MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings coach Mike Zimmer did not confirm whether Gary Kubiak plans to retire after 25 seasons coaching in the NFL, but Zimmer shed light on the offensive coordinator’s mindset headed into the offseason.
“He’s taking some time to mentally think about the season and where he’s at healthwise and he’ll decide what he wants to do,” Zimmer said Tuesday at his season-ending news conference.
A source confirmed to ESPN on Monday that Kubiak, 59, is mulling retirement after two seasons in Minnesota, with the last year spent calling plays as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. Kubiak took over the role held by Kevin Stefanski from the end of the 2018 season through 2019 after Stefanski was hired as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns last January.
Kubiak is the fifth offensive coordinator under Zimmer since the head coach arrived in 2014. The Vikings finished fourth in total offense and 11th in scoring under Kubiak’s guidance, with quarterback Kirk Cousins rebounding from throwing 10 interceptions in his first six games to finishing a 7-9 campaign with a career-high 35 touchdown passes. Running back Dalvin Cook earned MVP consideration while rushing for a career-high 1,557 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns, and Justin Jefferson broke the franchise record for catches and receiving yards as a rookie and is second all time with 1,400 receiving yards in his first NFL season.
Zimmer offered effusive praise for Kubiak upon reflecting on the most explosive offense he said the Vikings have had in his seven years with the franchise.
“I love Gary Kubiak,” Zimmer said. “He’s an unbelievable person, unbelievable coach, a great ear to me. I love sitting there talking to him. We’re both kind of the same kind of guys. I know that he’s had some health issues in the past, so it’s always good to take some time and think about where you’re at, mentally and physically.
“Obviously, this year was a major mental and physical drain on all of us, including the players. We’ll just see how all of that unfolds as we move forward. [He’s] the best I’ve ever been around, terrific person, great coach, and I love him. We’ll just see how he’s doing.”
Kubiak had a mini-stroke during a game in 2013, when he was coaching the Texans. He was taken off the field in a stretcher and hospitalized for two days. He was fired later in the season. He returned to the Broncos as head coach in 2015 and won a Super Bowl. He was hospitalized again in 2016 due to a complex migraine condition that caused extreme fatigue and announced his retirement at the end of that season.
While Zimmer said he didn’t want to deal in the “what-ifs” just yet, it doesn’t appear the Vikings coach wants to see any wide-scale changes to the offensive scheme should he need to look for Kubiak’s replacement.
“I will say this: I love the scheme that we’re running offensively, I love the wide zone offense, I love the play-action passes,” Zimmer said. “All those things. A coach told me one time that your offense should be what your quarterback is best at. And that’s what I feel Kirk is best at. Those kind of things are what makes him really good. So to me, that is really important.”
Zimmer confirmed one coaching change. Marwan Maalouf, Minnesota’s special-teams coordinator since 2019, will not be retained when his two-year contract expires next week. Zimmer said he told Maalouf that the Vikings will not be renewing his deal.
Minnesota’s special-teams play came under fire after kicker Dan Bailey‘s late-season struggles. Bailey missed nine kicks in the last five games and finished the season with 13 misses, the most in the NFL.
“I don’t really want to get into the specifics too much on that, but we obviously didn’t play very well,” Zimmer said. “A lot of the guys that should have been playing on special teams were playing on defense, but we are going to shore up that area. That will be a major emphasis as well.”
Zimmer expressed optimism following a season where the Vikings missed the playoffs about the return of several players they had to do without in 2020, notably Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, who suffered a neck injury in training camp on Aug. 14 that required season-ending surgery.
“He’s doing well,” Zimmer said. “He’s on track wherever he’s supposed to be. I know he thinks he’s going to be able to come back and be better than he was before.”