Vikings OC Stefanski talks return to team, interviewing for Cleveland job, and more

On Wednesday, the Vikings announced that Kevin Stefanski will be the team’s permanent offensive coordinator. The 36-year-old Stefanski was named the interim offensive coordinator back in December when the team dismissed former OC John DeFilippo.

Stefanski, the longest-tenured coach on the Vikings staff, completed his 13th season with the club in 2018 and has coached quarterbacks, tight ends and running backs in his dozen-plus seasons with the team. Stefanski served as the quarterbacks coach in 2017 and most of 2018.

Today, Stefanski and Mike Zimmer addressed the media.

Here is what they had to say:

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer:

“After going through the process of talking to different people and sitting through some other interviews and things like that and talking to a lot of people, I’ve decided that we are going to hire Kevin Stefanski as the offensive coordinator. He is a bright, young coach. Very detailed. He has already given me a list of everything that we have to go over from now until training camp. He’s been good. He’s been here for a long time. He’s a great addition to our staff and we are excited to have him so I will introduce Kevin.”

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski:

“Exciting time for me and my family. Like Coach [Mike] Zimmer mentioned, I’ve been here a long time. Had three kids born here so we are entrenched in the community here. I am excited for the opportunity. I go back to our ownership group with the Wilf family, our entire ownership group, Mark [Wilf] and Zygi [Wilf] having been so supportive of me over the years. I appreciate them. This is a family as they say and it’s the truth. I am very appreciative of that. Then with Coach Zimmer and Rick [Spielman], I appreciate them giving me this opportunity and I don’t take it lightly. There is a lot of work to be done and luckily it’s January and we are going to get to it. The plan is to pull this thing apart, see what we did well and then add some things. We are not going to just change for the sake of change. We are going to change it for the better. That’s the goal.”

Q: What is the most important thing a coordinator does for the offense? Strategy? Motivation?

Stefanski: “I don’t know if there is one most important thing. I think probably just getting our best players in positions to make plays is the lead goal, but certainly the other things you mentioned are part of it. As I look at this thing, it is my goal to make sure our best players, our playmakers, are getting the ball to score a bunch of points. That is the goal. You score more than the other team and you get a W. It’s kind of simple as I look at it. When you pull it apart and you identify your guys that is going to be our goal, play to our strengths.”

Q: What was it like going through the interview with the Cleveland Browns and what were the motions like when you got this job here permanently?

Stefanski: “Sure. It was a good experience to go through. I am exactly where I need to be. I am exactly where I want to be. I am happy to have gone through it. But this is a special opportunity here. It’s a special group that we have. I am excited to get started.”

Q: Why do you feel that this is the right place for you?”

Stefanski: “With Coach Zimmer and Rick, we’ve been in constant communication. I believe in this organization. I believe in Coach Zimmer. We have a shared vision of what this offense is going to look like. We are really excited to get started.”

Q: How critical is that Kirk Cousins, Kevin Stefanski relationship and how does that evolve and the important components to that?

Stefanski: “I hope to have a good relationship with all of our players on offense. Quite honestly, I know the quarterback position is pretty important in this league. Kirk and I spent a year together just now. I got to know him a little bit more. He got to know me a little bit more. That is something that we can build off of. Just like every player, and I texted a bunch of them these last few days, just like every player, I hope to develop a relationship with them and find out what we can get, how we can get the most out of each player.”

Q: How do you balance what you and Coach Zimmer want to do with the offense and how do you find that balance?

Stefanski: “I would go back to a shared vision. Having worked with Coach for a bunch of years now, I understand him and he understands me. I think we both understand what gives defenses problems, and as Coach being a defensive coordinator, understands real well what is hard on a defense. He’s someone that we’re going to use as a resource, certainly, and we’re going to put together game plans and a system and offense that we feel like gives our players the best chance to succeed on Sunday.”

Q: What piece of the three-game stint at the end of the season was most important in giving you a jump start?

Stefanski: “I don’t know [if I would say] anything specifically. I’m glad that I got an opportunity to do that. I wish I could have done better, I wish we could have done better, but certainly it was a good experience for me having not called plays before. But we’re really focused more on moving forward now and what’s next for us in terms of pulling this thing apart and getting something going when the players get back here April 15th.”

