Mike Zimmer has survived his critics so far. With the Vikings headed into a bye week and not playing again until October 31, the embattled head coach won’t be dismissed mid-year.
Fans, many of whom have been frustrated with Zimmer for years, are howling for his termination. Despite a two-game winning streak that has pulled the season record to 3-3, the criticism is intense mostly because Minnesota has missed the playoffs two of the last three years and continues to play conservative offense.
Only a deep run into the postseason, perhaps necessitating a trip to the Super Bowl, will pacify the large number of Zimmer critics. While the Vikings have the potential to be a playoff team, the inconsistency shown so far won’t even be enough to make the playoffs.
Ahead on the schedule are two games against the 5-1 Packers. Other 5-1 teams to contend with are the Cowboys, Ravens and Rams. Minnesota must also play the 4-2 Chargers.
A deeply disgruntled fan-base can hit the Vikings ownership hard, both financially and emotionally. Angry patrons stop buying tickets and boycott other revenue sources of the franchise. When boos fill U.S. Bank Stadium, it sends a message to ownership that customers are very unhappy.
It’s likely that inside the organization expectations were high for this season. Zimmer, now in his eighth season as Minnesota head coach, is expected to deliver a winning season and make the playoffs. It seems probable only that result will save his job.
Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf are fans, too, but they are disciplined in their actions. They have been loyal to employees, including those who have been with the organization even longer than Zimmer. The Wilfs approved the hiring of Zimmer in 2014, know him well and are probably emotionally invested in the 65-year-old head coach. Their position regarding Zimmer’s job status is likely to give him the full season to see what the Vikings can accomplish.
Those who want a coaching change during the season are unlikely to see it.
After Saturday’s win over Nebraska, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck is 17-8 in his last 25 games. That’s the best stretch for a Gopher coach since Glen Mason was 17-8 in 2002 and 2003.
The Bowling Green football team is 2-5 this season and has lost three straight games since its stunning upset of the Gophers who were 30 point favorites. Fleck said Saturday the game was probably his worst coaching performance since taking over at Minnesota in 2017.
As bad as the Gophers played, they almost certainly win that game if All-American running back Mo Ibrahim and best wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell are available. Best guess is the season-ending loss of Ibrahim costs Minnesota at least two wins this season.
Fleck met with his boss, athletic director Mark Coyle, after the Bowling Green debacle. The coach said he appreciated Coyle’s advice, “Time to row.”
Nebraska native Scott Frost, the embattled Cornhuskers coach now in his fourth season in Lincoln, was supposed to be the program’s savior. Awhile back his arrival generated plenty of praise including this quote from college football announcer Tim Brando: “…I believe he will be the most successful Division I coach in college football since Nick Saban was hired in Tuscaloosa.”
The Big Ten West Division winner could go to the Rose Bowl, with the East Division champ advancing to the College Football Playoff. Minnesota, at 2-0 in division games, is among the teams in the early running for the West championship.
Two seats were assigned to Rose Bowl representatives at Huntington Bank Stadium for the Nebraska-Minnesota game. Other seat assignments were for scouts of the Vikings, Seahawks and 49ers.
Nashville calling? The Gophers have been to the Music City Bowl three times and are a decent bet to end up there December 30. Last trip to that bowl was 2005.
Condolences to family and friends of Gary Reierson, who recently passed away. He was a standout in baseball and football for the Gophers in the mid-1960s. Gary had a successful career in sales and was president of the Old Timers’ Hot Stove League.
Doesn’t seem likely the Twins will want to re-sign Nelson Cruz despite management’s appreciation of his hitting production and leadership before dealing him last summer to the Rays. As a free agent this offseason he might command a $10 million deal and the budget conscious Twins have sustained serious financial losses the last two seasons.
Money is better spent on starting pitching. On paper right now that unit looks like the stuff of an expansion team.
Maybe new Timberwolves owner Alex Rodriguez, whose voice is heard on Fox’s national baseball games, can use his influence to help the Twins land in a future Field of Dreams game. A Twins-Brewers game seems like a natural, with Minneapolis and Milwaukee less than 240 miles from Dyersville, Iowa.
Ticket interest in the Minnesota Wild doesn’t heat up until later in the football season but the St. Paul-based team gets a break with its home game next Sunday because the Vikings have a schedule bye. Look for the Wild to announce a sellout for tomorrow night’s home opener against the Jets.
If the Wild, 2-0 on the season, continue with a hot start there will be credit given to GM Bill Guerin for creating a better culture on the roster by dumping veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter during the offseason. Parise, 37 and now with the Islanders, has no goals or assists in two games. Suter, 36, has an assist in two games for the Stars and is expected to have a bigger impact on his team than Parise.
