Mike Zimmer had his end of season press conference today, and certainly there was a lot in it- some news, some insights- so I thought I’d do a transcript that sometimes can make it easier to review everything that was said than simply listening to it. Also some good questions (in bold), and Zimmer’s opening remarks and responses on how the season went, what’s on tap for the off-season, and other things.
Mike Zimmer’s End of Season Press Conference Transcript
Okay, you know obviously it was a disappointing season, we didn’t get to where we wanted to go, but there were some good things, you know, for the first time in my seven years I thought we had a very, very explosive offense. We got a lot of good players over there, I think Kirk had a really good season, played better all along, had some big moments in some big games. Obviously Dalvin Cook is a tremendous football player, you know some of the young guys, obviously Justin Jefferson… some of the young guys got a lot of valuable experience throughout the course of the season, including a lot of the guys on defense. And we’re looking forward to getting back to, getting a lot of these guys back that missed a large portion of the season, but we’re gonna work like crazy on getting a couple areas fixed, and come back with a vengeance.
Hey Mike with the offense, do you have any expectation with Gary Kubiak entering next year, and what do you think of the job he did this year?
Well, let me say this first: I love Gary Kubiak, he’s an unbelievable person, he’s an unbelievable coach, a great ear to me, I love sitting there talking to him, ha, we’re both kinda the same kinda guys… I know he’s had some health issues in the past… I think it’s always good to take some time and think about where you’re at and mentally and physically- obviously this year was a major mental and physical drain on all of us, including the players, so we’ll see how that unfolds as we move forward, but [he’s] the best I’ve been around, terrific person, great coach, and I loved having him. So we’ll see. We’ll see how he’s doing.
Is he giving consideration to retiring then- Gary- and if so when will he decide by?
He’s taking some time to mentally think about the season and where he’s at health-wise, and then he’ll decide what he wants to do.
Mike, about halfway through the season you said you wanted your young secondary to go from kindergarten to the masters program, I guess where do you think they ended up at the final part of the 2020 season?
Well, you know I think the biggest thing- we had so many guys in and out of there at corner, you know, like this last ballgame where guys that weren’t even here at the beginning of training camp, so if you’re speaking specifically on Dantzler and Gladney I think they got invaluable experience, I think it’s only going to help them, they have a lot of work to do in the off-season, with the strength and size factors they need to get better at, but they both have a chance to be very, very good players, I like ‘em both, Dantzler was obviously hurt too much, so he’s got to continue to get stronger, he’s gotta continue to get more body weight, and you know Gladney was able to play throughout the whole course of the year, he needs to take a break and then get back with it. So, but these guys have a chance to be good players, and it’s just that, I don’t think, they would be as far along next year as if they didn’t play all of the plays that they did this past season, so I think it’ll be really good for them in the long run.
Mike, how do you feel the defensive coordinator arrangement worked in its first year?
I thought it was fine. I mean, you know, I do a lot of that work over there anyway, so we didn’t play as good defensively as we wanted to, but those guys were, they helped me a lot, you know, Andre and Adam both, and really Daronte Jones is a terrific coach, so I think it worked out fine, we just have to play better defensively, and you know try to stay healthy obviously.
Did you continue to call all the plays?
Mike, obviously when the team doesn’t make the playoffs, there’s gonna be some changes in the off-season. How would you characterize it? Is it your roster and philosophy need a major overhaul, a minor overhaul, a tweak, or where do you think you’re at there?
Well Joe, I think if you look at the track record over the past seven years, you know we’ve been pretty solid defensively. So, you know, I do think we need to look at everything in that aspect, I think we have to get much better on special teams, but I do believe offensively, we’ve gotten to the point where we have a chance to be a really, really good football team. And now if we can get the guys back that we had injured this year, we continue to look at things, how people are trying to affect us defensively, come up with some ideas, you know, one of the things I like to do in the spring, in OTAs, and hopefully we have them, is experiment with different players in different positions, experiment with different alignments, different schemes, and things like that, that I think about, and obviously we weren’t able to do that this year because we didn’t have any, so we had to right into going that. So hopefully we have some OTAs and we, I can continue to experiment and, you know, for instance, some of the linebackers that were playing when Barr went out, you know, they were never even here for training camp, so trying to get them to see okay can this guy blitz, can he blitz against a back, can he blitz against an offensive tackle, can he cover a tight end, can he in man-to-man, and all those different things that you not able to really look at, that I try to do the entire time during OTAs, and I wasn’t able to do, so I’m not making an excuse, you know, it’s what we had, but that’s just the way it was.
And with that said about the offense, you mentioned the explosive offense, and how well it played this year, how important will continuity be to you, if you had to make a change there this off-season at the top?
Well, let’s not deal with ‘what-ifs’ yet, let’s wait and see what happens, and we can figure all that stuff out. But I will say this: I love the scheme that we’re running offensively, I love the wide-zone offense, I love the play-action passes, all those things has been, you know, a coach told me one time, your offense should be what your quarterback is best at, and that’s what I feel like Kirk is best at, those kinda things is what makes him really good, and so, to me, that is really important.