Q: Do you envision this being a whole new offense, or do you take bits and pieces of things that have been around since you’ve been here?

Stefanski: “I go back to [the fact] that we’re early in that process. I think I could better answer that in the spring, really. We’ll try to do absolutely everything, we’re going to look at everything, we’re going to really pull this thing apart and be very diligent about that aspect of it. What it ends up looking like I think remains to be seen. I have a pretty good idea of what I want it to look like and what Coach wants it to look like, but we’re going to work through that process and not skip any steps.”

Q: As you develop your offensive philosophy, who has been your biggest influences that you’ve worked with?

Stefanski: “I’ve had so many, I wouldn’t want to single any of them out. I’ve just been so fortunate to work with a bunch of really smart guys, and that’s at the coordinator level, the position coach level, different defensive coaches have had a big impact on me. So I wouldn’t single anybody out, I just would say that I’ve been very fortunate to have been around a lot of smart coaches.”

Q: While you were interviewing for the Browns job, what was the communication like with the Vikings?

Stefanski: “I would just tell you it was constant. Constantly talking to Coach Zimmer and Rick [Spielman] throughout that.”

Q: Was there anything you learned going through the interview process for a head coaching job?

Stefanski: “Again, interesting process, but really, really excited to be here and standing here. There’s a ton of work that needs to get done, and like Coach was just saying, we’ve went over some of it already. It’s going to be a process, but we’re going to make sure we don’t skip any steps as we put this thing together.”

Q: What do you want to see from the offensive line coach when that coach is hired?

Stefanski: “I would defer to Coach [Zimmer] when it comes to that. I just know as an offense, not necessarily as an offensive line, as an offense, this is the NFC North, so we’re going to be a physical group. Certainly when you talk about the offensive line and defensive line it starts there. That’s kind of going to be our thing moving forward.”

Q: How do you help the offense get that nasty edge back?

Stefanski: “I think it’s like Coach said, that’s going to be something that we do as a team. I kind of go back to the style of offense that we play will vary by game, but at the end of the day we’ll make sure that this is a physical unit.”

Q: What does the offensive line need to do to be better?

Stefanski: “I would say that we’re real early in that process of identifying and looking at last year and doing a scheme evaluation, so it’s too soon for me to say exactly.”

Q: Can you teach guys to be physical on the offensive line or is that something they have or don’t when they get here?

Stefanski: “I think Rick and the personnel department does a nice job of identify those traits in those guys and like Coach Zim has said, he wants smart, tough players that we are passionate about this game.”

Q: What advantage does it give you to be only in one place for so long here and putting roots down here?

Stefanski: “It’s very unique for sure. My approach has been from day one is get in here, keep my head down and work. I’m not going to change that approach, it’s gotten me this far. I’m appreciate to be in one spot for so long and again, I go back to we have a pretty special group with the ownership. Again, I feel very comfortable in this community – my wife, my kids, this has been home. I’ve raised three kids here, they were all born here so it’s important for me to be here, it’s important for me to have this job that’s going to be something that moving forward we’re going to have a lot of work to do. Looking forward to the challenge.”

Q: What will your plans for the quarterbacks coach be?

Stefanski: “Again, I think we’re working through all that. Coach Zimmer I’ll defer to him on those type of questions, but everything we’re working through.”

Q: How do you incorporate analytics when constructing a game plan?

Stefanski: “I think, like we always do, we look for any tool that can help us. Certainly analytics is one part of it. It is a tool, it’s not the end all be all, obviously. But it is something that both sides of the ball, offense and defense, try to use to our advantage and information is key.”

Q: Coach Zimmer talked about wanting to run the ball more, but it still is a passing league, where is the place in today’s game to run the football?

Stefanski: “I think what Coach Zim talked about was balance and that’s going to be what we want to do moving forward. We just don’t want to be predictable. I can’t tell you that we’re always going to run it or we’re always going to pass it. We’re going to try to be balanced and not be predictable.”

Q: How many times have you moved houses?

Stefanski: That’s a good question. Four.

 Q: Who are some of the people that have reached out to you around the league to offer congratulations on this job?

Stefanski: “Yeah, I’m so fortunate, again, to have been around some special people here and you know as coaches you get to know some different people around the league and I’ve got nothing but support from around the league and from my past. Again, appreciate those people and once I walk out of here it’s getting back to work.”

