Mike Zimmer has been fired by the Minnesota Vikings after eight eventful years as head coach. Rick Spielman has also been sacked as general manager as owners Zygi and Mark Wilf clear the decks in the hunt for an elusive first Super Bowl.
The frequently curmudgeonly Zimmer, 65, took Minnesota to the playoffs in three seasons and leaves with a 71-56-1 regular season record – 2-3 in the postseason.
From 5-0 starts to 8-8 finishes, 10 eye surgeries, the death of influential offensive line coach Tony Sparano and dealing with the ban of franchise player Adrian Peterson in 2014 for beating his son, Zimmer’s tenure was seldom dull.
Mike Zimmer was a long time defensive coordinator with Dallas and Cincinnati before the Vikings gave him a shot as head coach in 2014. His eight seasons were seldom dull
An old-fashioned, blue-collar coach with a penchant for double A-gap pressure and running the football, his spell was marked with fallouts with offensive co-ordinators and kicking specialists.
While his 2017 defense was historically good, the last two incarnations have been historically bad. In an injury-hit 2020, the Vikings were ranked 28th in yards allowed per game and conceded 40 points three times.
Zimmer’s defense was outstanding in 2017 but tailed off significantly in his last two seasons
The 2021 roster was packed with draft busts and short–term free agents. Few lived up to their expensive contracts as the Vikings gave up the third most yards and ninth-most points.
They were particularly porous when the going got tough. While timely three and outs became the norm in 2017, in the final two minutes of both halves – and in overtime – the 2021 Vikings conceded an NFL-high 146 points.
Spielman joined the Vikings in 2006 as vice-president of personnel. Since that year, all but four NFC teams have reached the Super Bowl – Washington, Dallas, Detroit and Minnesota.
Rick Spielman was with Minnesota since 2006. His years as general manager have been mixed
General manager since 2012, his draft hits have been bangers. But for every Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter or Justin Jefferson there’s a Christian Ponder, Laquon Treadwell or Jeff Gladney.
Seemingly more concerned to use high draft picks on cornerbacks – who with the exception of Xavier Rhodes were largely underwhelming – the Spielman-Zimmer axis consistently struggled to adequately upgrade the offensive line in free agency and in the draft.
And while Green Bay have the incomparable Aaron Rodgers – against whom Zimmer went 7-8-1 – the Vikings found their franchise quarterback in 2014 with the drafting of Teddy Bridgewater, the second pick of the Zimmer era.
After a 7-9 start, his second season ended abruptly on wild card weekend in the third-coldest game in NFL history. Kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining as the Seattle Seahawks sealed a scarcely believable 10-9 win.
The drama continued in tragic circumstances. Twelve days before the season opener and with the move into US Bank Stadium looming, a tragic injury in practice almost cost Bridgewater his left leg.
Matt Nagy, who was sacked by Chicago, speaks to Zimmer before Sunday’s game in Minnesota
Forced into the free agent market, the Vikings gambled on Sam Bradford and broke even on a deal with Philadelphia. But after a perfect start, the Vikings ended 8-8.
The following season was the stuff of folklore. Bradford picked up an injury, leaving the likes of Shaun Hill and then Case Keenum to become starters.
Keenum, a likeable journeyman, suddenly looked at home – and did an excellent impression of a starting quarterback.
Buoyed by the Minneapolis Miracle – a game which saw Zimmer’s vaunted defense give up a 17-0 half-time lead to fall behind against the New Orleans Saints – Keenum’s pass to Stefon Diggs created one of the most amazing plays in NFL history.
But with a home Super Bowl at US Bank beckoning, the Vikings lost their sixth straight NFC Championship game against an even more charmed Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. The score was 37-7 but it wasn’t that close.
The Zimmer-Spielman years were undulating and marked with disagreements over personnel
After adding quarterback Kirk Cousins that offseason – and classlessly ditching Keenum as a free agent – the Vikings reached two more playoff games under Zimmer.
A wild card victory in New Orleans secured contract extensions for Spielman and Zimmer in 2020 before defeat by San Francisco showed how far the Vikings had fallen behind.
The next two seasons highlighted the chasm before the Wilfs pulled the plug on Zimmer, the third-longest serving head coach in Vikings history behind Bud Grant and Dennis Green.
‘We appreciate Rick and Mike’s commitment to the team’s on-field success, their passion for making a positive impact in our community and their dedication to players, coaches and staff,’ owners said in a statement.
‘While these decisions are not easy, we believe it is time for new leadership to elevate our team so we can consistently contend for championships.’
Kirk Cousins signed for the Vikings in 2018. The Vikings have reached the playoffs once since
It seems likely that quarterback Cousins – due $35million guaranteed next season in the final year of his contentious contract – will remain, unless the Vikings can wangle a trade.
For Zimmer, a spell on his Kentucky ranch beckons. For the Vikings, who knows.