Mike, do you feel you need to bring in some more veterans on defense? Or the young players getting more mature and the others coming back from injury, coupled with the draft – do you think that will be enough?
I don’t know, we’re gonna look at everything, you know we’re still in the process of evaluating all the players, and all the things that we have to do, obviously salary cap is an issue, it could be an issue, where we’re at as far as injuries, guys coming back from last year, so we’ll look at all those areas, we’ll look at the free agency, we’ll look at the draft, we’ll look at our players, and try to figure out the best way to handle this, but, you know, I think if you said will Kendricks, Barr, Hunter, and Pierce are coming back, I think that is gonna improve us automatically. But, you know, and again, you know I probably miscalculated some things going into the season, you know when we lost all the guys that we lost the year before- the two corners, the nickel back, the backup safety, the backup defensive end, starting defensive end, starting nose tackle, um, I’m sure there’s more that I can’t remember, but you know we had a complete overhaul on defense and, you know, sometimes that happens when you get to year seven.
Coach, when you think about just earlier, I guess in the spring and summer when there was so much uncertainty about this season even happening, getting all the way through it with Covid-19, I guess what are your thoughts on how the team navigated that part of it, and just being able to complete all of your games?
Yeah, well there was so much uncertainty Lindsay going into the season – are we gonna play, are we not gonna play? Are we gonna, how are we gonna handle the pandemic? I’m really proud of our guys and how they handled their business, you know obviously we got a lotta help and input from Eric Sugarman, and Rick on the things that we could do- the virtual meetings, you know everything was, for everybody not just us, but was completely new, dealing with all that, I mean, you know, no one would ever thought that we would be trying to play football in the way that we ended up doing it this year, but I’m extremely proud of our guys, the way that they went about their business, and worked like crazy. You know I was talking to one player yesterday, and, you know, people don’t realize some of the other factors that are going on in their lives, not just the pandemic and playing football, but some of the, uh, outside influences that they have to deal with, with their families being in the pandemic, or families being without jobs, and areas like that that, you know, there’s a lot on these young guys, and the way they handled it I was really proud of them.
Mike, do you feel like you need to shore up the 3-technique position going into free agency? I know obviously that’s a big, important position in your defense, you know with some of the guys that can take some of the double-teams off of guys and all that – is that something that’s a priority for you?
A priority for me is that we continue to get more pass rushers. You know, I’ve always said since the day I walked in here that you gotta have people that can cover, and you gotta have people who can rush. And, you can, like we’ve done in the past, we’ve had Brian Robison line up in there and rush the passer, or Stephen Weatherly, or a whole bunch of different guys that can do different things, so we need people that can rush the quarterback, and whether it’s a linebacker or corner or safety, you gotta have guys that can cover in today’s NFL, and so that makes a big difference.
How is Danielle Hunter doing, and do you expect to have him back next season?
Yeah, I do. He’s doing well. You know he’s on track to wherever he’s supposed to be, so you know, I think he thinks he’s gonna be able to come back and be better than he was before, but you know, we gotta get back and that’s the other thing for all these players, I think we gotta have a good plan for, especially these young guys, the Dantzlers, and the Gladneys, and the Troy Dyes, and you know, the Ezra Clevelands, you know, D.J. Wonnum, all these guys we need to have a great program for ‘em in this off-season so they come back here and, like I told them yesterday, I believe its, now that they’ve learned how to get through an NFL season, that’s gonna help them as well, ‘cause it’s a little different than when you’re playing college football, and your playing ten or eleven games, and your not playing against the same kinda people that your playing every single Sunday, and trying to get your body ready for the next week, and all the rigors, I guess, of playing in an NFL season.
Mike, given some of the special teams issues this year, will you make any changes with the coaching staff and the special teams group?
Yeah, Marwan’s contract ran out and so I told him I was not going to renew it.
Just with that group overall this year, what do you think led to some of the struggles overall?
Yeah, I really don’t want to get into the specifics too much on that, but we obviously didn’t play very well, a lot of those guys that probably should have been playing on special teams, were playing on defense. So, we’re gonna shore up that area, and that’ll be a major emphasis as well.
Are there any other coaches that you let go?
Ah, no Mark.
My other question is the offensive line, and is it good enough to get where you want to go?
Well, I do think the offense- those guys battled their rear-ends off all year. You know I think you’re always going to continue to look to improve that area, you know we’ve got to, really there’s no area we’re not gonna look to improve, and those guys – I think Riley Reiff had a heck of a year, you know, O’Neill’s got a chance to be an extremely, really good player, Bradbury is a good player, he got, you know, he was dinged up a little bit this season, but he’s a tough kid, never says anything, doesn’t want to miss any time, so you know, and I think Cleveland has a chance to be a good player, and Dakota battled his rear-end off, so you know, I do like that group, the continuity that they have, the communications that they have, you know, I like that group so we’ll just have to see, but if we can improve, we’re gonna improve.
