Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says priority is continuity for Kirk Cousins in OC search

EAGAN, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings are prioritizing continuity around quarterback Kirk Cousins and the rest of the offense when they hire their fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons.

At his year-end news conference on Monday, two days removed from a 27-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings will run the "same system" that the team executed under soon-to-be former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who is being hired as the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

"I like the scheme, I like the continuity that we have offensively with the coaches, and I feel like if we add a couple more pieces and continue to work on the execution of staying with the same playcalls, the same system, the same motions and formations and things like that, it'll definitely help the offensive players," Zimmer said.

For the first time, entering his seventh offseason in Minnesota, Zimmer is giving his assistant coaches a week off before reconvening to dissect the season and evaluate players. The Vikings' coach did not set a time frame for deciding on the team's next offensive coordinator.

"It may be by the end of the week, but it may be a couple weeks," Zimmer said. "I want to make sure the fit is right. Those guys over there, they do an outstanding job. I love the way that they work together and communicate, and so if we do bring somebody in from the outside, I want to make sure that it's the correct fit."

Minnesota's offense is built around a zone scheme that featured the fifth-highest percentage of play-action passes run in the NFL in 2019. It's an offense that ranked eighth in scoring and was sixth in yards per attempt while seeing significant improvements in the running and passing games.

Should the Vikings hire from within, assistant head coach Gary Kubiak could replace Stefanski. The franchise brought Kubiak in last offseason to guide the offense with Stefanski while installing core principles from the system he ran over 21 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator. His son Klint, the Vikings' quarterbacks coach, and Rick Dennison, the team's offensive line coach and run game coordinator, are also expected to be in-house candidates.

Maintaining stability around Cousins by keeping the same system is the team's top priority no matter who is at the helm of the offense.

"I think Kirk played a lot better this year than he did the year before," Zimmer said. "I think obviously the scheme helped him quite a bit, and so I think yeah, I think this may have been his best year that he's played in the NFL.

"It'll be his fifth coordinator in five years, I think he told me yesterday, or at least voice in his ear on game day. I mean, there's nothing I can do about that, but I think it's important, not just for Kirk but for the entire offense, to have the same system, the same calls and things like that so that when they come in here on Day 1, it's not completely foreign to them."

The Vikings also need to find a defensive coordinator this offseason. George Edwards, who worked with Zimmer in Dallas from 1998 to 2001 and has been the Vikings' DC since 2014, is not returning next season.

"He was at the end of his contract, so it was kind of a situation where it was probably best," Zimmer said.

Edwards did not call defensive plays while in Minnesota and could be looking for an opportunity to do so elsewhere. The vacancy created by Edwards' departure could lead to an internal search for his replacement. Sources have indicated that linebackers coach Adam Zimmer (Mike's son) and defensive line coach Andre Patterson could be in line to fill the opening.

Mike Zimmer said he spent an hour on the phone with his mentor, Bill Parcells, on Monday morning discussing the areas where the Vikings can improve to reach the next level.

"We've been to the conference championship, we've been to the divisional game, we've been in a wild-card game where we lost by a field goal and just trying to figure out how do we get over this hump of getting to the next level and eventually winning this thing," he said.

Zimmer is under contract through the 2020 season and received the backing of ownership two weeks ago when co-owner Mark Wilf released a statement in support of the Vikings' coach and general manager Rick Spielman amid speculation over Zimmer's future in Minnesota.

Asked whether he anticipates receiving a contract extension this offseason, Zimmer said that now that the season is over, he expects talks about his tenure to begin.

"Like I said a couple weeks ago when we were talking about this, I love these players, this organization," he said. "The owners have been outstanding to me. I believe that there will be conversations here in the near future, and whatever happens, I'm happy with it."