Opening comments …
“Minnesota started the season 2-2 and then won eight games, until last week’s game. Over that time, the quarterback has really done a great job of taking care of the ball. He’s running the offense well, and they’re pretty balanced. (Vikings WR) Adam Thielen has had a very fine season, and when Diggs (Vikings WR Stefon Diggs) was out, he kind of picked up the slack. Rudolph (Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph) has had a strong season, and they’re doing a good job of moving guys in and out. They’re being very productive offensively. They’re great at third down, which is keeping drives alive. With the execution and the quarterback, they’ve done a nice job.
“Conversely, you flip to the other side (of the ball), they’re doing a nice job, particularly on third down, which is really keeping the opponents from having the opportunity to drive the field to score. Throughout the football games, as you look at it, they have given up very few explosive plays. Occasionally (they do), but there are very few of them. They’re really making you earn everything. They do a great job out there in coverage. Rhodes (Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes) is having a fine season out there at corner. Their safeties are experienced guys — they’re really good football players. They’re getting a lot of mileage. (Eric Kendricks) inside, the linebacker, is playing really good football.”
Defensively, the Vikings are built similarly to the defense here, where their front four gets pressure on the QB. And their two defensive ends — Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter — are playing at a high level this year. What have you seen from them?
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“Hunter is big and long. And Everson has power, strength and quickness — he’s a fine talent.”
When you signed Terence Newman here in 2012, some people thought his age was becoming a factor and that he didn’t have many more good years in him. But he played well here, and he’s still playing very well up in Minnesota. Are you amazed by that?
“Going back to 2003, when you consider that we were considering Terence with the first pick in the draft — or maybe we move back a little bit — he was that kind of athlete coming out of Kansas State. We were considering him at that spot. It tells you the athleticism, and then the character of the man is so strong, with how he does things. And now, he’s moved inside and is playing a little bit of a different role for them. He’s doing a nice job.”
How much does his character add to his value as a player, particularly when there are younger players in the secondary, like there were when he was here? It seems like he mentored them here, and it sounds like he’s done the same up in Minnesota …
“He’s done a nice job of that throughout his career. He’s been one of those kinds of guys. He was one of those guys early on, when Dre (Kirkpatrick) was a rookie, to kind of help Dre through the rough spots of getting an opportunity to play. He was really able to relate to that.”
With that said, do you think he has a future in coaching?
“I think Terence is smarter than that (laughs). He’s been a coach on the field. Obviously he and Mike (Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer) have had a great relationship, so that’s great. They brought him back again this year, so it was great for Terence. Terence is great for the building — that was one thing that was so impressive. Obviously he visited here in 2003 (during the pre-draft process), but when he came back in (2012), I was the one who spent the time with him when he came in to visit. And then we signed him. That was a good opportunity to re-connect. It was a good opportunity to get to know him again. And then, to watch him carry himself around here, he was friends with the guy that was the No. 1 draft pick, all the way to the last college free agent that we signed. You would see Terence with his arm around him, mentoring those guys all the time. It was impressive.”
Mike Zimmer isn’t known for being warm and fuzzy, but players seem to love him. What is it about him that draws players to him like that?
“He’s warm and fuzzy to those that are warm and fuzzy to him (laughs). And that means doing what he asks. That’s important. He had Terence as a young player, so when Dallas was going a different direction, he raised his name to me. I looked at Terence and thought he still could play, and we were able to work it out.”
What do you best remember about Mike Zimmer being here?
“Mike and I have been friends since 1982 or ’83. So we’ve spent a lot of time together — a lot of good times, and a little bit of tough times. I got a chance to spend some time with him a few weeks ago. He’s such a great football coach, but he’s also been a friend forever. I can remember us being in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl, and Adam (Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer) was a young boy, and we’re riding on the bus together to practice for the game. I can’t remember which year it was. But Adam was sitting there with us. So we go back, and we have a lot of memories together from a long time ago, let alone the recent ones.”
In a league where, when things don’t go well, fans want to see change, Zimmer has said that it would be “a tremendous loss” if you weren’t with this organization next year. How do you receive that message and hearing him say something like that?
“I guess I owe him a check (laughs). We all realize that when you sign up for these jobs, the thing is it’s not forever. I think we all accept that. But that’s great. I appreciate that support from Mike. We have a lot of good talks. A few weeks ago, when (the Vikings) were on a bye, I drove down the road (to Zimmer’s house in Kentucky) and we spent some time together. But we’ve spent a lot of time together when we’re not doing football. I appreciate his friendship that way. When things don’t go well for us, that’s all we have is each other — we spend more time (together), we don’t spend less time. That’s the thing that we all relate to well. I think everybody knows that — any coach that coaches now.”
People on the outside sometimes view losing as becoming a part of the way things are now. But, in reality, you as a coach hate losing …
“We do. You detest losing — it’s more than hate. ‘Hate’ is too easy (laughs).”
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How hard have these last couple years been then, since you’ve lost more than you would’ve liked?
“It is (hard). That’s why you relish it for 10 minutes when you win, and then you move on. But that part feels good (when you win), and it’s good a little bit the next day, and then you move on. That’s why coaches do it. But we don’t remember wins, we remember losses, unfortunately.”
Your slogan for the team this year was, ‘Run on your own gas.’ Is that even more appropriate now, given the circumstances of this season?
“I think it’s still very important. It’s important for them as professionals and what they do. We’ve got to go win a game, and we’re going to have to play our tails off to win the game. We’ve got to have great preparation and great focus this week to do it.”