Zimmer, Vikes seek stability in brace for Kubiak retirement

Published 3:58 pm Tuesday, January 5, 2021

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MINNEAPOLIS — Much like in Mike Zimmer’s first year, the Minnesota Vikings have found themselves with a major improvement project on defense.

Zimmer might have to start his eighth season by hiring yet another offensive coordinator, too, because Gary Kubiak is strongly considering retirement.

“I love Gary Kubiak. He’s an unbelievable person, unbelievable coach, a great ear to me. I love sitting there talking to him. We’re both kind of the same kind of guys,” Zimmer said on Tuesday.

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“I know that he’s had some health issues in the past, so it’s always good to take some time and think about where you’re at, mentally and physically. Obviously this year was a major mental and physical drain on all of us, including the players. We’ll just see how all of that unfolds as we move forward.”

Kubiak, who turns 60 on Aug. 15, cut off both of his opportunities as a head coach for health reasons. In his eighth year with Houston, Kubiak suffered a mini-stroke during a game there in 2013, leading to his departure from the Texans.

Kubiak won the Super Bowl in his first of two seasons with Denver, but he was hospitalized again in 2016 because of a complex migraine condition that caused extreme fatigue. After two years as a draft consultant for the Broncos, Zimmer added him to the staff as an adviser in 2019. When offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski became the head coach in Cleveland prior to this season, Kubiak took on the additional responsibility.

With a boost from record-setting rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson, the result was by far the most productive offense the Vikings have had under Zimmer. They ranked fourth in the NFL in yards and 11th in points for the third-highest scoring team in franchise history behind 1998 and 2009. The Vikings also set a team record with 383 first downs.

“I’m kind of a year to year at this stage of my life, I think, as a football coach, but I really enjoyed it,” Kubiak said last week. “I enjoyed working with the players. I love calling games. That’s the way I grew up. It’s interesting. I’ll tell you: I’ve had my opportunity to be a head coach and I enjoyed that, but it was really fun to be one of the guys again, if that makes any sense, back in that room teaching and being one of the fellas.”

Kubiak brought his son, quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, to Minnesota with him in 2019. Offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who has also served as the running game coordinator, and tight ends coach Brian Pariani were also longtime colleagues of Kubiak and essentially part of a package deal.

Zimmer sure made it sound as if he’d prefer to promote from within if he has to, pointing to the comfort quarterback Kirk Cousins has displayed with the scheme that features play-action, screen and rollout passes and a wide-zone rushing attack that Dalvin Cook has thrived in.

Cousins, who had a career-high 35 touchdown passes despite an early rash of turnovers, will have a $31 million salary cap hit in 2021. He’s not likely going anywhere anytime soon.

“A coach told me one time that your offense should be what your quarterback is best at, and that’s what I feel Kirk is best at. Those kind of things are what makes him really good. So to me, that is really important,” Zimmer said.

Norv Turner was Zimmer’s first offensive coordinator in Minnesota, and he resigned midway through the 2016 season. Pat Shurmur took over and left to become head coach of the New York Giants in 2018. His replacement, John DeFilippo, was fired after 13 games. Stefanski was next, until his big opportunity came with the Browns.

Staff turnover has been frequent under Zimmer, who also announced on Tuesday that special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf will be let go after two seasons with the expiration of his contract. Co-defensive coordinators Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer and assistant special teams coach Ryan Ficken are the only members of the staff who’ve been with the Vikings since Mike Zimmer arrived.