The nice thing about getting to news about half a day after other sites with “Employees” and “Money” is that you can get both the initial story and the follow-up story covered at the same time! I’m working smarter, well not smarter, but definitely not harder, either. But, since we cater to the sleepy-heads out there, I’ll summarize yesterday’s earth shattering news before going into my thoughts on the subject.
Now, as most of you know by now, the Vikings haven’t really had a great start to free agency. Sure, they signed two starter quality offensive tackles, but they also pretty much lost every unrestricted free agent possible, with the exception being Cordarrelle Patterson who is campaigning on social media to return to the Vikings in 2017. But, Patterson always seemed like the type to fly to his own… Air… Music (?), so I wouldn’t take his desire to return as indicative of anything positive or negative. So, it was sort of surprising and disheartening, as I’ve chronicled since Thursday move by move, that the Vikings seemed to be asleep at the wheel when it came to doing the work necessary to keep these free agents or find replacements for them if they knew they were leaving before free agency began.
In my piece on Saturday morning, about Captain Munnerlyn also signing with the Carolina Panthers, I tried to figure out exactly what was going on. It was either that the Vikings (Or rather general manager Rick Spielman) were either being outbid or that they were extremely mismanaged, or it could’ve been something else, something cool that I don’t even know about (Old School Reference FTW!), but at the time it’s really all I could think of. But, now, thanks to Rhett Ellison’s dad, whose first name I could probably find but since misplaced ‘H’s’ in names bother me, I won’t, I believe I/we know a bit more about what has been going on not only this free agency period but also pretty much since the Bye week of 2016. Depending on the level of faith you put in since deleted social media rants.
In a since deleted tweet, Riki Ellison (I was so close!) said (According to a piece by Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press):
“Exodus of their draft picks out of the Minnesota Vikings in free agency — with a new stadium, new facility — statement on toxic leadership.’’
Thanks to the nature of Twitter, that Tweet could be left open to many interpretations. For example, what “Toxic” means specifically and who he meant by “Leadership” (Spielman? Wilfs? Zimmer?”). Thankfully, Mr. Ellison posted a lengthy follow-up on his Facebook page, to clarify and also most likely because his son was texting him “DAAAAAD, STOOOP EMBARRASSING MEEEE!”. Here is what he posted (Text/Image courtesy of ESPN 1500):
Now. I’m with you, this is a really confusing read, some have joked that perhaps the elder Ellison had been drinking before his tirade (Of sorts). I can’t speak to that, but as a lot of you that frequent the site know, I can speak to my experiences with drunken Facebook posting. In fact, it’s the title of my memoir. So, let me see if I can break this down into a few easy to read bullet points.
– The note starts out talking about some sort of record of a new coach leading a team to an 11-5 record, then the sweet/suite suite-ness that was starting 5-0 despite all of the hardship(s) that the team has faced that year. The Vikings had a new stadium and the team seemed unified and unbeatable (Either there or in general).
– However, something happened during the Bye week between Zimmer and Spielman that “broke” the momentum based on both not understanding “What they had”.
– This lack of understanding also lead to the resignation of offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Which was a red-flag and whatever the coach and GM did, it still hasn’t been “Addressed” and now the team is missing a bunch of core players because of the free agency exodus which was comprised of “Self drafted” and “developed” players, so because of that the team is without leadership that players lost via free agency or retirement, provided.
– Beyond that secret and disastrous Bye Week change, the culture of hyper-physical practices also hurt team morale and was the reason for offensive line injuries and the defense seemingly giving up during important parts of the season or games. Which is why the team has a five year cycle, of sorts, where they are constantly rebuilding and losing “agonizingly”.
– So, basically, with all that, the team lacks focus and doesn’t identify “real” leaders (Let me guess, like Rhett Ellison?) and just isn’t run well top to bottom which is why the team never wins a championship and is bad.
Now I can say that reading this was shocking, honestly, because to me it just didn’t seem like the team that I had been covering every single hour of every day (I dream about them, too… Nightmares are technically dreams) for the past three seasons under Mike Zimmer. Now, I know that there was some kerfuffles last year with Norv Turner leaving and the did they or didn’t they “mutiny” against coach Zimmer’s game plan against the Packers late last season, but for the most part the general consensus seemed like the players really liked coach Zimmer and were buying what he was selling.
Some sort of phantom Bye Week event notwithstanding, it was really hard to place the blame for that implosion on anyone that actually plays for or coaches the team. I have stated that if anyone can be blamed, it’s Spielman for ignoring the offensive line in the draft for the last half decade, but other than that even though the defense’s overall play and thus points per game (Allowed) wasn’t as spectacular late in the year as it was before the Bye, it was really hard to blame them, too. Especially with how much they ended up being on the field during stretches because of how poorly the offense also played in stretches. So, while the timing of everything that Riki Ellison said in his post does line up, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense that we didn’t hear any inklings of this from anyone on the team before now.
I mean, you’d think that some of the players that were already let go (Andre Smith, for example) would’ve said something or that an event that big would’ve been reported on both back then and as part of the post-season “What the Hell Happened?!?” articles began being typed up and posted. Maybe the players felt bad because of the situation with coach Zimmer’s eye and the fact that the guy really, genuinely cares, but if there was some sort of massive change that occurred during the bye week, that changed the culture of the team or something, it has to be something that we know about… Unless… No… It can’t be… The Teddy Bear murders? Or was that before the Bears game, I mean, that’d make sense but IIRC the team that we played coming out of the Bye was the Philadelphia Eagles a game that was easily the worst team game of the season.
But, what could’ve happened? Keep in mind that it’s something that had to be done by or with both coach Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman. So, it’s not just (What has become Ellison’s excuse) that practices suddenly became too “Physical”. That’s a genuine question. What do you guys think? Feel free to comment below with your Facebook accounts or on the social media platform that brought you here. Now, I know that Norv didn’t end up leaving the team until weeks after that and it seemed like it was essentially based on the fact that he didn’t really have the personnel available to run his scheme and thus didn’t know how to fix things. At least that made a lot more sense than some random and seemingly uncharacteristic move by Zimmer and Spielman, especially, happening that was the impetus for Norv to wait over a month and then quit while also essentially ensuring that every free agent available, including the punter, would leave?
Granted, resigning mid-season was a very strange and un-Norv like move, so perhaps there was something more personal behind it. I’m going to spend some time delving into this and will have some idea of what could’ve happened on tonight’s Podcast (It should be posted by 10 p.m. Central time). But for those of you that don’t want to wait for that, thankfully, Riki Ellison spoke to the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson on the phone last night to clarify/back-track on his Facebook post:
“Do (free agents) think this program is going in the right direction and a Super Bowl contender or are they in a position to be another start-up, starting up from scratch? That’s why you see your veterans are leaving because they have to look at the future. [The Vikings] should be able to retain anybody they want. There is something going on, from my perspective. Why would people be leaving a brand-new facility (U.S. Bank Stadium)? They got the best facility in the world. … That’s just not a normal thing to happen.’’
Sure. The team has a new facility and it should be a destination for free agents. But, most teams have nice stadiums now, unless you live in New Orleans, so it’s really not the biggest draw in the world especially when your known as the coldest state in the Union. This also sort of back-tracks from the Facebook post, as I said, as it alludes more to what Mr. Ellison “Thinks” than what he knows. He spoke very specifically of an incident or move during the Bye week, it wasn’t speculation as to why free agents left, but rather an explanation as to why players (Including his son) and even the offensive coordinator left.
Now, I totally understand the frustration of not wanting to be stuck on a five year rebuild strategy team. I have been extremely frustrated by the lack of moves that the team has made, both internally and externally since free agency began, as I did believe that before Thursday this team was a good to great offensive line away from being a contender. While things aren’t as bleak as the elder Ellison says (We don’t NEED a number one receiver, it’d be nice to have a different kind of number one guy and to allow Diggs/Thielen to play the number two and three spots, but both almost eclipsed 1,000 yards this season and are more than capable number one guys), either. I do believe that the window is still open, but how wide and for how long will depend on about the next six weeks (The rest of free agency and the draft) and whether or not Adrian Peterson returns (After visiting Seattle today, which might be where he ends up), something I would’ve never said a week ago, but probably would’ve said two weeks ago. I have no credibility, is my point.
