MINNEAPOLIS -- Two years into his time as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach, there’s no doubt Mike Zimmer is more comfortable with a wider range of responsibilities than he was when the team hired him in January 2014.
Zimmer has said he plans to be more involved in the offense in 2016, and the additions of Tony Sparano and Pat Shurmur to the Vikings’ coaching staff certainly had Zimmer’s stamp on them. General manager Rick Spielman has said several times how fluidly Zimmer interacts with the front office and scouting department, letting them know what he wants in free agency and the draft. And Zimmer said at the NFL owners’ meetings this week he has a deeper understanding of things like salary-cap issues and NFL financial rules.
“There’s a lot of things that come to you that really aren’t football-related,” Zimmer said. “Those are the things that I do have a little bit more time for now. But as far as the football stuff, I could still do a better job with the offense and the special teams. I still spend a ton of time with the defense, and that’s part of the reason why I have [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner], and now Pat and Tony, that can help me in those areas.”
What seems hard to imagine, though, is Zimmer making the kind of move that Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy made (at least for the first three months of the 2015 season) and giving up play-calling duties in favor of a CEO-type role. Zimmer’s offensive involvement grew last season, and the need for improvement on the offensive line has certainly had his attention this offseason. But the coach sounded cool to the idea of turning over defensive play-calling responsibilities to someone else.
“It’s kind of my baby, and it’s hard to give up,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know if I will. I suppose I’d prefer to do it. I mean, it just keeps me so involved. It’s like, if you’re not helping coach, really, you’re just a CEO. I don’t want to be a CEO. That’s not me.”
Zimmer's role as a play-caller has him in the minority among current NFL coaches, but those who have watched the coach run a practice know he's most comfortable when he's in the middle of the action. As he becomes more efficient at the other parts of his job, it might make it easier, not harder, for him to continue calling plays.
"I'm getting better at it. I think I'm getting a lot better at it," Zimmer said. "Obviously, I still make mistakes, but it becomes -- I don't know if it's easier, but you understand the time restraints better. You can kind of work it better."
The coach has earned plenty of praise for helping the Vikings go from 32nd to 5th in scoring defense in just two years, but Zimmer sounded less impressed with the Vikings' defense than most.
"I don't think we're very good, to be honest with you," he said. "There's a lot of things we didn't do good enough. Now, we were good in situations. We were good in third downs, for the most part. We were good in the red zone, so that kept some of the scores down. But we can be a lot better."
Given that perspective, it's tough to see Zimmer taking his hand off the steering wheel of the defense anytime soon.