The Nail in the Coffin: End The Mike Zimmer Era

Another year of disappointing results for the Minnesota Vikings has many fans wondering when the front office will do the right thing and let go of Mike Zimmer.

For nearly the last decade, the Minnesota Vikings have been viewed by many as a dark horse Super Bowl contender. Experts from all major media outlets chose the Vikings as the team to potentially come out of nowhere and make a run towards the Lombardi Trophy year after year. Yet, something always seems to get in the way of Minnesota ever reaching that level of success. 

In 2015, it was the infamous Blair Walsh kick against Seattle. The following year, Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury that derailed the entire season before it began. In 2017, Case Keenum led them to an improbable run to the NFC Championship Game just in time for the entire team to not show up to play Philadelphia. Then in the 2019 playoffs, the team again decided to not show up against the San Francisco 49ers in a lethargic performance.

The 2020-2021 season was a rough year for not just the Vikings, but every team. Teams had no off-season program, no training camp, and dealt with an insanely high rate of injuries. Minnesota alone lost Michael Pierce, Danielle Hunter, and Anthony Barr to either opt-outs or season-ending injuries as the team stumbled to a 7-9 finish on the year. But don’t let that record deceive you. The Vikings may have been 7-9, but they did so with the 29th ranked defense in points allowed and the 27th ranked defense in terms of yards allowed. 

Coming into the new season, the Vikings expectations were decently high. They got Hunter, Pierce, and Barr healthy while adding Patrick Peterson to a struggling secondary. The offense, already a top 10 unit in the league last season, added Christian Darrisaw, a top-tier prospect to help protect Kirk Cousins. However, it was evident fairly quickly in week one against the Bengals that these expectations were a little overzealous. This team had way more holes in it than most people were willing to admit. But the biggest hole of all was at the head coaching position.

For years, I had been against the entire fan base when they were all calling for the Vikings to part ways with Mike Zimmer. After all, his defense, up until last year, had been very solid and no matter who was calling the offensive plays for the team, the offense seemingly always put up points with some of the best teams in the league. However, the issue runs way deeper than that, especially so far this season.

A head coach to me has to be good at three things: commanding and leading a locker room of men by fully and effectively preparing them for games week in and week out, managing the clock and crucial in-game situations, and holding themselves and players accountable for mistakes and learning from them.

Mike Zimmer is not good at any of these. Of course, you also have to be smart with X’s and O’s and schematically know what to do against opponents, but it’s the NFL; everybody can talk and plan for X’s and O’s. 

The best head coaches in the NFL know when to take risks and when to go off-script and change things up. Zimmer has proven during his tenure in Minnesota that he can’t make necessary changes in games. It was even more evident this past weekend against Dallas than ever before.

Leading into the week, it was pretty heavily reported that it was unlikely that Dak Prescott was going to play due to a calf injury. Cooper Rush was taking the majority of 1st team reps in practice for Dallas and was in line to start, which he did. But, when Vikings defensive back Xavier Woods was asked what their plan was on defense, he said, “We just prepared for 4. We watched a couple clips of Cooper, but during the week, we just prepared for 4.” Number four, obviously referring to Dak Prescott, who indeed did sit out this past Sunday night. So why have the team prepare for a QB that was already a long shot to play? The answer to that question might never be answered, but that was not the only issue with this team on Sunday, or all season long.

One thing that I have been very critical of Mike Zimmer is his timeout management and his end-of-half/end-of-game management. Multiple times this season, the Vikings have gotten the ball back with 30-45 seconds left on the clock at the end of the first half and have done nothing with it. Two run plays, a kneel, head to halftime, almost as if the team is playing to not lose instead of to win the game. That has been common in Mike Zimmer coached games: the conservative nature of the offense and defense and in-game situations that the coaching staff manages so poorly in critical times. 

Sitting at 3-4, the Vikings can still very well turn this season around and push for the postseason, but I don’t think that is what this team needs. Minnesota needs to rip the band-aid off and tear it down. Mediocrity is no longer acceptable, and should never have been acceptable. Mike Zimmer is the culprit and both Zygi Wilf and Rick Spielman have to realize that this is not working anymore. It’s time to cut ties. Will they? Not until the end of the season, but the pressure on both the front office and Mike Zimmer has never been higher.

Potential Replacements

Jumping ahead to January 10th, 2022. The Minnesota Vikings are a day removed from losing to the Chicago Bears in week 18 of the regular season to finish the year at 8-9 and miss the postseason for the second straight season. Rick Spielman is at the podium and announces the decision to part ways with Mike Zimmer. Who is next in line for the job?

Kellen Moore, Cowboys Offensive Coordinator

Okay, please let me dream here for a second. The Vikings have lacked a consistent offensive mind in the building for the last 5 years, going through multiple coordinators who can’t stick around long term. Kellen Moore is ready for a head coaching job already. His offensive creativity and sense of confidence in himself are exactly what this team needs.

Brian Daboll, Bills Offensive Coordinator

Similar to Kellen Moore, Daboll is ready for the next phase as a head coach. He should’ve been hired as one this past off-season, and I was shocked he didn’t get a job. He would be the choice if the Vikings wanted a lot of the same things Kellen Moore offered, but with more coaching experience.

Other Notable Names

Joe Brady, Panthers OC

Byron Leftwich Buccaneers OC

Andre Patterson, Vikings DC

Doug Pederson, former Eagles HC

Mel Tucker, Michigan State HC

Knowing the Vikings, they will hire another conservative, defensive-minded head coach, but thinking of some of these names paired with Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook is fun at the very least. Of course, there will be other names emerging based on who gets fired or decides to move on from their respective teams. Regardless, Minnesota should be doing their due diligence on some potential candidates now, so they can get a head start if and when Mike Zimmer is let go at the end of the season.

Follow Josh @JoshBerg0611.

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