Zimmer promises some 'soul-searching'

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.--Mike Zimmer would rather lie face down on a bed of nails than put himself on the therapist's couch for a primal session of self-reflection, but there he was Tuesday poised to tell Barbara Walters what kind of tree he is.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.-Mike Zimmer would rather lie face down on a bed of nails than put himself on the therapist's couch for a primal session of self-reflection, but there he was Tuesday poised to tell Barbara Walters what kind of tree he is.

Chasing an undefeated season down the rabbit hole of dysfunction should humble the heartiest of NFL men right down to their Nikes.

Zimmer was the good soldier accounting for the Vikings' alarming collapse instead of preparing his team for a postseason run that was preordained two months ago. He blamed himself and promised a full autopsy.

"Soul searching," he said.

High anxiety feels more like it, raising questions about how deeply the crusty old ball coach will look in the mirror and re-examine the no-nonsense management style that earned total buy-in from his players and let Zimmer walk on water among championship-starved fans.


Until it didn't.

"Ultimately I'm responsible for getting these players where they need to go. That's what leadership is, taking a group of people to where they haven't been before. I haven't done that yet," he acknowledged.

Zimmer tacitly referenced his clock management gaffe that cost the Vikings dearly in an overtime loss to Detroit and vowed to re-examine practice schedules and balance late-season workloads. But strategic improvements and pragmatic tweaks do not drill into the soul of his vulnerable team.

"It's not managing the players," Zimmer insisted. "I have to do a better job. The players know I'm going to be me around them. I have to be smarter in other situations."

You can slide onion skin between uncompromising and defiance. Zimmer is doubling down on what got him here.

His brick-by-brick success as an NFL assistant coach was built over decades on a foundation of blunt management, tunnel-vision execution and message discipline.

Zimmer has said that modus operandi chafed several teams that passed on the chance to make him their front man. But it wooed the Vikings after the Wilfs fired gentlemanly Leslie Frazier, hiring Zimmer in January 2014 and extending his contract in July.

Fissures in that foundation were exposed this season after the 5-0 Vikings emerged from their mid-October bye a psychologically fragile team unprepared to handle success and incapable of arresting the freefall that deep-sixed their Super Bowl aspirations.


Ironically, the Vikings morphed into the slaughtered fat cats Zimmer warned about with his silly puppet show and ham-fisted testimony that he was not a stuffed-animal masochist.

Can we just agree that motivating grown men with juvenile tactics is beneath an NFL coach?

In a 10-day span during which the Vikings lost two ugly road games, to overrated Philadelphia and underwhelming Chicago, Zimmer the motivator lost credibility, and then he lost his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, whose startling midseason resignation was cloaked in a murky philosophical clash that only created more chaos.

Injury woes and losing streaks are garden variety crises in the NFL. Leadership voids are harder to quantify, but there is no denying their cosmic effect.

The Vikings in the second half played like a team in fear of screwing up as opposed to the confident gang of ballers who were the last threat to the graybeards of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Their offense was stuck in the muck of two yards forward, five yards back. The defense stopped playing naturally and started pressing. Confidence plummeted as the losses piled up.

Following an inexcusable 38-6 home no-show loss to Indianapolis in Week 15, the Vikings faced their moment of truth Christmas Eve at Lambeau Field, their playoff fates hanging by a thread against surging Green Bay.

And what happened? Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman decided they knew best how to cover Jordy Nelson and defied Zimmer, the pass defense guru who turned the former into a Pro Bowl player and trusted the latter like a de-facto coach.


Whether it was for one half, one series or one minute, the optics were horrible following another blowout loss in a must-win game, begging the question: Who's really in charge?

Zimmer enters a pivotal fourth season in 2017 with one division title, that painful playoff loss to Seattle in the arctic and a meltdown for the ages on his resume.

The bloom is off the rose.

The soul-searching party is on the clock.

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