If the Vikings move on from Mike Zimmer, here’s who they should hire

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Mike Zimmer has had quite the fall from grace over the past few seasons.

After a great year in 2017, the Vikings have had one season with more than 10 wins and only one playoff appearance. His 17-39 record against teams that finish above .500 speaks volumes about how well this team plays in big games.

Zimmer did a great job of turning this team around. He deserves nothing but praise for that. He possessed a tough-as-nails mindset, which reflected on game day. The Vikings defense performing well on third down has been the reason the Vikings were seemingly in almost every game. Zimmer deserves the undying respect of Vikings fans for how hard he worked to make this team great.

All that said, it’s apparent that a change needs to occur. The defense had a lot of money invested in it — only to underperform. His abysmal and conservative game and time management hindered the team’s ability to take the next step. Zimmer failed to maximize Kirk Cousins. That’s also a big reason he should be let go.

For all of Cousins’ faults, it’s inarguable that this team has failed to get the most out of him. From running the ball continuously on second-and-long, forcing the ball to Dalvin Cook and not trying to utilize the deep ball more, his tenure has not been optimal thus far. For a player who was brought in to be the final piece of the Super Bowl puzzle, hovering around .500 is an adjunct failure.

It became obvious that a change was needed at head coach after Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. With that in mind, the direction of the team should be obvious: A head coach with an offensive mind should be the priority. The offense has gone through such a massive upheaval for Mike Zimmer’s tenure and stabilizing the most important group on the field should be the priority.

Here are four coaches who the Vikings should consider:

Brian Daboll

Photo: Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

After spending years as an offensive coordinator for multiple teams from 2009-2012, Brian Daboll didn’t get his first taste of real success until Nick Saban brought him to Tuscaloosa. Daboll, then the OC of the Crimson Tide, won a national championship there.

Then, Bills coach Sean McDermott brought him to Buffalo to run the offense and develop Josh Allen.

Daboll has done an incredible job of taking a raw yet talented Allen and turning him into a top-five quarterback in the NFL. That’s nothing short of exemplary. With the Vikings (likely) looking to draft their QB of the future this offseason, Daboll is at the top of the list for ideal head coaching hires.

Eric Bieniemy

Photo: Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

Of all the coaching candidates, Bieniemy is the most intriguing one on this list. He worked for the Wilf family in the Vikings organization as the running backs coach from 2006-2010. He helped guide Adrian Peterson to a rookie of the year award. He’s often credited for making Peterson one of the best backs in the league. Pair that with his OC experience with one of the best offenses in the modern era — the Chiefs — and Bieniemy has a stellar resume. He’s even been calling the plays for the majority of the last three seasons.

On the flip side, Bieniemy has a worrisome legal history that you need to parse out in order to make him your head coach. While all of his offenses are over 20 years old, Bieniemy is taking the most important job in your organization. He can’t put himself in a position to do any of these things again.

Kellen Moore

Photo: Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

How about that guy who just helped the Cowboys beat the Vikings?

The newest addition to any list of potential head coaching candidates, Moore has done a great job with the offense of the Dallas Cowboys. As of this writing, Moore has the Cowboys ranked third in scoring offense with 32.1 points per game and first in total yards per game with 459.9. The way Moore has utilized the bevy of weapons at his disposal would easily translate to maximizing the Vikings’ great group of weapons in Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and Irv Smith Jr.

One thing that Moore does not have is experience. That isn’t always a bad thing, though. Moore was 50-3 as Boise State’s starting quarterback and he is currently the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. His coaching rise is nothing short of impressive. After Moore played quarterback for six seasons in the NFL, he retired and became the Cowboys QB coach in 2018. The next season, he was promoted to offensive coordinator. He is currently in his third year there. As the Steelers and Rams proved by hiring Mike Tomlin and Sean McVay, respectively, getting in early on these guys is sometimes the best route to take. Moore — theoretically — fits that mantra to a T.

Byron Leftwich

Photo: AP Photo/Alex Menendez

The former first-round pick has been on a fast rise up the coaching ranks. His first offensive coordinator position was under Steve Wilks as the interim coordinator. His first full-time position came under Bruce Arians with the Buccaneers in 2019. Once he took over, he led the offense through some ups and downs, most of which came during the 2020 season.

Things weren’t clicking as everyone had thought during the season, so Tom Brady, Bruce Arians, and Leftwich made adjustments on the fly and those changes resulted in a Super Bowl. The (likely) biggest knocks against Leftwich will be his lack of coaching experience and how much he was in charge of in Tampa Bay. With legends like Arians and Brady being key figures for the offense, it was a fair question. Arians spoke to Rich Eisen on his podcast before the Super Bowl about Leftwich saying that he has full autonomy over the offense and was upset that Leftwich didn’t get an interview in the last head coach hiring cycle. That will sure change this year, as the Buccaneers are sitting at 6-2 with the second-ranked offense in both scoring and total yards.

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