Sunday, Jun. 16, 2019

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Big Vikings Decisions May Await Wilfs


What does the Vikings ownership do now with their football leadership?

Staus quo?

Does the Wilf family even think about changing head coaches and/or general managers?

Zygi Wilf’s stated goal is a Super Bowl and before the 2018 season started the Vikings were among the NFL favorites to play in the big game next February. Yesterday the Vikings finished one of the most frustrating seasons in franchise history when they didn’t qualify for the playoffs and earn the opportunity to play in Super Bowl 53.

In five seasons as head coach Mike Zimmer has a 47-32-1 record. His clubs have won two NFC North Division championships. The Vikings reached the NFC title game about a year ago. That’s a better resume than a lot of franchises achieve over a five-year period.

Zygi Wilf has long been an admirer of former NFL coach Bill Parcells who also happens to be close with Zimmer. The Parcells influence reportedly was a factor in Zygi wanting Zimmer to be the coach. It might be difficult for the Wilfs to be emotionally invested in Zimmer and now consider parting ways.

Zimmer has mostly fulfilled expectations as a defensive coaching authority. There have been times when his units were among the NFL’s best. There have also been big moments like the NFC title game against the Eagles in January of 2018 when the defense didn’t show up in a 38-7 loss.

And late in yesterday’s game Minnesota needed to defeat the Bears to make the playoffs but the defense was subpar. Never was this more evident than in the fourth quarter when the Vikings trailed by three points, 13-10, but couldn’t stop the Bears from driving for a long touchdown and making a two-point conversion.

The Vikings haven’t found sustained offensive success during the Zimmer-Spielman partnership. The last few years have been a revolving door of offensive coordinators and quarterbacks. This season (8-7-1 final record) ended with an offense that lacked identity and productivity, and played a major role in the club defeating just one team with a winning record at the time the Vikings played them.

Spielman, who has been involved with player personnel decisions for the Vikings for 13 seasons, has struggled to put together an offensive line that is consistently successful. This season’s version played mostly mediocre football and sometimes awful like yesterday when the Bears just pushed Minnesota’s offensive linemen around on too many plays.

It was Spielman and Zimmer who decided spending a guaranteed $84 million last offseason on quarterback Kirk Cousins was a next step to a Super Bowl. Perhaps it will work out but so far Cousins, who often appears too deliberate in processing while in the pocket, has only added to his reputation of not being able to defeat winning teams (4-25 record).

Spielman has made many correct personnel moves over the years including draft choices like wide receiver Stefon Diggs, running back Dalvin Cook, tight end Kyle Rudolph, defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, and safety Harrison Smith. He has helped shape the franchise with free agent signings like defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson.  He has also enhanced his roster with hard to find talent among undrafted college free agents (cue the music for wide receiver Adam Thielen).

Spielman is a high character guy who presumably has a solid track record of communications with the Wilfs. It’s hard not to like Spielman who counting his time with other NFL clubs has nearly 30 years of experience in player personnel work.

Mike Zimmer

Since the Wilfs began operating the franchise in 2005, the value has increased dramatically. Zimmer and Spielman have played a major role in that monetary gain with Forbes now valuing the franchise at $2.4 billion. The Vikings, for whatever their season records, have been mostly entertaining and so popular in the state that no other sports entity is even worth mentioning in the same breath.

Yet during the Wilf era the team has won just two playoff games. Twice the Vikings have advanced to the NFC title game but didn’t advance to the Super Bowl. During the last five years the Vikings have missed the playoffs three times, with 2018 particularly frustrating and at times chaotic.

If the Wilfs were to change their football leadership, who would they turn to? There are many individuals who would love the opportunity to lead the franchise but the Wilfs know what they have in Zimmer and Spielman. Is that good enough for them?

Worth Noting

Fox TV analyst Troy Aikman talking yesterday about the Bears-Vikings game: “It will be a long offseason for Kirk Cousins and company.”

If Gophers junior wide receiver Tyler Johnson wants to apply for the 2019 NFL Draft, he and other underclassmen must do so by January 14. The draft is April 25-27 in Nashville.

Look for the Vikings to continue their interest in hosting a future draft.

The late Murray Warmath, the Gophers’ 1960 national championship football coach, would have been 106 years old last Wednesday. Former players remembered the coach’s influence on their lives in email exchanges.

The Twins have one of the five most improved farm systems in baseball, according to a story last Thursday by Jim Callis. He wrote that shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielder Alex Kirilloff “rank among the most elite prospects in the game.”

St. Thomas Academy running back Brendan McFadden, the Pioneer Press East Metro Player of the Year, has a preferred walk-on offer from Rice where 2017 Minnesota Mr. Football award winner Antonio Montero (Eden Prairie) is on the roster. Ivy League schools are also recruiting McFadden.

Linebacker Luke Herzog, also from St. Thomas Academy, will be a preferred walk-on at North Dakota.

The University of St. Thomas football team, 8-2 last season, was ranked No. 15 nationally by in its final poll. That’s the 10th consecutive year the Tommies have finished among the top 20 teams in the website’s final poll. Only two other Division III programs have accomplished that, Mount Union and Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Hill-Murray alum Jake Guentzel, the Penguins forward in town Monday night to play the Wild, has reason to celebrate the New Year. The 24-year-old recently signed a $30 million, five-year contract extension. Guentzel is in his third season with the Penguins and is on track for a career season in goals, assists and points.

Former Wild forward and Virginia, Minnesota native Matt Cullen, 42, has recently returned from the injured reserve list and is a valued leader on the Penguins.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor talking yesterday on WCCO Radio’s “Sports Huddle” show regarding a potential trade to help his inconsistent team: “I don’t see anything that is going to help in the near future.”

The Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team the Gophers defeated yesterday, 71-53, is 3-10 on the season, and has played one other Big Ten team, losing to Maryland, 92-77.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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