Zygi likes his Vikings
Owner says he's inclined to keep staff, coaches; cites handling of 'adversity'
BY SEAN JENSENPioneer Press
Zygi likes his VikingsOwner says he's inclined to keep staff, coaches; cites handling of 'adversity'BY SEAN JENSENPioneer PressImpressed by his team's ability to rebound from a 2-5 start and get back into playoff contention, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said Wednesday he does not anticipate significant changes to his front office and coaching staffs in the offseason.
"There will be no major overhaul," Wilf said. "We have a great bunch of guys."
Though he repeated that coach Mike Tice's status will not be determined until the season is completed, Wilf had high praise for the front-office and coaching staffs' ability to overcome the boat scandal, the offseason trade of Randy Moss and season-ending injuries to Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper and Pro Bowl center Matt Birk.
"I'm proud of how everyone responded," Wilf said. "What I'm most impressed about is how the players and coaches all stepped up at a time of adversity, which I could never understand as a fan. It makes you feel that much more committed."
Upwards of 34 employees Ã¢â‚¬â€ including the entire coaching staff, player personnel and football administration staff and Rob Brzezinski, the team's vice president of football operations Ã¢â‚¬â€ have contracts that expire during the offseason. Wilf indicated he will consider maintaining continuity after the season.
"Consistency is something that's very important in our consideration of how we move forward," he said. "I think we have that. I think we have a great foundation."
Asked if he likes Tice, Wilf said: "Come on? It's tough not to like each other. We both come from an area that makes us both motivated and competitive. He's very goal-oriented and committed.
"Guys like (Bill) Parcells come from New Jersey," Wilf said of the Dallas Cowboys and former New York Giants coach. "A lot of good leaders come from up here." Wilf said he considered it essential to get familiar with Tice personally and professionally. "His feeling for the game. His analysis and how he goes and reacts," Wilf said, mentioning a few keys. "I'm impressed in the way in which he's been able to bring the team together in times of adversity. I give him, the coaching staff and the whole team a lot of credit."
In responding to Wilf's comments, Tice took a swipe at former owner Red McCombs. "We have worked very hard over the last four years to put together a winning football team, from Rob Brzezinski to Scott Studwell (director of college scouting)," Tice said. "We have done a great job of developing a lot of young players.
"I'm proud of the guys I've worked with. People have to judge what we've done, with what we've been given to deal with. You have a certain agenda that is expected of you, and you have certain tools to accomplish that agenda. Sometimes the tools didn't match up with the agenda. Now, the agenda is the same and the tools are better."
Tice said the new ownership has brought a "positive energy" and an attitude that "they'll do whatever it takes to win." "But we still have a long way to go," Tice said. "This organization still has the lowest-paid people at just about every job. We're still at the bottom of the totem pole (in the NFL). That's not something I've made up. That's fact."
Wilf said he constantly thinks about what to change during the offseason, including whether to add a personnel director or general manager.
But he is reserving those decisions until after the season. He said he did not want to address the contract status of Tice, Brzezinski or anyone else because the team has "had enough distractions."
Wilf said he is growing more comfortable with every facet of the Vikings as he has immersed himself in the daily operations. He said he speaks to Tice and other coaches every day. "I wanted to know our business as quickly as possible," Wilf said. "I got 60 years squeezed into six months. Nonetheless, it's been fun all the way."
Wilf said finances would not hinder the Vikings' ability to add talent. The team is projected to be among the four with the most salary cap space for 2006. "Everyone knows where I want to go," he said. "The financials won't stop me from going where I want to go. We have a lot of talented players here, and we're operating, from a cap standpoint, pretty good. Quite honestly, we're in a good position to improve."
Wilf said he does not want to be too hands-on, noting that he does not aspire to be like Dallas owner Jerry Jones. Asked if he would ever make personnel decisions, Wilf said: "You never know, to tell you the truth. But I don't think so. I'll let the professionals handle it."
Despite Culpepper's uncertain status for 2006, Wilf said the quarterback would be on the team's roster. "Absolutely," Wilf said. "We have the best combination of quarterbacks in the league. Next season, we'll have a Daunte-Brad (Johnson) combination that is unparalleled. "I've seen it with other teams like the Giants, with (Phil) Simms and (Jeff) Hostetler. Brad has shown to be invaluable. That's why I credit the whole organization."
Wilf also is open to the return of running back Onterrio Smith, who was suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
The owner said he cannot meet with Smith for a while, per league rules. But he said if Smith can show he has grown, "He's someone I could see being back on our team," Wilf said. Although the Vikings have not made strides in their stadium effort, Wilf said his team will begin a public relations campaign next month. He also is optimistic that the team will work out an extension with Anoka County when their stadium agreement ends this month. "We're working on it," he said. "But we're both confident that we can extend.