A year ago, Mike Zimmer opened the season with a contract that gave the Vikings coach little to no security. Zimmer would work under an agreement that ran through the 2020 season, making it very easy for ownership to sever ties with him if the Vikings missed the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
That did not happen. In Kirk Cousins’ second season as the Vikings’ quarterback, the team went from a disappointing 8-7-1 finish in 2019 to a 10-6 record that earned Minnesota a wild card berth and included an upset victory in New Orleans before a one-sided loss at San Francisco.
What was interesting was that it still took several months of negotiations before the Vikings committed to Zimmer. That commitment turned out to be a substantial one. Zimmer signed a three-year extension this week that won’t kick in until after he’s coached under the season of his contract that already remained. Zimmer, who turned 64 on June 5, is now under contract until he turns 67.
“When we started talking about the negotiations, we felt like (it) was very important to me,” Zimmer said of getting a multiyear contract instead of another one-year extension. “Partly because of my age. If I go one more year and I’m 66 or something (when I leave) my chance of being a head coach somewhere else would probably not be as good. I wanted to be here with the Vikings, I wanted to be here with the group that we’ve put together. The front office, the coaches and the players. So that was important to me that we were able to do that and sometimes that takes a little bit of negotiation. … In the long run, I think it was the perfect scenario for us.”
Zimmer, who spoke to the media on a videoconference call Saturday afternoon, said negotiations were handled by his agent and Vikings chief operating officer Andrew Miller, who took over for Kevin Warren last August. But Zimmer also made it sound as if the brakes were put on negotiations this spring, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic that wiped out in-person OTAs and minicamps and will now impact training camp. That will include no NFL preseason games.
“We decided, let’s wait until after the draft and see how that goes from there,” Zimmer said of the talks. “Then time gets closer and closer. You get antsy and you want to get something done. (Ownership) did, too, they wanted to get something done and we had some hard negotiations there and some of the parts of the contract that took a little bit longer than we anticipated. But there really wasn’t any time I didn’t feel like it was going to get done. I always felt like this was going to get done, and it just took a little bit longer based on some of the outside things that happened.”
Zimmer has taken the Vikings to the playoffs three times in six seasons, including to the 2017 NFC championship game. With little time to prepare for this season, Zimmer will be leading a team that has lost five defensive starters, nine players from the defensive side of the ball total and will have 15 draft picks coming into training camp. Rookies and quarterbacks reported to camp on Thursday and the rest of the team is due to report on Tuesday.
The feeling is that Zimmer might have wanted more time on his contract because the 2020 season could be, in part, a rebuilding one for the Vikings. If he had only been given a one-year extension through 2021, it would have been easy to fire him if this season was a disappointment. Zimmer, not surprisingly, isn’t buying into thinking he has the luxury of time.
“I’m not very patient, so I don’t know if I’m going to worry about that too much,” he said. “We’re going to try and get these guys ready to go very, very fast. Patience probably isn’t my best virtue.”
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who likely also will be getting a contract extension that matches Zimmer’s, if he hasn’t already, said: “There’s no question from our ownership on down that he is the right head coach for this organization to get us to our ultimate goal and that ultimate goal is winning the Super Bowl.”
As for how long he would like to coach, Zimmer said he is just focused on the now.
“I don’t want to make any decisions like that,” he said. “I feel great. I love being around the players, I love going out on the field, I love game planning and doing all the things that you’ve got to do to get ready for the season. I think that when it gets to that time we’ll all make a decision. Either I’m coaching really good or I’m coaching really bad, and then we’ll decide how I’m feeling and go from there. This is a great opportunity that we have to continue to keep taking swings at what we need to swing at.”