Sid Hartman
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The Vikings’ decision to give contract extensions to quarterback Kirk Cousins and coach Mike Zimmer this offseason mean that this club has made its decision on who can lead it to a Super Bowl.

There’s no doubt fans like to complain about the head coach of the football team and the starting quarterback more than any other positions in all of sports. But the fact is that Zimmer and Cousins are the right tandem for this franchise.

The biggest challenge for the Vikings under Zimmer has been finding some kind of consistency on the offensive side of the ball, and while fans might be concerned about losing some key defenders, there is zero question this coaching staff can produce a great defense.

With Cousins at quarterback and Gary Kubiak running the offense that he put in last season, this team can take another step in the right direction offensively. And that will make them Super Bowl contenders.

Zimmer said at his news conference announcing his new three-year contract, which will keep him here through the 2023 season, that Cousins’ great play in 2019 can get even better.

“Him being in the same system now for two years, I think it’s all in front of him,” Zimmer said. “I thought he played terrific last year. And if we can continue to improve in some of the other areas that we need to improve on with some of the protection things and running game things that we can all improve on, I think the sky is the limit for him.”

The club did lose offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who became the coach of the Cleveland Browns, but Zimmer said that this offense is going to be almost identical to last season, and that will be a huge help for Cousins.

“Really offensively it’s not going to change hardly at all,” Zimmer said. “Gary was very, very influential last year with everything that went about offensively. I’m not trying to take anything away from Kevin, but it was basically Gary’s offense. A lot of the things that were installed were Gary’s offense and Gary gave a lot of input to Kevin throughout the course of time, and Rick Dennison with the offensive line.

“I think this is important for us that you know we’re talking about — defensively we have some turnover, but offensively we’re basically a veteran group now. We’ve added a couple of guys that we feel can help us in here, but I think that it’s going to look really, really similar.”

Proud Parcells

Zimmer’s biggest booster has been Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, who Zimmer worked under while with the Dallas Cowboys. When Zimmer got his contract extended, Parcells was one of the first to congratulate him.

“I have heard from him quite a bit this summer,” Zimmer said. “He still calls me quite a bit. He was excited for me. He knows that Minnesota is the right place for me. We’ve established really the kind of people that we want in here. We have established the relationships that we want with players and ownership and management and I think those things are so important to me, the loyalty that we all have toward one another. He knew that those things were important, as well.”

There’s no doubt Parcells taught Zimmer to put great value in his assistant coaches. When Zimmer was asked if he has improved as a head coach during his six years with the Vikings, he said those relationships made all the difference.

“I try to learn from all of the coaches,” Zimmer said. “You know they all give input, we’re able to speak freely on all kinds of issues, my door is always open for them. I try to learn from everybody. I try to learn from other people in the league. We have good players, too, and that helps. We have been very, very fortunate that the defensive staff has been the same basically for six years.

“We have had some turnover offensively, but a couple of those is because guys got head coaching jobs and that’s great for them, and they were able to take some other guys with them. But you know, it’s all a process and we’re just happy that we can continue forward and try to reach our ultimate goal.”

Swing for the Super Bowl

In Zimmer’s six seasons, the Vikings have won three NFC North titles, reached the NFC Championship Game once and posted a 50-37-1 record, the fourth-best mark in the NFC since 2014, behind the Seahawks, Packers and Saints.

The 64-year-old Zimmer knows that the next four years of his contract will give him a chance to keep taking a shot at an NFL title. But that doesn’t mean this is his final contract.

“I love being around the players. I love going out on the field. I love game-planning. I love doing all the things that you’ve got to do to get ready for the season,” he said. “I think when it gets to that time [when this contract is up], you know, we’ll all make a decision. Either I’m coaching really good or I’m coaching really bad and then we’ll decide how I’m feeling and go from there. But this is a great opportunity that we have, to continue to keep taking swings at what we need to swing at.”

JOTTINGS

• Hall of Fame football coach Tony Dungy told Sirius XM Radio that he sees a lot of similarities between Gophers coach P.J. Fleck and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: “I think that’s the great thing about college football right now,” the former Gophers quarterback said. “I visited with Dabo Swinney a lot. It was not a place where you say automatically, ‘Hey if I take this Clemson job, we’re going to be national championship contenders in three years.’ It wasn’t looked at that way. The fact that it can happen at Clemson, the fact that it can happen at Minnesota, that makes college football great.”

• Could college football go to regional nonconference games in the future? The only FBS program from a neighboring state is Iowa State. Nearby FCS programs will include St. Thomas as well as Drake, North Dakota, North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State.

• Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings running backs as the seventh-best group in the NFL. PFF highlighted the return of Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone as giving the Vikings a chance to have the league’s top rushing attack.

• Former Twins prospect Nick Burdi is serving as closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his first two games he gave up no hits, with one walk, four strikeouts and a save in two innings. The 2014 second-round pick never pitched for the Twins because of injury trouble but is now in his third season with Pittsburgh.

• The Gophers men’s hockey team announced the program had an NHL-high 17 alumni playing in the playoffs, including four players — Hudson Fasching, Alex Goligoski, Phil Kessel and Aaron Ness — on Arizona. The Wild has two former Gophers, Kyle Rau and Mat Robson, although it’s unlikely either one will see any action in Edmonton. Not listed was Pittsburgh forward Nick Bjugstad, who will miss the playoffs following spinal surgery in May.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday and 2 p.m. Friday. • shartman@startribune.com