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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Hiring Gary Kubiak will enable Mike Zimmer to go on the defensive

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings’ success on offense under coordinator Pat Shurmur during the 2017 season meant head coach Mike Zimmer rarely had to concern himself with that side of the ball. This enabled Zimmer to focus on his pride-and-joy: defense.

As happy as Zimmer seemed during the Vikings’ 13-3 season — at least when he wasn’t calling quarterback Case Keenum lucky — he frequently appeared miserable without Shurmur during a disappointing 8-7-1 finish in 2018 that ended without a playoff berth.

This was not acceptable considering the expectations that accompanied the Vikings heading into a season that included the addition of a high-priced quarterback in free agency (Kirk Cousins) and an offensive coordinator (John DeFilippo) to replace Shurmur, who had been named coach of the New York Giants.

Zimmer went from grumbling about DeFilippo’s failure to run the ball, to firing him with three games left in the regular season. Kevin Stefanski had served as the Vikings’ interim offensive coordinator for the final three games and last week was named to the full-time position. Stefanski has been a member of the Vikings organization since 2006 and spent the past two years as quarterbacks coach.

A year after being passed over to become coordinator, he now had the job and was in charge. Or at least that’s how it appeared until Monday afternoon when reports surfaced that longtime NFL coach and coordinator Gary Kubiak was visiting TCO Performance Center. By Monday night, the Vikings had made Kubiak’s hiring official.

Kubiak’s title: assistant head coach and senior advisor.

The Vikings also hired Kubiak’s son, Klint, as quarterbacks coach and longtime Kubiak assistant Brian Pariani as tight ends coach. The Star Tribune reported that another trusted Kubiak assistant, Rick Dennison, was being targeted to take over the offensive line.

It appeared the spin on these hires was that Stefanski had a hand in deciding to bring in the Kubiaks because he and Klint had coached together with the Vikings in 2013 and ’14. There was a report that Gary Kubiak had an interest in hiring Stefanski in Denver, but the reverse happened when Kubiak ended up not returning as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator under new coach Vic Fangio.

The Star Tribune reported that that agreement fell apart over philosophical differences and Kubiak’s desire to rehire Dennison and Pariani. Kubiak, who coached the Broncos to a Super Bowl title in 2015 with Peyton Manning as his quarterback, stepped down after the 2016 season because of health-related reasons. The 57-year-old had spent the past two seasons as a senior personnel advisor for the Broncos, but his desire to be a coordinator again made him a hot name on the market.

Maybe Stefanski did play a role in Kubiak being hired by the Vikings. But you know what likely played a bigger role? Zimmer’s desire to not have to worry about offense anymore. It’s also likely that Zimmer, like many of us, realized that while Cousins will make $84 million over three seasons, he isn’t an $84 million quarterback. Cousins needs guidance and plenty of coaching and Kubiak, a longtime backup quarterback to John Elway in Denver, knows plenty about the position.

If the Vikings’ press release on the Kubiak hiring was being completely truthful, it likely would have declared Kubiak to be head coach of the offense and Zimmer to be head coach of the defense. This isn’t a criticism, it’s the reality of what seems to be a growing trend in the NFL.

Players need one voice to deliver the “nobody believes in us” message — that will continue to be Zimmer — but Kubiak, with help from Stefanski, will be in charge of Cousins and the offense. These moves are reminiscent of Zimmer’s decision to hire former NFL head coach and longtime coordinator Norv Turner as the Vikings’ OC in 2014. Norv brought along his son, Scott, to coach quarterbacks.

That didn’t workout as Norv walked away from the job seven games into the 2016 season. Shurmur, who had been an NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, had been hired before 2016, so it wasn’t a complete surprise that Norv became unhappy and likely felt threatened. That turned out to be an enormous break for Zimmer because Shurmur proved to be exactly what he wanted in an offensive coordinator.

The problem is that pleasing Zimmer isn’t that easy, as DeFilippo found out. What’s interesting is that Zimmer doesn’t appear to be threatened by his assistant coaches — no matter how much head coaching experience they might have on their resume — but he also doesn’t appear to have much patience when things go wrong.

Especially, when it’s in an area that doesn’t involve his expertise. If the Vikings’ defense has a problem, Zimmer knows exactly what to do. But if things go awry on offense or special teams, it’s a different story and Zimmer’s inability to hide his feelings during press conferences means everyone knows exactly what he’s thinking.

That’s why it was interesting to see the Vikings go with the 36-year-old Stefanski as their coordinator. How would Zimmer handle it if Stefanski didn’t decide to run the football enough? Or if Cousins struggled in another big game? With Stefanski in charge of the offense, Zimmer almost certainly would have had to have been more involved than he likes.

How was that going to work? It certainly didn’t with the 40-year-old DeFilippo.

On Monday, that question was answered. Kubiak will have the responsibility of making sure everything runs smoothly. Zimmer might check in on offense — might even make a suggestion here or there — but the heavy lifting will be Kubiak’s responsibility.

We’re guessing this is one instance when Zimmer won’t be complaining.

The post Zulgad: Hiring Gary Kubiak will enable Mike Zimmer to go on the defensive appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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