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Coming Days to Test Viking Owners

 

What the Wilf ownership group does in the next several days and coming weeks will reveal a lot about their thinking and make a profound statement to the Vikings’ rabid fan-base.

It’s currently a hostile public environment for GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer. Lead owners Zygi and Mark Wilf must certainly understand that, even though they don’t have Minnesota roots and are based in the east. What will they do this winter, if anything, about the future direction of the franchise?

The Wilfs are exceptionally loyal to their Viking employees. They bought the franchise in 2005 and Spielman, 59, has been on board from the start. Zimmer, 65, has been the coach since 2014. The Wilfs like continuity with their leaders and appear deliberate in their decisions.

They also are passionate fans with a stated commitment to deliver a Super Bowl team to this town. They have invested emotionally in Zimmer and Spielman, showing more patience than many other owners would offer. The Wilfs have also made a statement with their willingness to spend money on player payroll, and building world-class practice and stadium facilities.

But past on-field results by the team aren’t acceptable to many fans. Not as a franchise working on a 45-year Super Bowl drought, and with a more recent history that includes missing the playoffs the last two seasons and unable to play better than .500 football during 2020 and 2021. In the Zimmer era the Vikings have qualified for the post-season only three of eight times.

How capable are the Wilfs in being able to evaluate their football operation? That is a million dollar question. Are they comfortable enough with their abilities and experiences to not only determine who needs to be fired but also how to go about identifying, scrutinizing and ultimately hiring new leadership to be more successful?

The Wilfs could turn to a search firm for help regarding candidates to be new leaders. The NFL office could also be a candid source. Then, too, the Wilfs may have an inner circle they trust, perhaps including former Vikings players and coaches. Among alumni who could be useful and gets a vote here is Ben Leber. The 43-year-old former linebacker has a high football IQ and he is honest!

Mike Zimmer

The options for final decisions in the weeks ahead include firing Zimmer and Spielman, or keeping one of them. They could also keep both and insist on clearing out most, or all, of their staffs. It’s believed the Wilfs have a particularly close relationship with Spielman and after eight seasons are certainly invested in Zimmer, too.

Presumably the Wilfs will have goals for near and long term results by their team and what can be accomplished within specific timeframes. Their roster has valued players like Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Justin Jefferson and Brian O’Neill. The team doesn’t need to be imploded, even if the Wilfs decide the coaching staff and front office must have a shakeup.

The fan base and media have been turning up the “heat” for months. Now the Wilfs get the last word and it will be intriguing to see what they do, how they do it and what the results will be in 2022 and beyond.

Worth Noting

NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said during Sunday night’s Vikings-Packers telecast the team can fire Zimmer but won’t find “a better coach.”

Minneapolis attorney and sports historian Marshall Tanick notes that Austin, Minnesota born John Madden, who died last week, coached the Raiders to their 32-14 Super Bowl win over the Vikings in 1977 (Minnesota’s last SB appearance). Madden’s final game as an NFL coach came in 1978 when the Raiders defeated the Vikings 27-21 in Oakland. As a broadcaster Madden mentored former Viking quarterback Rich Gannon as he transitioned from his playing career to NFL TV color man.

Illinois, 9-3 and 2-0 in Big Ten games, enters tonight’s matchup with the Golden Gophers at Williams Arena outscoring opponents by an average of 15.6 points per game and is a conference title contender. Minnesota, the surprise of the town’s sports teams at 10-1 and 1-1 in league games, has an average point differential of 8.9 against opponents.

Powerful Illini center Kofi Cockburn, who at 7-feet and 285 pounds averages 21.8 points and 12.1 rebounds, is a difficult matchup for the smaller Gophers. Look for the Gophers to double-team and perhaps use all three of their centers, Eric Curry, Charlie Daniels and Treyton Thompson, against Cockburn.

NCAA Tournament bracketologist Joe Lunardi of ESPN projects Minnesota and Illinois as No. 10 and No. 6 seeds respectively in the Midwest Regional.

Shooting guard Amir Coffey, the former Gopher from Hopkins who went undrafted in 2019, is having a career season with the NBA Clippers averaging 16.4 minutes per game. Several games of late he has played over 20 minutes including in last night’s loss to the Timberwolves.

Could Mohammed Elazazy, the former Western Michigan offensive lineman who has entered the transfer portal, interest the football Gophers? The 6-5, 300-pound guard is from Menasha, Wisconsin.

Former Minnesota offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, now in the same role at Colorado, will be without WR Brenden Rice, a rising sophomore and son of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who has entered the transfer portal.

Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan and center John Michael Schmitz—both part of coach P.J. Fleck’s first recruiting class in 2017—have announced plans to marry their girl friends in 2022. Going into their fifth seasons of competition next September, Morgan and Schmitz will be among the most experienced players in the Big Ten.

Sixty years ago the Gophers played in their second and last Rose Bowl. On January 1, 1962 Minnesota completely dominated UCLA in a 21-3 win, compiling 397 net yards to 107 by the Bruins.

Apparently no report yet on TNT’s national viewership for last Saturday’s Winter Classic matchup between the Wild and Blues at Target Field. The game dates back to 2008 and the 2020 classic hit a new TV low averaging a 1.15 rating and 1.96 million viewers on NBC. COVID-19 postponed the 2021 Winter Classic in Minneapolis.

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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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