MANKATO, Minn. -- Toward the end of last season, Adrian Peterson passed up few opportunities to speak his mind on the coaching decision facing the Minnesota Vikings. He said in December that he looked forward to playing for Leslie Frazier "for the rest of my career," adding that he didn't think the Vikings needed to make a change after a 5-10-1 season and saying he planned to share his feelings about Frazier with ownership.
When the Vikings fired Frazier the day after the season, Peterson cleaned out his locker and left the team facility without talking to reporters, the frustration on his face apparent to all.
It seemed clear at the time that the Vikings' next head coach would have to work to earn Peterson's trust, but it wasn't until I talked with Peterson on Thursday that I realized just how big of a gap Mike Zimmer had to bridge. Peterson said in a wide-ranging interview that he wasn't happy being in Minnesota after the Frazier decision, and while he understood the Vikings' move, he was upset about losing a man who had been as much a mentor as a coach to him.
So what changed from that point to last week, when Peterson called the Vikings' new offense the "one I've been looking for for the past seven years," and to Thursday, when he said he thought the Vikings were headed in the right direction to win a Super Bowl? It all started in a spring conversation with Zimmer, while Peterson was in Minnesota to do some rehab after his January groin surgery.
"I have a thing about me, that I'm able to look people in the eyes and kind of get a feel for them," Peterson said. "He just came off as an honest person. Before then, all I was hearing was good things about him. But just looking at him, having that eye contact with him, I could see the fire in him. I could see the rugged [personality] in him as well but also someone who's considerate as well. In the time I've been around him, that's pretty much how he is."
As much as Peterson appreciated Frazier on a personal level, he seems to have a wider perspective now on the Vikings' coaching change. He said Thursday that he understood not everyone on the Vikings' roster could be motivated by a coach like Frazier -- a quiet, humble leader who learned from Tony Dungy. At some point, Peterson said, he realized the Vikings needed a coach who would push players' buttons a little more.
"They're night and day -- night and day," Peterson said of Zimmer and Frazier. "But I'm grounded. I might not be grounded as far as my walk, but I understand right and wrong and what I need to be doing. It was good to have him there, Coach Frazier, but [Zimmer] fits our players better. That's something I can honestly sit here and say. A lot of guys can't respond to a Coach Dungy, Coach Frazier, guys like that. A lot of guys respond to Coach Zimmer. He's a better fit for the team."
In recent weeks, other Vikings players who respected Frazier have hit on similar themes in their comparison of the coaches. It's easy at the moment, before the Vikings' first difficult loss under Zimmer, to say the coach is exactly what the team needed, but on Thursday, it was striking to hear how Peterson's perspective on the move had changed and how Zimmer had won his trust. It's one of several changes in his life the 29-year-old Peterson talked about during our interview Thursday -- we'll get into more of those in the next few days -- but for the Vikings' purposes, the relationship between their star player and his head coach once again seems to have a solid foundation.