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Updated: July 31st, 2012 6:33pm
Zygi Wilf expects Vikings to be NFC North champs despite terrible 2011

Zygi Wilf expects Vikings to be NFC North champs despite terrible 2011

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. - Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has high hopes for his team despite a 3-13 finish last season that prompted Wilf to promote Rick Spielman to general manager and give him authority over the 53-man roster.

"I expect to be (NFC North) division champs," Wilf said Tuesday as the Vikings went through an afternoon practice. "I want to be able to fight for the division, as we always did every year, and get better for years to come. That's always been our goal and it's been the goal since the first day I came here."

If that really is what Wilf expects, then that puts big-time pressure on coach Leslie Frazier. Frazier is entering the second year of a three-year deal he received after the Vikings went 6-10 in 2010. Frazier took over as interim coach for Brad Childress in November of that season.

"Leslie's been working very hard, together with Rick," Wilf said. "The first time for a long time, I've seen a coordination between both personnel director, a general manager as we've named him, and Leslie. I think (with them) working together (it gives) us the best chance of putting the right guys on the field and being competitive. I have great high hopes for both of them."

Asked what he needs to see from Frazier this season, Wilf said: "Continued determination to stay competitive and know that our players have to buy into what he's teaching and the system. I think after the young guys learn from the veterans and learn from the coaches, I think we're going to get to where we want to go."

Wilf declined to say whether Frazier needed to reach a certain number of victories to return in 2013. The Vikings are picked to finish last in the NFC North by most and Spielman has turned the roster into one of the youngest in the NFL.

"I'm not making any (victory) benchmarks," for Frazier, Wilf said. "I'm expecting a winning season. Like I said, I'm expecting to challenge for the division. So, eveyrone starts out 0-0, even score and I'm looking forward to the upcoming season."

Wilf, who was in town for the second and final day of the annual training camp ownership meetings, also answered a variety of other questions, many of which involved the team's new stadium.

Q. What are your impressions of the team?

A. "They're looking energized, young, we have a lot of veterans. They're teaching the younger guys and we're looking forward to a great season ahead."

Q. Can you tell us where you are at in terms of the stadium and your thoughts for the plan?

A. "Certainly it was a great relief after working very hard for the last seven years. We'd like to thank the governor and all the legislative leaders for making this possible. This was something that all fans and most people in Minnesota wanted to happen. Looking back right now over the last couple of months certainly it was a greater burden than I thought because I feel very much relieved that for generations to come our fans here in Minnesota will enjoy Vikings football here."

Q. Where are you at in terms of the potential for a retractable roof?

A. "Right now, as you know, we're just formulating hiring our consultants, working with the (Stadium) Authority to work on the design. So we're in the early stages. We're going to try our best to get the retractable roof and we're going to have certainly a retractable element. It's going to be a (state) of the art stadium and it's going to be something that everybody in Minnesota can be proud of."

Q. When do you see the ground being broken and when do we see the final plans for the stadium?

A. "The plans will evolve over the next year. We're shooting for having the season opening in the new stadium in 2016. Certainly over the next year as we design and work with the authority and get everybody on board there's going to be a lot of hard work between now and then."

Q. Do you have a date yet that you want to start getting the digging going for the stadium?

A. "We have a time schedule, a time chart, I can't remember all the dates. But believe me, there are thousands of things to do before we get to breaking ground."

Q. Within the next year?

A. "Yes, there are a lot of things to do to prepare ourselves both from the (Stadium) Authority standpoint and from the Vikings standpoint. Have to hire the right consultants and designers and architects and there's a lot of work before we can break ground. But we're confident the time schedule will be met."

Q. What do you think of the perception this team is rebuilding?

A. "Certainly we have a lot of veterans on board and they're going to have to teach a lot of the younger guys. We've become a much younger team, and I don't know if you want to call it rebuilding or whatever. But certainly we're going to be improving and the young guys are going to get in the system (and) under Coach Frazier's leadership and Rick Spielman's direction, we're going to get better and we're going to be competitive and we're going to fight for the divison."

Q. Do you feel like you have to take the mentality of just being a little bit more patient given the youth on the team?

A. "Absolutely. Things don't happen overnight. There's going to be ups-and-downs, as we certainly have had them in the first seven years of ownership, but you have to be patient. As we were patient with the stadium, we're going to be patient and we're going to work hard to getting a championship ballclub."

Q. What about this team makes you believe you can compete?

A. "Well, for the first time in years we've had a full draft class. And between this year and last year, we've gotten a lot of great rookies coming on board and I think the youth will really help us, together with the veterans, the star veterans that we have, will make us a much better team."

Q. How tough was it to see this franchise go 3-13 last season?

A. "It's never easy to go through losses. It's never easy to go through a season like that. Since we became ownership, we've had ups and downs and somebody asked before, to be patient is necessary because it's a tough league, tough competition and our time will come as it did in the past. We're going to keep on fighting for that championship."

Q. What are the future plans for your Winter Park facility in Eden Prairie now that the stadium in downtown Minneapolis has been approved?

A. "We're working on the improving the facility as we did in the past. We're looking at options of what we can do on site to improve the facility, but it's going to be a goal together with the state to get that improved."

Q. What do you want to upgrade at Winter Park?

A. "It's an older facility. We did a lot of improvements in the past, in the first few years that we came into ownership to improve the players' facilities, locker rooms and the offices. We're right now looking into what we can do to expand with the property that we have. As the owners have discussed today, as we had meetings today, it's going to be something that we're really going to look into. But right now we really have to focus on getting the stadium moving forward and picking the experts and professionals necessary to bring this on time and on price."

Q. Given your background in development what are some of the things you want to see done with the stadium?

A. "We're working on that right now. We're going to work in conjunction with the authority to get a design that really is the state of the art, something that our fans can really look forward to, something that is different. ... Everything that all the up and modern experts say are the things that are needed for a stadium to be a 21st century stadium. And really being the newest one, we want to make sure it's something the fans will go to, not just for football games, but for all the events that are necessary. There's a lot of thinking going on into this. We have to hire professionals and once we get them on board with this we're going to investigate every aspect on how to make this the best stadium we can."

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. 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
In this story: Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier
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