Yesterday was probably one of the most gratifying wins I've had the pleasure to witness as a Vikings fan, at least in recent memory. I know it's only one game out of 16, but there were so many positive things that I saw yesterday that I lost count--efficient offense, stout running game, fierce pass rush, secondary with a heartbeat, solid special teams--the list goes on and on.
But Mike Zimmer has a different view on the game. Listen to what he said in the locker room, right after he was presented the game ball by owner Zygi Wilf:
Listen, I told you before the game how proud of you I am. How hard you've worked. Every day we come in, we bust our rear ends. Now in the first half--we gotta stop beating ourselves, right? We had way too many penalties in that football game. But if we don't do those kind of things do you know how good we can be? We got a tough road now. But at least people know who we are now. OK? And who says that we can't win on the road? Who says that?! It's like seven or nine in a row we can't win on the road? Listen, let's keep it goin' huh? Let's keep it goin'.
Let's take a minute and break this down. If you had just read the first part of that that quote, without knowing anything about the outcome of the game...you could make an argument that the Vikings might have lost that game. It's striking to me for a couple reasons.
For one, it would be easy, if you were Mike Zimmer, to just, you know, relax and enjoy the victory. Now, I'm not saying he didn't, but how many other people would've just given kind of a rah-rah speech and patted themselves on the back? I wouldn't have blamed anyone for doing that, by the way. It was a heck of a win for a guy that had waited more than 20 years to get his first victory as a head coach in the NFL. The amount of personal satisfaction he had to feel is something that few people can imagine. I don't think anyone would have blamed him if he had done that, to be honest.
But Zimmer didn't do that, not at all. No, in the aftermath of a huge win, one that very few people outside the organization saw coming, Zimmer actually challenged his team to get better. But he was pretty ingenious about it.
I've had to take a bunch of classes on leadership and counseling throughout my career. And if you have a feedback session with one of your employees and you need to give them negative information with a plan to get better, the first rule is to start with something positive, get to the bad stuff with corrective action plan on getting better, and end on a positive note. With that in mind, let's parse this a little bit more, shall we?:
I told you before the game how proud of you I am. How hard you've worked. Every day we come in, we bust our rear ends.
Start off with a positive. Check.
we gotta stop beating ourselves, right? We had way too many penalties in that football game. But if we don't do those kind of things do you know how good we can be?
Present the bad stuff with corrective action to get better. Check.
But at least people know who we are now. OK? And who says that we can't win on the road? Who says that?
End on a positive note. Check.
No, Mike Zimmer doesn't care that the Vikings won 34-6. Well, that's unfair. He cares, a lot, but he cares more about moving forward, getting better, and turning road wins like this into the rule, not the exception.
Secondly, his attitude and tone say an awful lot to me. It wasn't matter of fact, but it was restrained, yet still pretty positive about things. When he was talking about the penalties, it wasn't really a butt chewing, it was more of a revelation, like getting his guys to buy in. 'Look, I told you we were going to be good. Maybe you believe me now. But imagine how much better we'll be if you quit with the stupid penalties.'
And he said it with a conviction that makes you know, instinctively, that he's dead on.
I hate making job comparisons to the military and military units, but I am going to in this case. In my years in the Army and then Air Force Special Ops (oh boy, heeeeeere we go) I've been in units that had great commanders, okay commanders, and terrible commanders. The bad/mediocre ones told us everything was fine when we knew it wasn't, and gave us no direction or leadership. Those units were, to no one's surprise, bad units to be in. I couldn't wait until that commander left, or I did.
The great ones, that got us to do things we didn't think we could do, and push us to get better every day, reminded me an awful lot of Zimmer's speech yesterday. It was fun to come to work, it was fun to go into battle with them, and there are days I wish I could go back in time, if only for a little while, and do it all over again.
Listening to Mike Zimmer, he strikes me not only as a good X and O coach, but a master motivator and amateur psychologist. This is a good mix, and at least for right now, he's punching all the right buttons. And I think we're just scratching the surface as to how good this can be.
Eric Thompson contributed a little bit to this. Not enough for me to put his name on the byline, mind you, but he was able to get Zimmer's quote for me off the video, since streaming video is blocked at work. And the quote, you know, was the whole reason for me writing this post, sooooo, yeah. Thanks Eric!