Vikings keep Zimmer and Spielman together, for better or worse

Ben Goessling, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Football

Asked on Monday to assess a working relationship now in its second decade, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer touched on long-familiar themes shared between himself and general manager Rick Spielman: their perfervid personalities, their Rust Belt upbringings as the sons of no-nonsense high school coaches.

"Most importantly, we really love football," Zimmer said. "We love the process of all this. We love trying to put together a championship-caliber football team. We love the discipline we have to have within this building of trying to make sure that guys are doing the right things, they're studying the right ways.

"All the way along we've had a really good relationship, and obviously it's grown. We can tease each other a little bit more now. I understand his bad jokes probably better than anybody."

The relationship between Spielman, the studious executive who's paired his reverence for the scouting process with a fondness for analytics, and Zimmer, the cantankerous coach who trusts his gut more than a spreadsheet and punctuates practices with fiery calls for precision, has a chance to become the longest GM-coach pairing in Vikings history by the time it's done.

The two are entering their seventh season together, each with new contracts that give them a chance to match Mike Lynn's 10 seasons with Bud Grant as the longest run in team history. Zimmer's extension keeps him with the team through the 2023 season, and it's believed Spielman's deal does the same, though the Vikings have only called it a multiyear extension publicly.

"It's a really good positive that we've worked together this long," Zimmer said. "Sometimes people would call it a negative, but Rick and I have a great relationship. We see things really through the same eyes 99% of the time. Very, very rarely do we ever argue or get in a situation like that. He can be hardheaded. I can be hardheaded. But at the end of the day, we know that we both have to work extremely well together and we certainly do."


At the end of this season, Spielman and Zimmer will have worked together for as long as Jeff Diamond and Dennis Green did in the 1990s. They will have matched Grant and Jim Finks' eight seasons together if they stay in their current jobs through 2021.

Their shared vision for the Vikings -- centered around a stout defense and a commitment to running the ball in an era with more passing than ever -- has meant stability for an ownership group that fired three coaches in its first nine seasons in Minnesota.

"Rick has been outstanding in his role as Vikings general manager," Vikings president Mark Wilf said in a statement announcing Spielman's extension on Monday. "We are excited and honored to have him continue to lead our efforts to build a championship roster and first-class organization. With Rick's and Coach Zimmer's leadership in place, we are in a great position to continue to compete for a Super Bowl."

After a 27-10 loss to the 49ers ended the Vikings' third playoff trip in Zimmer's six seasons, he spent an hour on the phone with his mentor Bill Parcells to discuss how the team could get over the hump and go from regular playoff entrant to Super Bowl qualifier for the first time since the 1976 season.


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