ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Mike Zimmer is a long-time defensive coordinator who became a head coach. Gary Kubiak is a long-time offensive coordinator who was a head coach.
Match wits enough times against a guy and you come to respect him, maybe even admire him.
Zimmer’s Minnesota Vikings were a disappointment last year, missing the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record that was largely blamed on their offense that finished 20th in total yards and 19th in scoring.
And so Zimmer hired Kubiak and his coaching assistant posse – quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, offensive line coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani – and the Vikings are 7-3 with an offense ranked No. 8 in yards and No. 9 in scoring going into their home game Sunday against Kubiak’s former Broncos.
“The biggest thing is every time my teams competed against his, they were so well coached, they played great, the style that they ran I thought was outstanding,’’ Zimmer said in a conference call Wednesday morning with the Denver media. “And I could never beat him, really. I just felt like it’d be a great fit for our offense and for our staff.
"I love how Gary is a very non-ego person. He just fits in with everybody. He says what he thinks and he’s been outstanding for us.”
With Kubiak overseeing the offense, the Vikings are getting league-leading rushing from running back Dalvin Cook and improved quarterback play from Kirk Cousins, who ranks No. 3 in passer rating.
Kubiak became available only after a falling out with the Broncos over a disagreement on his assistant coaches. Zimmer welcomed those assistants – again, Dennison, Pariani and Klint Kubiak.
“They had all been together previously, not just in Denver but in Baltimore as well and Klint was here with me before,’’ Zimmer said. “It really helped a lot. I think the transition was much, much smoother. It did take us a little time to get going, but I feel like it’s’ really going in the right direction and hopefully it will continue.”
Like Zimmer, Vic Fangio is a longtime defensive coach turned head coach. Fangio’s Broncos are 3-6 but three losses came on last-second field goals and they are 3-2 since an 0-4 start.
The Broncos rank No. 4 in the league in yards allowed and No. 7 in scoring defense.
“They’re playing great defense, for sure, that’s no surprise with Vic,’’ Zimmer said. “He’s a great defensive coach, has been a great defensive coach and he’s doing a great job there.
“I think you’re really starting to see the things that they can do defensively. They look very much, defensively, like Chicago did a year ago. They do a great job disguising in the back end, they’re very physical upfront, they’ve got the outside rushers and they have fast linebackers. It looks really similar to what Chicago did a year ago.”
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