Mike Zimmer on Vikings doubters: 'I love to prove people wrong'

At this time last summer, the Minnesota Vikings were reigning NFC North champions, fresh off an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. With a shiny new $84 million quarterback in tow and immense talent on both sides of the ball, the 2018 Vikes were garnering Super Bowl buzz.

But the Kirk Cousins-led offense proved inconsistent (leading to the midseason firing of coordinator John DeFilippo), the defense receded from its impenetrable 2017 form, and Minnesota missed the playoffs with a highly unsatisfying 8-7-1 record.

Consequently, in the span of a year, Vikings hype has significantly cooled. And that suits head coach Mike Zimmer just fine.

"I love being doubted," Zimmer told NFL Network's Tom Pelissero earlier this offseason in an interview at his ranch in Walton, Kentucky. "I love to prove people wrong. That's the No. 1 thing for me: Prove people wrong."

That effort will need to start up front on the offensive line. As the NFL's 29th-ranked unit last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Minnesota's O-line got some much-needed reinforcements on the interior this offseason: first-round center Garrett Bradbury and free-agent guard Josh Kline. And the unit has a new position coach in Rick Dennison, who'll be working with new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and assistant head coach/zone-blocking maven Gary Kubiak to jump-start the Vikes' attack. Defensively, the Vikings have ranked top-10 in each of the past three seasons in both scoring and total defense. Continuity's key here, and this year's no different, as Minnesota returns 10 starters on that side of the ball (with Shamar Stephen replacing Sheldon Richardson at DT). All in all, the roster appears to be one of the league's most well-rounded. And that's why the heat is most definitely on at this year's training camp in Eagan, Minnesota.

Despite the fact that Zimmer's Vikings have posted the NFC's best winning percentage over the past four seasons (.633, 40-23-1), there's been chatter that this could be a make-or-break year for the head coach and GM Rick Spielman. Zimmer doesn't mind this perception in the slightest.

"Good. Put it on our shoulders," Zimmer said to Pelissero. "Doesn't bother me. Does not bother me. My whole life, I've been the underdog."

Zimmer, who won a Super Bowl as an assistant with the Cowboys and then established himself as one of the NFL's best defensive coordinators, didn't get his first opportunity to be a head coach until age 57. And in a league that's trending younger in the coaching ranks, Zimmer's status as the fourth-oldest head man (behind Pete Carroll, Bill Belichick and Bruce Arians) doesn't go unnoticed. He shot down retirement rumors last December. Now, at age 63, Zimmer doesn't envision hanging up the whistle anytime soon.

"I still feel young and I look young. I haven't really thought about retiring, honestly," Zimmer told Pelissero. "I don't have any doubts I can go to 70."

And the goal remains the same for the man heading this 59-year-old organization without a championship to its name.

"Somebody's gonna win a Super Bowl in Minnesota, and I want it to be me."

Follow Gennaro Filice on Twitter @GennaroFilice.

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