Q: Could you name any of those people, maybe Brad Childress?

Stefanski: “He would be one, yes.”

Q: Is that going to be a challenge for you as you build a bigger offense to it simple?

Stefanski: “That part won’t be challenging. Our goal is to put together a foundational scheme, right. Start at the bottom and build something, then week-to-week we can always pull from our foundation. But no, I don’t see that as a challenge.”

Q: How does it benefit a quarterback to stay within the same system and not move through offensive coordinators?

Stefanski: “Yeah, I think certainly every player is going to want some bit of continuity, but that’s not realistic often times in the NFL. We’re going to use this year as he got to know me and I got to know him. We’re going to use this offseason and have some open discussions and some dialogue as we put this thing together. It’s like any other player see what he’s comfortable with, see what we can do to maximize his potential.”

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Zimmer on Cousins in big games: ‘I see that statistic and obviously it’s not a good statistic’

Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings came up small in the biggest game of the year. With an opportunity to make the playoffs, Cousins and the Vikings were dominated by the Bears 24-10 at home last Sunday.

In that game, Cousins did not play his best football. He was 20/33 for only 132 yards and one touchdown. Not good enough for a guy you gave a three-year, $84 million deal to last offseason.

Including his career with Redskins, Cousins is now 5-25 against teams with winning records, and is 0-1 in the playoffs.

Today, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer discussed the play of Cousins in 2018.

Q: Are you concerned about Kirk Cousins’ performances in big games and clutch situations?

Zimmer: “I see that statistic and obviously it’s not a good statistic. Quite honestly, it’s about the football team. One guy doesn’t win games around here; one guy doesn’t lose games. I don’t take it that way. I have a lot of confidence in Kirk. I’ve talked to him, I’ve talked to some other people about how I can help him better and things that I can do moving forward and so he’s going to come out and play really good next year.”

Q: In what ways did Kirk Cousins live up to your expectations and what you would like to see him improve on?

Zimmer: “Certainly there’s a lot of things in both areas. I really don’t want to get into specifics, sit here in front of all of you and tell you what he can get better at. I’d rather talk to him about those things. As far as the things he did good, number one he came in here and was a great teammate. He studied real hard; he worked extremely hard at everything he was trying to get done. I do think there are some areas he could get better at and I’m sure he’d tell you the same thing.”

Q: Was his play this season what you expected from him?

Zimmer: I think it’s more about the combination of the team, not one particular player.

Cousins(4298 yards, 30 TD/10 INT) put up good numbers in 2018, but he has to be better in big games. Minnesota not making the playoffs is not all on Cousins, but when you pay a guy that type of money, you are expecting a huge return, especially with the Vikings coming off an NFC title game appearance in 2017.

Cousins was surrounded by a lot of talented players in Minnesota. However, in the end, he was not able to get it done.

 

Vikings’ Zimmer on Miami Miracle: ‘I feel bad for NE because they got beat on a play that probably shouldn’t have happened’

Rarely, if ever, do lateral plays work in the NFL, but unfortunately for the Patriots, rarely does not mean never. On Sunday, with Dolphins trailing late in the 4th quarter, the impossible happened. Miami was able to score on a lateral play that ended with a Kenyan Drake touchdown as the Dolphins beat the Patriots 34-33 on the final play of the game.

In case you missed it, here you go:

It was a great play, but according Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, whose Vikings battle the Dolphins on Sunday, this play should have never happened.

“I think that obviously they did a great job of being able to move the ball down the field that way,” Zimmer said on Wednesday. “There’s a little of both, they did a great job, I feel bad for New England because they got beat on a play that probably shouldn’t have happened. But it did, and the more that you’re in the NFL you see these kind of things all of the time, the Hail Mary by [Aaron] Rodgers and all the different things that go on. That’s why I’m never comfortable until that last zero hits the clock.”

The play should not have happened, but that is one of the great things about football and sports in general, anything can happen!

Zimmer on Cousins: ‘He’s come in here and taken charge as a leader’

Since the departure of Brett Favre after the 2010 season, the Minnesota Vikings have been trying to find a quarterback. They tried with Christian Ponder, Donovan McNabb, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, and Case Keenum, but none of those guys could get the Vikings to where they wanted to go, which is the Super Bowl.

