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Updated: July 24th, 2014 5:37pm
Zulgad: Spielman's future as GM likely will depend on how Zimmer fares

Zulgad: Spielman's future as GM likely will depend on how Zimmer fares

Audio Clip
Sports Over Beers, episode 25: Vikings camp stories, reminiscing
The Sports Over Beers podcast explores the Mankato experience for Vikings training camp, focusing on what happens after practice. What are the bars and things a first-timer should be looking to do at Vikings training camp? One of Phil Mackey’s more embarrassing stories in his time covering athletes. -- Five Lessons for a first-time training camp attendee. Five restaurants to check out during camp. An explanation of #MrMankato. A Jay Glazer story. A prank story between Keith Millard and Monte Kiffin.
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by Judd Zulgad

MANKATO -- The opening of Vikings' training camp on Friday won't only be a big day for Mike Zimmer. It will be equally as important for general manager Rick Spielman.

While Zimmer, a longtime NFL assistant, will begin his first season as a head coach, Spielman will be running a team that finally has his hand-picked coach in place.

Zimmer, 58, was hired in January to replace Leslie Frazier, who was promoted from interim to permanent coach after going 3-3 following Brad Childress' firing in November 2010. Spielman was vice president of player personnel at the time and did not receive the general manager title until after the Vikings completed a 3-13 season in 2011.

This gave Spielman a say over all football matters, including the 53-man roster. But Spielman did not get authority to change coaches until the Vikings finished 5-10-1 last season.

The mild-mannered Frazier was an easy fall guy after the Vikings went from a playoff team in 2012 to last place in the NFC North. But starting today, this is all Spielman's baby, meaning he will be celebrated if Zimmer has success. Spielman's job, however, will be in jeopardy if the Vikings don't show progress.

Spielman already has a strike against him, considering he gets the blame for picking Christian Ponder 12th overall in the 2011 draft. But Spielman attempted to hit the reset button on the quarterback position by taking Teddy Bridgewater with the last pick in the May draft after making a trade with Seattle.

It remains to be seen when Bridgewater will take over the starting role. That will be up to Zimmer and veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who replaced Bill Musgrave.

Spielman will have input into Bridgewater's status on the depth chart, but in many ways he will be banking on Zimmer to make the right moves.

To say that Zimmer is more fiery than Frazier is the ultimate understatement - players heard more foul language from Zimmer during offseason camps than they did from Frazier during in his entire tenure in Minnesota - but the Vikings will get their first real feel for what type of coach Zimmer will be on Friday.

"I am very excited to watch him get on the field," Spielman said.

It will be interesting to see what type of approach Zimmer takes, given he's replacing a guy who, fair or not, was seen as being a players' coach. Brad Childress arrived in 2006 with a no-nonsense approach and put players through a training camp that many regarded as one of the toughest they had ever encountered.

In fact, the new collective bargaining agreement means that even if Zimmer wanted to run that difficult of camp he couldn't. But that doesn't mean the former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator won't attempt to put his stamp on things.

"I appreciate this opportunity every single day," Zimmer said. "There are times in this time off (in the last month) that I've said to myself, 'You have to be the head coach now.' That's one of the things (former NFL coach Bill) Parcells texted me about the other day. He said make sure everyone knows you're the head coach, not just the defensive coordinator or a figurehead of anything like that.

"When I get out on the practice field that's where I feel most comfortable. It's what I love to do. I love to teach. I love to coach. Once I get out there I won't have any time to think about anything else. I'll be going full speed."

Zimmer clearly is confident that will be enough to have success as a head coach. Spielman's future likely depends on his hand-picked coach being correct. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd