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Hartman: Wilf family is doing all it can to win a title for Vikings

Minneapolis Star Tribune logo Minneapolis Star Tribune 5/18/2019 By Sid Hartman, Star Tribune
a group of people standing on top of a grass covered field: Vikings owner Zygi Wilf left a December game at U.S. Bank Stadium applauding, but last season didn’t always go that well. © Star Tribune/Star Tribune/CARLOS GONZALEZ/Star Tribune/TNS Vikings owner Zygi Wilf left a December game at U.S. Bank Stadium applauding, but last season didn’t always go that well.

May 18--When the Wilf family decided to extend the contracts of both coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman this offseason, it did so with good reason even after the Vikings had a disappointing 2018 season, one that started with Super?Bowl aspirations and ended with the club missing the postseason.

Since Zimmer and Spielman teamed up in 2014, the Vikings have posted the third-best winning percentage in the NFC and easily the best in the NFC North at .594 (47-32-1).

But there is no question those contract extensions came with a caveat that this team had to make some big changes heading into 2019 after the Wilfs invested $477 million in U.S. Bank Stadium and at least $90 million in the TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

On top of that, the Vikings had the third-highest payroll in football in 2018, and they are currently carrying the fifth-highest payroll in the league for 2019 at $190.6 million.

Disappointment led to action

Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf said that when the Vikings lost their final regular-season game to the Bears, thus missing the playoffs, the ownership group knew major changes had to happen. But he said it also felt like the Vikings had the right people in place to make those changes.

“Well, it was a disappointing season,” Wilf, also the team president, said last week. “We didn’t like the way it ended and it was a bitter taste in all of our months and we got right to work the day after that game. Coach Zimmer, Rick Spielman, the whole organization has had a plan, and we’re executing it and we like the changes, so far.”

Wilf said that for a team with such a solid core group of players, this offseason has seen a tremendous amount of change.

“We had a real busy offseason, did a lot in both free agency and the draft, and I think we’re set up well for the months ahead and the season ahead,” Wilf said. “We’re in a good direction. We like our team, busy with practices and the next phase of OTAs are next week. It’s the next step in the process.”

Wilf said he was excited by the group of rookie talent Spielman and his staff were able to acquire in the draft. He noted that the team went from starting the draft with only six selections to ending up with 12.

“The draft, very pleased with it. We got 12 good players in the draft,” Wilf said. “As always, we were very active in the free-agency part after the draft, so on all fronts we shored up a lot of areas that needed improvement and we have some really good people, good athletes, that we brought in.”

High expectations for 2019

There is no doubt the Wilfs and the Vikings front office were both pleased with some aspects of Kirk Cousins’ performance in 2018 but also know the only way for him to earn his contract -- which will pay him $29 million in 2019, the second-highest total in the NFL behind only Detroit’s Matthew Stafford -- is a playoff run.

“I think a year under his belt here in Minnesota and his familiarity with everything is going to bode well,” Mark Wilf said. “He’s doing great. We expect a lot out of him as well as our whole team.”

What are his expectations as the team gets ready to start OTAs? “We expect a lot better season, and we’re working hard every day,” Wilf said. “I know our coaches, and staff, and players are working hard and getting ready for the season.”

Coyle on MIAC, St. Thomas

When current Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle was named the AD at Boise State in 2011, the school was in the process of trying to figure out what conference its football program would play in while also trying to determine what the move of the football program meant for their remaining sports and student-athletes.

Coyle said that his experience at that time was similar to what St.?Thomas AD Phil Esten is going through right now as the MIAC considers kicking the Tommies out of the conference because of their continued dominance in several sports.

Coyle also happens to know Esten from when they worked together briefly for the Gophers in 2004 and from Esten’s time as the deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer for Penn State.

“What I can relate to is my first year at Boise State, back in 2012, that’s when Boise State was looking at joining the Big East in football,” Coyle recalled. “We were in the Mountain West in all of our other sports, but the Mountain West said we couldn’t stay there and be a football member. I think I went to league meetings with the Big West, the Big East, the Mountain West, the Western Athletic Conference and the Big Sky Conference. I think I had conversations with all of those conferences trying to find a home for our Olympic sports.

“I know those aren’t easy conversations, and I know Phil will do a phenomenal job leading St. Thomas through some of the challenges they’re going through with respect to their conference affiliation.”

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. •


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