Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s coaching circle is about the size of a needle’s eye. I’d like to say that’s surprising for a guy who has been around as long as Zimmer has, but he’s also an old-school, “my-way-or-the-highway” kind of guy, so it’s not a shock that he doesn’t exactly employ progressive hiring practices.
Following the retirement of OC Gary Kubiak, whom I’ve argued is one of the most underrated coaches in modern NFL history, Zimmer stayed in house for the Vikings’ new play-calling hire. More specifically, he stayed in Kubiak’s house, promoting Kubiak’s son, Klint Kubiak, from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Kubiak has been the QB coach in Minnesota each of the last two seasons.
That means that the coordinators in Minnesota are now Kubiak’s kid on offense and Zimmer’s own son, Adam Zimmer, on defense (where he shares DC duties with Andre Patterson).
While it’s clearly fair to poke fun at or question Zimmer’s hiring protocol, it also makes sense that he’d want some continuity for the Vikings’ offense given it ranked 4th in total yardage and 8th in FootballOutsiders DVOA in 2020, including 6th in rush DVOA (which is exactly what Zimmer likes to see). After all, it was Zimmer’s own defense that was the problem in Minnesota this year — 18th in DVOA and 30th against the run, a defense Zimmer himself called “the worst” he’s ever coached (if only there was something he could do about it…).
Kubiak, 33, was a four-year player as a safety at Colorado State, graduating in 2009. He immediately got into coaching, but didn’t work for his father until 2016, when the elder Kubiak was in Denver. That was at the behest of Gary, who wanted his son to learn from others before working for dad.
However, that doesn’t mean Kubiak is going to run a wildly different offense. He’s spent the last five seasons picking his dad’s brain, and I seriously doubt they have serious disagreements about how to call plays. Everything will be based around the zone run game and play action, and the emphasis is almost certain to be on the run.
Remember, Zimmer fired John DeFilippo midway through the 2018 season in large part because he threw the ball too much. So while Kubiak, as The Athletic’s Chad Graff asserts, might be more aggressive than pops on 2nd-and-long and might have more modern thoughts on the passing game, this offense will look schematically very similar. That was the goal for Zimmer, clearly.
Graff’s piece at The Athletic linked above does a good job trying to differentiate Klint from his father, and where he might be different. Perhaps the Vikings are more willing to let veteran TE Kyle Rudolph walk in favor of Irv Smith, who came on in a big way late. Maybe Kubiak will throw it a little more aggressively on early downs, but we also have to remember Zimmer is the CEO here, and he’s a very hands-on CEO.
This bodes well for Dalvin Cook, who will get some buzz as the #1 overall fantasy pick in 2021 given the continuity here. Obviously, Justin Jefferson is a rising star who will be in the mix for a top-16 fantasy selection, and Adam Thielen is one of the best veteran receivers in football.
Of course, there’s always the chance the Vikings try to trade QB Kirk Cousins, which Graff writes they aren’t actively pursuing but the subject continues to come up. As of now, I’m leaning into the most likely outcome: that, personnel-wise, this offense looks extremely similar to last year from both a personnel and a design perspective.
Hopefully, Minnesota can get stronger up front, which it has been trying to do for a while. That will go a long way to helping Kubiak the Younger succeed in his first year as a play-caller.