In the “State of Hockey” there are no Minnesota franchises in the United States Hockey League but new commissioner Bill Robertson and other leaders of the top junior league are considering expansion beyond the current 16 teams. Suter owns the Madison Capitols.
Tickets for the general public go on sale Thursday to watch the 2022 Women’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Prices start at $100 for the April 1 and 3 games at Target Center. ncaa.com/wbbtickets.
Golden Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck doesn’t expect starting tailback Trey Potts to play again this season, and for Saturday’s home game against Nebraska he plans to use multiple replacements.
Potts had been averaging over 20 carries per game until he had to leave the October 2 game at Purdue with an undisclosed medical problem that led to several days of hospitalization. Asked whether there will be a primary replacement for Potts in the upcoming game, Fleck said the situation is “going to be a little more by committee.”
“Bucky” Irving has been receiving the most carries behind Potts. The true freshman has played in four games for the 3-2 Gophers, rushing 25 times for 117 yards while showing elusiveness.
“I believe in him (Irving) 100 percent,” Fleck said. “You’re going to see a heavy dose of him.”
Fleck, though, wasn’t ruling out significant potential minutes for redshirt freshman Ky Thomas, redshirt sophomore Cam Wiley and redshirt junior Bryce Williams.
Thomas has played in one game, rushing seven times for 65 yards. Wiley has appeared in two games with six attempts and six yards. Williams has also played minimally this year but is by far the most experienced of the running backs, with the 2018 season his most active when he rushed 117 times for 502 yards.
Darrell Thompson is Minnesota’s all-time career rushing leader in yards and touchdowns. He said the Gophers still have “really good running backs” but he isn’t minimizing the blow of not having Potts for the last seven games of the regular season. “It’s a big loss,” Thompson told Sports Headliners. “He’s a tremendous running back.”
Thompson has watched enough of newcomer Irving to see things he likes. “I think No. 1 (is) his balance. He doesn’t go down easy which is the No. 1 thing that I look for in a running back,” Thompson said. “He gets yards after contact. I like to watch him run, I think he has good vision as well.”
What about Thomas? “I think Ky is talented,” Thompson said. “He’s got really good vision. I just haven’t seen enough (to say more).”
Wiley has looked unsure at running back and returning kickoffs during his Minnesota career. “I just think he’s gotta get more confidence, and some opportunity, and maybe just more time,” Thompson said. “He just needs to be decisive. He needs to do it (not over think his runs).”
At 6-2, 210, Wiley’s athleticism and potential has been compared to former Gopher All-American Laurence Maroney, perhaps the best breakaway runner in Minnesota history. “He might have Maroney acceleration,” Thompson said. “Other than that, I don’t know.”
Williams is remembered for scoring two touchdowns in Minnesota’s 2018 win over Wisconsin, the program’s first victory in Madison since 1994. “He’s decisive,” Thompson said. “He’s going to get what the play is blocked for. He’s a very good running back.”
It’s been an unlucky season at the running back position for Minnesota. All-American Mo Ibrahim won’t play again in 2021 after a lower leg injury following the opening game. “He’s a hell of a running back,” Thompson said.
Minnesota defeated Purdue 20-13 with Potts playing most of the game. The conservative Minnesota offense is built around the running game. Can the Gophers have continued success with the running back roster that remains? “I think there’s enough there,” Thompson said.
Fleck has a running back group that he has seen a lot more of in practices than games. “That’s what we’re all going to find out. …I want to see how they perform in the game situation as well.”
Developing national news: Michael Hsu, the former University of Minnesota regent, is a volunteer and board member of the new College Basketball Players Association. He said paper work for the nonprofit is being filed in California this week. The organization will be similar to the College Football Players Association that launched last summer as a national advocacy entity. Hsu is also a board member of the CFBPA.
Fleck said star wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who has played minimally this season because of an ankle injury, will be available for Saturday’s game. So, too, will promising redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dylan Wright who missed the Purdue game because of a friend’s death.
Thompson, 53, enjoyed the first tailgate experience of his life last Saturday in Mankato where he watched the home town MSU Mavericks (son True is a wide receiver) play Wayne State in a Division II game. “Very nice,” Thompson texted about the tailgating experience that included his home-made chili. The tailgate opportunity came up because the Gophers had a bye, creating an opportunity for Thompson not to be in the radio booth for Minnesota football broadcasts.
Official box scores have reported attendance of over 66,000 for Vikings games at U.S. Bank Stadium this season but the actual scanned tickets total is thousands under that figure. An indication of fan interest in the team is the secondary ticket market has been soft for Vikings home games.
