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- Coach of American Football
- American football player and coach
It can’t be stated enough that Mike Zimmer saved the Vikings franchise.
When Zimmer arrived in 2014, the franchise was in disarray. Outside of Adrian Peterson’s MVP season — which in and of itself was filled with issues — the Vikings had been on a downward spiral since the NFC Championship against the Saints. From Brad Childress getting fired for cause after releasing Randy Moss, to the forced selection of Christian Ponder, all the way to Percy Harvin forcing his way out of town, the myriad issues kept building.
When Zimmer took over, the Vikings were a 3-13 team that needed a savior. It was evident once Teddy Bridgewater started at quarterback that Zimmer was the guy. He fixed the defense almost immediately, taking the unit from the worst scoring defense in the league to 11th in just one offseason. In his second season, Zimmer had the team at 11-5 and won the division. Just two years later, the Vikings went 13-3 and were a game away from the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, that was when the team plateaued, so now a change needs to be made at head coach.
Photo: AP Photo/Stacy Bengs
Whether it was his fault or not, the addition of Kirk Cousins sent this team on their current path of mediocrity. Before he joined the team, Zimmer was 39-25 and once Cousins joined, Zimmer is 33-29-1, bringing his overall record to 72-54-1. The biggest indoctrination of Zimmer’s tenure is his failure to take this team to the next level. The Vikings’ 13-3 year feels more and more like an outlier. Outside of that magical 2017 season, Zimmer is 59-51-1. The reasons behind his issues are becoming more and more prevalent each week. There are three main reasons why the Vikings need to move on from Mike Zimmer sooner rather than later.
Style of play
Photo: Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports
This is the major issue with Zimmer. While he is an elite-level defensive mind and schemer, the way he wants to win would have been perfect in 1995. Run the ball down the other team’s throat and play good defense. The problem is, that style of football isn’t one to win football games consistently.
The Vikings are too often involved in one-score games. Just this season, the Vikings have been in 14 such games this season and are 6-8. In 2017, they were 6-2 but have been 17-18-1 since. The failure to put opponents away has been the biggest issue for the Vikings and it has manifested itself in the biggest way this season. In consecutive games earlier this year, they blew double-digit leads in the final six minutes. Zimmer has shown a tendency to take the foot off the gas and put teams away.
Photo: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports
When you are the head coach of the football team, it’s on you to make the call in a lot of situations. Most notably of those: fourth downs, challenges and clock management.
Up until recently, Zimmer has not been great with showing aggressiveness. He would consistently lean towards the side of caution, especially in situations where it would be going for it on fourth down or punting. He has gotten better with those decisions, but there is still no sense of consistency.
In Sunday’s game, Zimmer’s issues came to a head. On a third down, Cooper Kupp caught a Matt Stafford pass just before the first down marker. It was called a first down, but it was evident that Kupp was just short. Knowing that the Rams would likely convert a fourth down of less than a yard, Zimmer used a challenge anyways. Just as we all thought would happen, the Rams converted that fourth down and scored their first touchdown just plays later. Pair that with his poor clock management at the end of games and the issues compound on each other.
Photo: Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
The NFL instituted a rule this year to help both teams looking for a head coach and candidates looking to become one. Starting in week 17, the NFL is allowing teams to interview head-coaching candidates over the last two weeks of the NFL season. In order to conduct those interviews, two things need to occur.
The interviewee’s team needs to consent to the interview
The head coach of the team conducting the interview needs to be told that he is not returning in the position next season.
The Vikings don’t have much of a history when it comes to firing head coaches during the season. It has happened two times in my lifetime.
Dennis Green was fired after Week 16 in 2001 and Brad Childress was fired after Week 10 in 2010. The Wilf’s have only made one firing during the season, and it was Childress, but the move wasn’t solely due to on-field play. Childress infamously cut WR Marcus Robinson on Christmas Eve a few years prior and then cut Hall of Fame WR Randy Moss just four weeks after acquiring him for a third-round pick. The decision angered the Wilf’s because they weren’t consulted or informed of the plan to release the beloved wide receiver. Moving on from Zimmer would be beneficial for the Vikings so they can get started on the interview process. Getting started early could give them the inside track to get one of the hot head-coaching candidates this offseason like a Byron Leftwich or Kellen Moore.
The decision to move on from Zimmer isn’t the easiest choice to make. Over the past eight seasons, he has brought stability to a team marred in chaos over the last 25 years. His performance as head coach, however, has become stagnant and requires the Vikings to move in a different direction. Whatever direction this team takes after Zimmer will likely be one rooted in offense.