During the weeks leading up to the end of Mike Zimmer’s tenure as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, all the discourse about a potential successor involved getting a bright offensive mind to fill the vacancy. This notion was exacerbated when Justin Jefferson fell 17 yards shy of eclipsing Randy Moss’ single-season receiving record.
With a minute left on the clock and the crowd chanting Jefferson’s name, the obvious thing to do would have been to get him a look or two. Instead, Minnesota ran the clock out to resounding boos in U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I don’t care about records,” said Zimmer postgame. “All I care about is wins.”
His cold attitude towards Jefferson added more fuel to the fire of the coaching debate. After all, the majority of the Vikings’ pieces to build upon are on the offensive side of the ball, including their All-Pro wide receiver.
Improving the offensive outlook of this team should be a big focus going into the offseason, but it doesn’t have to be the be-all-end-all metric to for potential head coaches.
For a talented roster with unfulfilled expectations, sometimes all it takes is a shift of mentality. That shift isn’t necessarily from offense to defense.
“Instead of trying not to lose the game,” said Andre Patterson in a November press conference, “we’re going to try to win the game.” Patterson’s formula is exactly what the doctor ordered in Minnesota.
After hearing from the players on Monday, it became clear that Zimmer had lost the locker room. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, considering his unabashed, cold coaching style didn’t mesh with some of the players.
Brian O’Neill added to this sentiment saying the critical moving forward would be, “getting everybody pushing in the same direction and working together in a collaborative environment that’s enjoyable to work in.”
“Collaboration” was the word ringing around the TCO Practice Facility, and it highlights the most significant issue in Minnesota. The Vikings had a culture issue created by a lack of leadership at the head coaching position. Zimmer was really a defensive coordinator acting as head coach, building every single game plan around defense. The offense was just a vessel to give the defense a break in his mind. He probably would have won games 10-3 if he could.
He found plenty of success in Minnesota, but the Vikings need change. That change comes in the form of a strong, empathetic leader who can connect with the entire team and delegate duties as required. Enter Patterson.
I can hear the moans and groans already. The thought of hiring the defensive coordinator behind the NFL’s 24th scoring defense seems completely crazy. But Patterson’s background speaks for itself.
First and foremost, it’s hard to say what kind of defensive coordinator he was when he had not one but two Zimmers in his ear. What we do know, though, is that Patterson is responsible for the most consistency in developing a single position group. Among Minnesota’s draftees, the defensive linemen who come in seem to see the biggest leap, and that’s thanks to Patterson.
But his abilities to mold young defensive linemen isn’t what makes him an attractive candidate. It’s his ability to be a leader.
Patterson’s coaching career started in 1982 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Montana. While serving in that role, he’d also graduate with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. His background in both teaching and football would vault him to 16 more stops along the way at every single level of the sport.
This diverse set of experiences has given Patterson the ability to be able to connect with and motivate his players. He’s arguably one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL. Unlike Zimmer, he was even able to be both genial and genuine when talking to the media. At any press conference, chances are Patterson opened by asking how everybody was doing.
It seems like a minor detail, but it’s the sort of thing that shows what kind of person he is. Making an internal hire would certainly be met with some criticism, but Patterson is essentially the anti-Zimmer. His background is on the defensive side, but he undoubtedly would be able to drop the ego and let whoever comes in next influence which direction the offense goes.
Essentially, the Vikings have just been freed from an authoritarian leader and thus need someone who can connect with every aspect of the team. Mark Wilf talked about how the Vikings want to be competitive next year, and they certainly have the tools to do so.
They’ll need to bring in new coaching blood to revitalize the game plan, but who better to fix the culture in Minnesota than somebody who experienced it themselves?
He’s a natural leader and has the resumé to become the next head coach of the Vikings. It’s time for the Wilf’s to step up and give Patterson the shot he’s been working 40 years for.