MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Tuesday, Jan. 5, that he will not renew the contract of special-teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf, and that offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is still pondering his future.
Pro Football Talk reported Monday that Kubiak plans to retire.
Maalouf’s two-year contract expired after a season full of Vikings struggles on special teams.
“Marwan’s contract ran out, so I told him I was not going to renew it,” Zimmer said on a Zoom call in his end-of-season news conference. “We obviously didn’t play very well (on special teams).”
During a season in which the Vikings went 7-9 and missed the playoffs, the defense also struggled, but the offense flourished. The Vikings finished No. 4 in the NFL in total offense, their highest ranking since they were No 4 in 2004. However, Zimmer said Kubiak, 59, is still deciding whether or not he will return.
“He’s taking some time to mentally think about the season and where he’s at healthwise, and then he’ll decide what he wants to do,” Zimmer said
Zimmer did not give a timetable on when Kubiak will make a decision. He pointed to the challenges faced during the season against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I love Gary Kubiak,” he said. “He’s an unbelievable person, unbelievable coach, a great ear to me. I love sitting there talking to him. We’re both kind of the same kind of 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 just see how that unfolds as we move forward. He’s the best I’ve ever been around. Terrific person, great coach.”
Zimmer would not speculate on possible replacements for Kubiak, but did say he plans to keep the offensive scheme the Vikings have been running. Quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook, and wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen all flourished in the system.
“For the first time in my seven years (as Vikings coach), I thought we had a very, very explosive offense,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got a lot of good players over there… I love the scheme we’re running offensively, I love the wide zone offense, I love the play-action passes.”
The special teams, though, struggled in all aspects. After a good start, Dan Bailey missed 10 kicks in the final five games. Britton Colquitt’s net punting average slipped from 42.7 yards in 2019 to 38.0 in 2020. And the Vikings gave up big returns on kickoffs and punts, and had few explosive returns of their own.
“A lot of the guys that should have been playing on special teams were playing on defense, but we are going to shore up that area,” Zimmer said of reserves thrust into defensive roles because of injuries. “That will be a major emphasis.”
Zimmer said it was too early to discuss hiring a replacement for Maalouf, who took over in 2019 when Mike Priefer left for a similar position with Cleveland.
“I have to take some time to evaluate who’s available, who’s not available, guys here in the building,” Zimmer said.
Other than Maalouf being out and the possibility of Kubiak retiring, Zimmer doesn’t foresee other coaching changes. He said having co-defensive coordinators for the first time in Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson went “fine,” and he noted that he continued to call the defensive plays.
But it was by far Zimmer’s worst defensive season in his Vikings tenure. The Vikings finished 27th in the NFL in total defense and 29th in scoring defense. The 475 points they allowed were the third-most in the franchise’s 60-year history. Zimmer’s previous worst defensive rankings with Minnesota were No. 14 in total defense and No. 11 in scoring defense.
“I think if you look at the track record of the past seven years, we’ve been pretty solid defensively,” said Zimmer, whose Vikings had gone 10-6 in 2019 and won a playoff game. “So I do think we need to look at everything in that aspect. 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.”
Zimmer acknowledged he “probably miscalculated some things going into the season” when the Vikings lost so many players on defense. Because Zimmer wanted the Vikings defense to get younger and ease their salary-cap issues, top players who did not return included defensive end Everson Griffen, nose tackle Linval Joseph, and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes.
Not bringing back a number of talented veterans hampered the Vikings’ defensive depth during a season in which they had injuries to stars Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and to numerous cornerbacks.
Rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler ended up being the starters at cornerback, and had their share of growing pains. And the Vikings were never able to generate much of a pass rush, getting just 23 sacks compared to 48 in 2019.
“A priority for me is that we continue to get more pass rushers,” Zimmer said.
Overall, Zimmer said there is much to do, and he’s determined to turn things around.
“I’m going to work like crazy on getting a couple of areas fixed and coming back with a vengeance,” he said.