Mike, how was this season just on you personally, you know, I mean I know it was your first losing season since 2014, and then with the defensive struggles, and that sort of thing, how was the season personally on you?
Like a normal NFL season.
Mike, do you think with Cleveland moving inside to right guard is that where you envison him staying for 2021- do you know yet?
Well, it’s been, what, 28 hours since we played a game, can we evaluate where guys are in the draft, and where we’re gonna go from there, and see where we’re gonna put the players, you know there’s a lotta time between now and then so I can’t tell you exactly where guys are gonna line up at this particular point. All I can tell you is about where they played last year and how they played.
Coach with so much scoring up this year, do you think the lack of fans in most venues, or limited, really hindered some defensive ability to either rush the passer, or maybe keep a few more points off the board, and then took away the home field advantage that you and the team have worked to create here?
Well, I do think that, you know, we certainly miss the fans at US Bank stadium and the way that they, and we look forward to having them back next year, I think that’d be great for us, you know I think this was the highest scoring season in NFL history, which, you know, there’s gotta be something to do with the pandemic and getting defenses ready to play, and you know, all the different things, because, you know, I just think that’s how it was, but I think the scoring will come down next year, just my personal opinion, I think it will come down, especially if we have a normal off-season, I think this thing will get back under control, I know the penalties were way down this year, there was a lotta things that were, you know, um, that teams got away with is the best way to say it.
Mike, can you put your finger on why you’ve been able to bounce back from non-playoff seasons and then every year of your tenure you’ve been able to make it the next year – do you know what’s the key to getting a team back to that place?
Well, I think if you look at the history, every year that we’ve had- we’ve had 130 missed games to defensive players that were on IR this year. We had 8 missed games on offense this year- offensive players on IR this year. If you look at the statistics on when he have high injury totals, those are the years that have been the down years. When we’ve had, when we’ve stayed healthy, we’ve played really well. But you can look at the injuries- Sug gave me a thing on that the other day. It’s like, I mean it’s very glaring.
Mike, are injuries a factor into finishing a season strong? I know if you look at the last couple of years, your team hasn’t won as many games in December as you won earlier in the season, is that part of injuries, is that part of something you have to look at?
I probably need to look at it. You know, a lotta times you know it’s easy to say all those things Joe, but you know a lotta times it depends on who you’re playing. You know it depends on the team that you’re playing, the schedule, you know, how many night games on the west coast are you playing, there is so many different factors that can go into it, but yeah, I don’t think you can concrete say oh well, we didn’t play good at the end of the year. I mean there’s been, I don’t know, last year we did some things at the end of the year, but I don’t remember.
Mike, you mentioned that there’s a lot to work on after a season like this. I guess what’s at the top of your list right now?
To evaluate the players. That’s the first thing- to evaluate all the players in the program, and kinda decide which ones are developmental, which ones we can win with, which ones are, gonna move forward with, that’ll be the number one thing and once we get there then we’ll start evaluating systems, plays, and obviously if there’s some coaching things that’ll be high on the list. So, you know, just normal stuff.
What are your plans to replace Marwan? Could you possibly go inside for that position, or will this be an extensive search, or what exactly are you looking at there?
Again, this is 24 hours after the game, or whatever it is, so I have to take some time to evaluate who’s available, who’s not available, guys here in the building, and we’ll go from there. We’ll do like we always do.
Mike you had 10 games this season that were decided by one possession or less. Did it feel like kinda every game came down to the wire and what do you think the team can learn from that going forward?
Well I think that’s typical – usually in the NFL each game is gonna come down to one possession, usually. I do think these guys, especially these young guys, being in these kind of, tight ball games, I think the experience of them having to do that will help them be better in those situations, I know I wasn’t able to work on those things as much as in the past- usually every day in OTAs, every day we go out there, we work on end of game situations, and, you know, with the shortened time we weren’t able to do it near as much. But those are the things that we all have to continue to do.
Mike you said that week 17, depending on the outcome, you know hoping to leave a good taste in your mouth, seeing Alexander Mattison and what he did in the finale, and just knowing how much workload Dalvin took on this year, does that give you the confidence to know that, next year, if you want to spell Dalvin a little bit, or more preserve him in certain moments, that you have a backup running back that can step up and do similar to what Dalvin does?
Well, I didn’t need to see that do know that Alexander can do those things. I’ve seen him play, and he’s a good back, so he needs to stay healthy obviously, which would help those situations, you know he missed some time- he got a concussion on special teams I believe – but yeah I think it’s important that we monitor Dalvin’s workload and as we go forward. But as I said before, you know at the end of the ballgame, we need our best players in the game. And Dalvin’s not only one of our best players, he’s one of the best players in the NFL.