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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Wetmore: Beware the Halo Effect with a great coach like Mike Zimmer

By Derek Wetmore

This week I read a weird story about Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. The part of my sports-following brain that isn’t consumed with thoughts of the World Series can’t seem to shake the curious Zimmer anecdote.

The story originally was relayed by our friend, Matt Vensel, at the Star Tribune, and it involved some headless stuffed animals that had been painted and maimed as an odd metaphorical reminded that Fat Cats Get Slaughtered. (A spin, I’m sure, on the business adage that pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.)

It had me thinking a lot. What a strange ploy. For one thing, were players in the locker room really starting to buy into the hype so much that they needed their balloon deflated? And I’m not a card-carrying member of PETA, but it seems like a quirky way to get that point across. We’ll address those in a minute but first we need to introduce a concept known as the Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect is a cognitive bias planted in all of us humans. It basically says that when you admire someone in an area where they might be top of their field, your natural inclination is to associate that person with success in other facets of life.

The thing is that we wouldn’t typically recognize this silent bias unless it creates some sort of cognitive dissonance. Take Tom Cruise, for example. Handsome fellow who is a famous and recognized actor. All fine and good. Then you learn about his involvement with the Church of Scientology, and you may or may not agree with those beliefs. Pretend for a minute that you don’t agree with that belief system, just for the purposes of this example. How could Tom Cruise believe that stuff, you might think to yourself, he’s Tom Cruise. The bias extends beyond this example and to any number of celebrities you were surprised to learn were either a bad person or did a bad thing or said something you think is stupid or shocking.

Anyway, all of this is a very long-winded way of suggesting that we are at least aware of how this might be in play with regard to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, who has proven himself to be a successful coach in fewer than 3 years on the job. You hear a lot of good things and you’ve got good associations. But then he’s got these motivational tactics – the fake bloody stuffed animals this year, the Beat The Packers! T-shirts last year – that don’t necessarily yield the intended result.

A year ago, Zimmer wanted to raise his team’s sense of urgency to win an important divisional game. Every player got a T-shirt designed to inspire, and instead the Vikings fell flat in another high-profile game, which prompted star running back Adrian Peterson to say “This team you saw play today, it wasn’t us. We were out of sync, out of whack.” They lost 30-13 to snap a 5-game win streak, and committed 8 penalties for 110 yards along the way.

“You’ve got to be able to win when the whole world is watching,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said at the time.

And the Vikings have done that this season. I’m not here to say they’re not in good hands.

But their first loss came against the Eagles last weekend, in which they were so close to touchdowns on multiple occasions and didn’t put points on the board, they struggled to block for QB Sam Bradford, and they fell to 5-1 because of it.

I’m curious to know which players Zimmer felt were at risk of complacency. Bradford is running for his life behind a patchwork offensive line; the running game hasn’t established much of anything, before or after Peterson’s injury; their best offensive weapon, Stefon Diggs, just returned from injury and was mistaken on at least one route Sunday and quite possibly more; and I look up and down the defense and don’t see players kicking their feet up on the coffee table, but rather saying that they haven’t truthfully accomplished anything yet.

It’s worth stating the obvious here, that Zimmer will know his players about 100 times better than I will. I talk to these guys in limited spurts of interview settings in the locker room when they’re in talk-to-the-media mode between mandatory team meetings and weightlifting sessions. So if any of them were getting too much of a fat-and-happy heir about them, Zimmer would know it way before someone like me.

If there’s one thing I’m pretty certain about, it’s that Zimmer is a tactician with his defensive players, the kind of Distinguished Professor that every franchise dreams of hiring. Not many do. But I guess the point I’m trying to make is that while I’m not questioning Zimmer’s ability in some elements of his job – indeed, the most critical elements – I’m aware of a bias that introduces toward the rest of his ability as a leader. We’re programmed to think that way.

These things that are seemingly at odds in fact don’t have to be. Zimmer’s a good head coach with an improving team, a fantastic defense and a recent contract extension to show for it.

He’s also got a trash bag full of painted headless stuffed animals and some BEAT GREEN BAY T-shirts.

If you’re a Vikings fan, you take the good with the bad.

The post Wetmore: Beware the Halo Effect with a great coach like Mike Zimmer appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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