In the offseason, Minnesota made a run at free agent QB Kirk Cousins, and ultimately the Vikings were able to sign him to a three-year, $84 million deal. At this point, Cousins is second in the NFL in passing yards, and after today’s victory over the Cardinals, he has the Vikings tied for first in the NFC North at 3-2.

According to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, Cousins is the leader that Minnesota has been looking for at the quarterback position.

“It wasn’t a few years ago. There was a while I thought Teddy [Bridgewater] was going to be my guy for the rest of my coaching career and he would still be here, and I’d be fired,” Zimmer said after the Vikings victory over Cardinals.

“Then I thought Sam [Bradford] was going to be the guy. Then I thought Case [Keenum] was going to be the guy. In the offseason, we did a study on really those four guys. I knew Kirk from playing against him. The thing that I love about this guy is his passion for the game, his intensity that he has. He’s come in here and taken charge as a leader. When Rick [Spielman], and myself, Flip [John DeFilippo], George Paton, we sat in there, and we evaluated all the quarterbacks, and we came out with a consensus, and that was the one we wanted to go with, and everybody was all in.”

The Cousins’ signing will be a success if the Vikings can get to the Super Bowl, and at this point, the NFC is wide open, which should give the Vikings some hope that they could finally get back to a Super Bowl.

Vikes’ Zimmer on Bailey signing: ‘If we can get that position solidified like we have with the QB, I think that’ll be good’

The Minnesota Vikings have championship aspirations in 2018. After the season they had in 2017(Lost in NFC title game ), and with the signing of Kirk Cousins, the Vikings are looking to get to the Super Bowl.

Last Sunday was a rough one for Minnesota. With two chances to beat the Packers in OT at Lambeau, their former kicker Daniel Carlson missed two makeable field goals, and unfortunately for the Vikings, the game would end in a 29-29 tie.

Knowing that they needed a more reliable kicker, the Vikings released Carlson on Monday, and signed former Cowboys K Dan Bailey on Tuesday, who happens to be the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history.

With the signing of Cousins in the offseason and the addition of Bailey this week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer believes Minnesota is in good shape at the QB position and in the kicking game.

“This guy has been a really good kicker. Hopefully, he’s really, really good for us,” Zimmer said about Bailey on Wednesday. “I kind of feel the same way about him as I did with the quarterback position. Somebody asked me the other day about the five years I’ve been here we’ve been trying to get that position solidified, so if we can get that position solidified like we have with the quarterback I think that’ll be good.”

Cousins showed a lot last week against the Packers, especially in that fourth quarter when he led the Vikings back and helped send the game to OT.

Moving forward with Bailey, the Vikings should be okay in the kicking game, and with Cousins, the Vikings might be okay at the quarterback position.

 

Zimmer on Vikings: ‘We have a chance to be a good football team if we do the right thing’

Coming into the 2018 season there is a lot of excitement in Minnesota, and it should be after last season when the Vikings made it all the way to the NFC title game before getting blown out by the Eagles 38-7.

In the offseason, Minnesota upgraded the QB position with the addition of Kirk Cousins. Furthermore, they get back RB Dalvin Cook, who was off to a decent start before his injury. The Vikings pretty much brought back all the key components that made them very successful last season.

The expectations are very high in Minnesota, and according to their head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings have a chance to have another successful season.

“It’s funny because two years ago everybody was saying we weren’t going to be very good because we were 8-8. I saw the 11-5 team that was here the year before,” Zimmer told the assembled media today. “This team, I see the same way. We have a chance to be a good football team if we do the right things. We have to take care of the football. We have to run the ball and stop the run effectively. You have to be good on third downs, all of those things. Really, what it comes down to is coming out here and executing the things we’ve been practicing.”

The Vikings are definitely a team that could make some noise this season. The defense still should be good, and Cousins, if he a franchise quarterback, should make Minnesota better on offense, but the key for Minnesota is getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  They were 8-1 at home last season, including the playoffs, but played awful on the road in Philly in the NFC Championship Game. Therefore, getting home-field throughout the playoffs is imperative for Minnesota.

The NFC is going to be tough; the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles still have a lot of talent, Aaron Rodgers is back in Green Bay, the Rams have added talent, and the Saints won’t be easy to beat. All that being said, the NFC should be very interesting in 2018.