EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It's a predictable rite of coaching changes in the NFL: The new guy comes in, usually more (or less) of a disciplinarian or a player's coach than the last guy, and players talk about how the new atmosphere in the building is exactly what they needed.
With that in mind, we're not going to make any sweeping pronouncements from the second day of the Vikings' voluntary minicamp about whether the differences in Mike Zimmer's style from Leslie Frazier's will ultimately help the team win more games this season. There's a danger in trying to assign too much significance into anything that happens when players are in shorts and prohibited from hitting each other, so we'll try to err on the side of caution there.
That said, it was clear from what players said on Wednesday -- and what Zimmer modeled in practice -- just how much of a departure Zimmer's working style will represent from Frazier's. While Frazier preferred to run practices like a CEO, floating around the field, making broad observations about his team and letting his position coaches and coordinators do much of the hands-on work, Zimmer was there in the middle of defensive backs drills with secondary coach Jerry Gray on Wednesday, firing instructions at players on when to break on certain routes.
His leadership style figures to evolve in time, as he settles into the role of being a head coach, but in his first on-field work with players Zimmer clearly was trying to establish a different tone -- to the point where defensive end Brian Robison and safety Harrison Smith said they'd never seen a head coach as involved in day-to-day work as Zimmer has been.
"We’ve always had head coaches sit in meetings, but they’ve never really talked a whole lot," Robison said. "It’s been about the defensive coordinator. Whereas Zimmer is, he’s stepping up, he’s running the meetings most of the time, going through the defensive calls. Pretty much, he’s been the defensive coordinator. It’s that type of deal. And that’s taking nothing away from [defensive coordinator George] Edwards; obviously he does a lot of stuff, too, with us. In a way, I like that. You want to see a coach, a head coach, coaching and you want to see him take it upon himself to make sure that everybody’s doing the right thing and that’s what you see at practice.
"We’re out here and he’s actually grabbing guys and he’s showing them what to do, how to use their hands, how to do their footwork. And a lot of times you don’t get that, a lot of times you have head coaches kind of sit back and let their coaches do the work. Whereas he is taking it upon himself to make sure that every single person is doing the right thing.”
The key for Zimmer, at some point, will be incorporating more work with the offense into his daily routine; he spent much of the winter working with the Vikings' defense, and said on Wednesday he's been "straying over to the defense a little bit," adding he ran a meeting with the defensive backs earlier in the day. He's got the luxury of having a veteran offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, but Zimmer has also said he wants to be the head coach, not just the defensive coach, so he'll probably start to balance his responsibilities more at some point.
What seems clear, though, is that Zimmer will be more hands-on in practice than Frazier was, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Time will tell if he needs to delegate more to his coaches, but as he talked about it on Wednesday, it was clear Zimmer hadn't lost the charge he got from his days running drills as a position coach.
"I think I’m fairly good at it, and so I’m going to try to use my abilities as best I can," he said. "I get around the offense as much as I can, but at this stage I just feel like I have to spend more time with the defense. I have to be in the meetings and run the meetings, actually, you know, coach. I have to coach. That’s what I am: I’m a coach. And so just because I’m the head coach doesn’t mean stop coaching. It means you coach everything, but you still do the best job you can to get guys better.”