The struggling Vikings, 2-3 and coming off a last minute win over the lowly Detroit Lions, have attractive opponents remaining on the home schedule. Mike Nowakowski from Ticket King said the Green Bay Packers game is at about $200 minimum to get in the stadium, with the Pittsburgh Steelers ($120), Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams in demand, too.
Wishful thinking? The Vikings started 2-3 in 2008 before going on to a 10-6 final regular season record and NFC North Division championship.
The Vikings have scored a combined total of 26 points in their last two games and kicker Greg Joseph has produced 14 of the points on two extra points and four field goals.
The Minnesota Wild had a team retreat in Duluth early this week and today practices in the city’s hockey facility, Amsoil Arena. The club’s regular season opener is Friday night in Anaheim (Minnesota was 7-1-0 last season against the Ducks).
With a lot of new players, the retreat is a successful bonding experience for the Wild. Activities included sitting around a campfire and talking. The NHL team has used Duluth and Colorado Springs for past preseason retreats.
The Capital Club hears from 1991 Minnesota Twins World Series heroes Tom Kelly and Kent Hrbek Wednesday morning. Gopher women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen, and assistant Kelly Roysland, speak to the group October 21. Both meetings are at Mendakota Country Club, with more information available from Patrick@aglilemarketingco.com.
Congratulations to Minikahda Club pro Jeff Sorenson for winning the Minnesota PGA Player of the Year Award. He now has an invite to the 2022 3M Open.
What’s worse than death, taxes or having a five-year-old kicking the back of your airplane seat on a red-eye from California to Minneapolis?
Try being a long-suffering Detroit Lions fan.
The not-so-hot themselves Minnesota Vikings will undoubtedly beat up on the woeful Lions Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Depending on who you root for, the final score will either puff up your purple ego or sink you deeper into depression.
Want to sign up to be a fan of the Motor City Kitties? The franchise has an all-time record of 567 wins, 685 losses and 33 ties over 92 seasons, according to data from Pro Football Reference. Detroit has lost seven consecutive games to the Vikings and Minnesota leads the all-time series 78-39-2. Compare that with the Vikings’ losing record against the Green Bay Packers: 55-63-3.
The Lions won the NFL championship in 1957. That’s so long ago color television was a huge deal and politicians were people who actually wanted to put the public good before their own interests.
It’s been pretty much downhill for the Lions since the late 1950s when hula hoops were all the rage, Elvis was on a roll and Americans knew nothing of the Beatles. Since 1958 Detroit has been to the playoffs just 12 times, including a 23-year drought when the Kitties were absent from the postseason all but one time.
The 0-4 Lions come to town about a 10-point underdog to the 1-3 Vikings. The point spread is equivalent to being a three-touchdown dog in college football.
The NFL thrives on policies to create parity among their 32 teams. The Lions must be no-shows at league meetings when the parity playbooks are handed out. Maybe UPS doesn’t deliver to Detroit.
The Lions are pro football’s version of the Washington Generals. They are the Washington Senators of “Damn Yankees” fame.
My Big Ten power rankings have the Lions No. 4 behind Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State. Rumor has it the Detroit brass tried to line up the Gophers, not the Vikings, for Sunday’s game.
Even when things go right for the Lions, they go bad. T.J. Hockenson, whose pass catching stats have been among the best in the league for tight ends, is injured and not expected to play Sunday. Neither is offensive tackle Penei Sewell, the offensive tackle who was among the prizes in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow, the Victoria, Minnesota native, is on injured reserve and won’t be playing against the Vikings. Because of injuries the Detroit offensive line is a mess.
Recently the Lions lost their best pass rusher, Romeo Okwara, and top cornerback, Jeff Okudah, to season-ending Achilles’ tendon injuries.
Let’s give a collective hug to those distraught Lions fans and their unlucky lives. Their first cars were Edsels, Gremlins, Pacers and Prowlers. They lost family fortunes to Bernie Madoff. Fine dining is from Little Caesars.
Do the Lions remind you of the postal service? Neither one delivers on Sunday.
The last time the Vikings saw the Lions, Matthew Stafford was the quarterback. A talented passer, he survived 12 seasons in Detroit and could have litigated for lack of support. Now quarterbacking the 4-1 Los Angeles Rams, he must feel like a man who escaped death row.
Former Gopher Ryan Santoso recently signed on with the Lions, and he is perfect on four extra point attempts and one field goal. Santoso previously had career stops with the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers before arriving in the basement with the Lions. Friends debate whether to send congratulations or condolences.
You can refer to the Lions as “cupcakes” but that just leads to a question and a bad joke: What happens to them every Sunday? They make “turnovers.”
We haven’t even reached mid-October and the NFL schedule is just in week five. But guess what?
The Lions faithful are already looking forward to next year’s NFL Draft when Detroit will have two first round selections.
Pray for Lions fans.