Anyway, it seems to me that Riki Ellison was told something by his son both before his social media outbursts and then was probably told by his son after that that no one has ever said, “You know that blocking tight end with the mouthy dad who creates media frenzies for his son’s former employers on Social Media? Yeah, let’s sign him!” So it just seems like he’s back-tracking. Big time. Also considering that he’s tried to twist this by saying that his point was to show how “Positive” his son’s time in Minnesota was, and you get an idea that someone got to him. But then again, there’s also the fact that he’s the only person that we’ve heard this from. But, unfortunately, there really has been some evidence of unrest among the Vikings players and so while I was surprised by the supposed depth of it (As well as at the bleakness of the current Vikings situation as explained by Ellison) it’s not really the first I’ve heard that Zimmer’s style may be a bit too abrasive (Although it did appear that at least at first, or in interviews, players “Appreciated” his bluntness).
I am a pretty big Zimmer fan, personally and it’d sadden me to know that the team wasn’t buying into what he is selling as he truly is a really great coach from a system standpoint and you can’t help but root for the guy. Perhaps he’s too old school for his own good, and it’s been reported that some of what the players didn’t like was how hard he is on them in the media, with an example being Zimmer stating that Barr was “Coasting” at one point last season (Which was true). While one could argue that maybe a head coach shouldn’t mention stuff like that in the media, these are grown men who make a lot of money and if they’re really just upset about the coach stating the truth in the media and having physical practices, then I think that perhaps we’re essentially going to end up in rebuild mode no-matter what. I mean, Zimmer won’t change who he is and so we’ll either need to clean house and find players that are more like Zimmer’s guys, or fire Zimmer and start to rebuild with a new coach. Especially considering the success that this team has had with Zimmer. I also think that his players need to realize that he came up under Bill Parcells, who famously once referred to one of his players, Terry Glenn, as ‘She’ in the media. Considering that Parcells said that he was wrong later on and called Glenn a “winner” shows that perhaps Zimmer can learn the same lessons.
That appears to be the case, as Zimmer also stated (In the article above from ESPN 1500) that he been working hard on improving as a head coach and that:
“I was actually really fortunate this offseason, I guess it’s good and bad, but I had a lot of players come in and talk to me and say, ‘Hey, Coach, we want you to be the best head coach you can be, here’s some things that might help you [with] the way you handle things.’ Not necessarily the schematic things. So when Chad [Greenway] came in, I asked him, ‘What can I do better? Some of those situations that came up, how could I have handled it better?’” Zimmer said.
“I’m just trying to figure out how I can do my job better, I was telling coach [Bill] Parcells the other day, you know, they fire these coaches after two years, I said, ‘A guy doesn’t learn truly how to be a head coach in two years with all the stuff that happens and things that go on.’ So I’m just trying to pick the brains of other coaches.”
Either way, this is really bad news and isn’t something you ever want to hear about your franchise. Especially when it seems to go against everything you thought you knew about the team. Imagine being somewhat optimistic that your team has a shot in 2017 then finding out that not only does the entire team hate the head coach, but that they’re essentially about to rebuild again? While it’d be easy to write that notion off, there’s also a reason why it was said and it is that missing explanation for the free agency exodus that I couldn’t quite put my finger on late last week, so it just concerns me that perhaps the team is on the precipice of starting over once again. However, it does appear that Zimmer is genuinely open to working towards ensuring he is a great coach, not only when it comes to X’s and O’s but with personnel management and morale, which is encouraging. So, hopefully this can still be salvaged and be looked back upon as a bump in the road, or the crazy social media jottings of a guy whose first name is Riki. Which is probably 95% of the truth when it comes to this story and this is all much ado about nothing. It just really couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Stay tuned for more info!