It was the buzzword of the offseason — culture.
The Mike Zimmer era in Minnesota wasn’t all doom and gloom. During eight seasons, the Vikings twice finished at the top of the NFC North division. There were three trips to the playoffs, with the highlight of the 2017 run to the NFC championship game.
However, Zimmer’s time in Minnesota finished sourly with back-to-back disappointing seasons. What was once whispers of player disgruntlement got louder, and in the wake of Zimmer’s dismissal, the stories started to emerge.
For instance, there was a fractured relationship between the head coach and former general manager Rick Spielman, plus the strange relationship he Zimmer with quarterback Kirk Cousins, stories of rookie players being ignored, and a culture run by fear.
A successful franchise needs everyone pulling in the same direction. That wasn’t the case in Minnesota, so when the Vikings set about finding the right people to take the franchise forward, the word culture popped up time and time again.
The New Regime
The Vikings landed on Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their new general manager and Kevin O’Connell as their head coach — two relatively young men for the roles they were undertaking. The plan in Minnesota was to transition from veteran leadership with an “old school” approach to a more vibrant and younger leadership team, more in tune with the young millionaire stars of the modern NFL, intent on building a positive team culture that would ultimately bring success to Minnesota was the priority of ownership.
With the help of a winning start, it seems to have been the correct decision.
Of course, it’s easy to have everyone buy in when things are going well. At some point this season, the Vikings will hit a bump in the road and lose a game or two. That is when the foundations of the culture of a franchise get tested. For now, though, the Vikings team culture can’t be matched, according to rookie cornerback Akaykeb Evans.
Whether that statement is wholly accurate is irrelevant. The important thing is a 4th-Round rookie who has played mostly on special teams is buying in. It’s not just Evans. Every Vikings player seems happy, and thus far, there has been no drama surrounding the team (until Oli Udoh’s arrest during the bye week). Everything you see around the group appears to be fun, and there is no better example than in the transformation of the Vikings quarterback.
The New Kirk Cousins
Cousins’ personality in purple has gone from a careful, cautious [and some would say] dull individual to an open and fun character who is learning to embrace his true nature. Videos of the players having fun on the journey home from road games, with Cousins at the center, are not something you would expect to see before this year. Teams often reflect their leadership, and the stamp of Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell is already visible on this team. O’Connell’s progressive, uplifting philosophy was the change many Vikings fans craved. It has proven to be the correct choice at this early stage.
O’Connell’s open and relaxed approach has been a breath of fresh air. It has led to togetherness among the team, which is the cause of a team that continues to grind out victory in close games. You can point to luck if you want to, but I firmly believe you create your own luck. Even the “double doink” is produced by forcing the Saints to take an unlikely 61-yard field goal attempt. One yard closer, and the ball splits the uprights.
The NFL is a league of small margins, except for maybe one or two teams at the top (Bills) and bottom (Texans). Every NFL team’s roster is relatively equal in talent. The strengths and weaknesses vary by position, and all the rosters contain flaws. The main difference between becoming a playoff team or a sub-500 team is the quality of coaching.
During the season’s early weeks, the new Vikings coaching staff has done an excellent job of keeping their players healthy and allowing them to deliver in the big moments in games.
It is still the early days of this new regime, and things can change quickly. However, everything is positive in Minnesota heading into Week 8 of the season.