Almost exactly eight years ago, the Vikings introduced Mike Zimmer as their new head coach.
He was brought in to fix a team that had lost double-digit games three of the previous four seasons, with defensive lapses telling much of that story. Zimmer did that, and after his first four years he looked to be on a trajectory that could keep him here for the very long term.
But now here we are: The Vikings are starting over again after firing Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman on Monday. And again, the defense is the thing that probably needs the most fixing.
How we got to this point is layered and complicated. But in the aftermath of Monday's news, five things that were said stood out as explanations (or at least hints) about what went wrong and what is yet to come.
I talked about all of them with Chip Scoggins on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast, but let's get into them in some detail now:
Vikings owner Mark Wilf: "Listen, the results speak for themselves. We're not satisfied. It's not where we want to be. ... We're really committed as owners to providing the resources to make sure we can keep competing year in and year out at the highest levels and try to get championships."
What it means: This one doesn't require much reading between the lines. The Vikings missed the playoffs three of the last four years, and the Wilfs weren't happy with that return on their investment. But it also makes me wonder if big-money QB Kirk Cousins, who was here for those last four seasons, is also part of that dissatisfaction — and whether the ownership group is eager for the next general manager to pursue a trade this offseason.
Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks: "No matter what your role is on the staff, [it's] you having a voice and being able to communicate things that you think could help facilitate wins. I think just having that voice, no matter how big your role is, is important, to listen up and take each other's feelings into account. I don't think a fear-based organization is the way to go."
What it means: The last part was a pretty eye-opening quote. For Kendricks to lay that out there and suggest in another part of his Monday interview that there were bumps in his relationship with Zimmer provides evidence of the tension that existed behind-the-scenes. The overall tone was one of Kendricks (and other players) being ready for a fresh start, which probably factored into the decision by the Wilf family.
Statement from Zimmer: "I have given my heart and soul to this organization and to the players. I have had outstanding assistant coaches who have worked tirelessly. I'm sorry we didn't get it done. I'll miss coaching the players, some who have been with me for all eight years. I want to thank the players who welcomed me in 2014 and believed in me that I could lead them to be great."
What it means: Thanking assistant coaches and players is an obvious move, but noticeably absent was any mention of Spielman or an ownership group that gave Zimmer his first head coaching opportunity at age 57. That tells me Zimmer isn't just unhappy that his tenure it's over. He's perhaps not happy about how it ended and thinks that either with more time or different decisions by Spielman this might have turned out differently.
Statement from Spielman: "To the Vikings players, coaches and staff, I sincerely appreciate your tireless efforts to win and your dedication to this community and the fan base. There are so many talented people throughout this organization, and because of that, the Vikings will continue to be a special place in the future. Finally, I want to thank Zygi & Mark Wilf and the entire Wilf family for believing in me and consistently providing the resources for us to be successful as a football operations staff. It is not common in the NFL to be in a position for this long, which goes to show how this ownership group believes in stability and supports their leaders. While today is emotional, I wish the Minnesota Vikings and Vikings fans nothing but future success."
What it means: Spielman is a survivor and tends to think about his next move as much as his current position. Not burning any bridges and coming out with a pretty gracious statement is right out of his playbook and could help him get another job in the league.
Vikings offensive tackle Brian O'Neill: "I think it could be something as little as, 'Hey, how you doing?' in the hallway, or when you walk by guys in the hallway and they say, 'Hello, how you going? Good morning. We spend so much time together and the season is so long that little personal things here or there could make a huge difference for a young guy or a rookie who is coming in and isn't really sure how he fits or if he belongs."
What it means: O'Neill, a leader like Kendricks, spoke openly about a culture change he would like to see under a new regime. That plus the rule of opposites in coaching hires probably means the Vikings will hire an upbeat, young, offensive-minded coach.