Rick Spielman's Media Tour Is Getting A Little Weird

Photo credit: Bo Mitchell

Rick Spielman hasn’t shied away from the microphone recently. A week after the Minnesota Vikings fired him, he discussed his disconnect with Mike Zimmer on the Move the Sticks podcast with Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah. Then, he took a veiled shot at Zimmer on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Spielman said that he’d hire an offensive-minded head coach in the modern NFL because he needs to be able to connect with his quarterback.

Spielman has not mentioned Zimmer by name, and nothing he has said is patently wrong. Zimmer probably wasn’t the easiest guy to work with when it came to personnel decisions, and the former Vikings coach was never on board with Kirk Cousins. But by broadcasting his issues with Zimmer, even in a backhanded way, Spielman is eschewing his responsibility in what went down at 2600 Vikings Circle in Eagan.

Zimmer was Spielman’s only true head coaching hire. Spielman was hired by the Vikings in 2006, but he was part of the infamous “triangle of power” with current cap guru Rob Brzezinski and coach Brad Childress. Spielman hadn’t yet been promoted to general manager when Minnesota fired Childress in 2010 and replaced him with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. It was only after Frazier was fired that Spielman had his choice of head coach. He tabbed Zimmer in 2014, two years after Spielman had been promoted to GM.

The Spielman-Zimmer connection appeared to be simpatico early on. Zimmer hired Norv Turner and put him in charge of the offense. Spielman and Zimmer then worked together on draft night and in free agency to build out a defense that became the No. 1 unit in the NFL in 2017. But Zimmer ultimately turned on Turner and created a revolving door at offensive coordinator, as Spielman outlined on the Move the Sticks podcast.

I think we went through maybe six different [offensive coordinators] during coach Zimmer’s era…It was constantly like a moving target all the time. You try to do your best to adapt and the guys that we do have, can you do some things from your scheme to adjust to their skill set? But when you have the coaching turnover that it is and you’re always trying to marry up the personnel to the scheme, are there ways that some of these coaches that say, ‘Hey, I have to adjust my scheme to what the players can do as well.’ Some coaches are saying ‘This is what we run and this is what we have to have and if they don’t fit this then I don’t want them.

Things started to fall apart for the Vikings after their run to the NFC Championship in 2017. Spielman felt they were a quality quarterback away from winning the Super Bowl. Conversely, Zimmer wanted to sign one who didn’t take up too much cap space, so that the Vikings didn’t have to make sacrifices on defense.

Spielman offered Kirk Cousins a full-guaranteed $84 million contract to keep him away from the New York Jets, who offered a contract well north of $100 million. Zimmer fumed and never fully embraced the by-the-books, stubborn signal-caller.

Asked by Cowherd what Spielman if he’d look to hire an offensive coach in today’s NFL, Spielman said:

I think the No. 1 thing you’re looking for is that head coach has to have a relationship with that quarterback. And can a defensive head coach
connect with that quarterback? Now, you know an offensive coach is probably going to be able to because that’s his job. But can a defensive coach do the same thing?

Again, Zimmer’s name never came up. But I think we can read between the lines here. Zimmer’s girlfriend certainly did. And it’s not that Spielman is necessarily wrong. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah must choose a coach with whom he can work on personnel decisions, and whoever he chooses has to understand how to unlock Justin Jefferson. All GMs and coaches need that kind of relationship.

But while Zimmer has been mum on the whole situation, Spielman is actively trying to get his side of the story out there. He’s done so, but he’s not telling the whole truth without acknowledging his role in it. He hired the coach, signed the QB, and ran the organization. He has ownership in the situation and the media tour is getting a bit strange.

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Photo credit: Bo Mitchell

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