 13th-seeded Northwestern.

A year after winning a first-round game in the NCAA tournament, the Gophers might be lucky to get a berth in the NIT. The Gophers have suffered some brutal losses this season, including ugly home defeats against Iowa, Indiana and Maryland. Complete meltdowns against the Hawkeyes and Terps had to leave a lasting impression on athletic director Mark Coyle.

So could Pitino be out after seven seasons? He would be owed a $2 million buyout and there are some who think that is too rich for a school that still is paying off plenty of bills. Coyle did not hire Pitino but he likes him and could give him a chance to follow a losing season with a winning one for the third time.

The biggest question facing Coyle is can he afford to keep Pitino based on fan interest? The Minneapolis-St. Paul market is incredibly competitive when it comes to the sports dollar and if Williams Arena is going to be empty next season that isn’t good for business.

The verdict: Pitino gets another season but it won’t be easy with star player Daniel Oturu expected to leave for the NBA draft.

DEAN EVASON

Evason was named the Wild’s interim coach on Feb. 14 after Bruce Boudreau was fired by first-year general manager Bill Guerin. The Wild looked lifeless in Evason’s first game, losing 2-0 to San Jose at Xcel Energy Center, but are 7-3 since that time and even briefly jumped into a playoff spot on Thursday night after beating the Sharks in San Jose.

The Wild’s 7-3 loss to the Kings on Saturday in Los Angeles put the Wild out of the playoff picture for now, but there’s no question that Evason has done a good job. Does that mean he should get the full-time position?

There are a couple of things to keep in mind about that.

One, Evason isn’t Guerin’s guy and Guerin likely is going to want to hire someone with whom he’s familiar. Evason was hired as an assistant coach last season by former general manager Paul Fenton, who knew him from their time together in the Nashville organization. Fenton ran the Predators’ minor league affiliate in Milwaukee and Evason coached that team.

Two, if this seems familiar to Wild fans it should. John Torchetti was named the Wild’s interim coach in February 2016, replacing Mike Yeo, and managed to get what had been a struggling team into the playoffs. Torchetti was replaced by Boudreau that spring.

Odds are good Evason has the same thing happen to him — playoff berth or not — this spring.

The verdict: This will look good on Evason’s resume.





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Previous Story Where do the Vikings stand with analytics? Next Story Will Vikings turn to developing players on defense?