With a contract that only runs through the 2019 season, it seems that Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer might not have that contact extended by team ownership this offseason. But hasn’t Zimmer proved he’s worth such a thing?
The jury’s in. The Minnesota Vikings were pretty awful in 2018. Starting the year by giving a free-agent quarterback the most fully-guaranteed money in NFL history and ending it at 8-7-1, where the Vikings had only one victory over teams with a winning record, was disappointing to say the least.
Along the way, a beloved and crucial coach passed away, a star defensive player missed time to attend to his mental health, and the team’s offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, was fired. The same offensive coordinator who was hired away from the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles for his innovative offensive talents.
But in a brutally competitive league, the mentor of Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer, Bill Parcells, has reminded him in the past that he can’t make excuses for losing.
Zimmer and the Vikings lost a bunch in 2018, most notably, a Week 17 matchup against the division rival Chicago Bears, where they dropped turds on both sides of the ball in front of their home crowd.
So where does all of this leave Mr. Zimmer in regard to the his future with the Minnesota?
Since becoming the Vikings’ head coach in 2014, Zimmer has gone 47-32-1 in the regular season and he has led the team to a pair of playoff appearances, which includes their run to the NFC Championship in 2017. Factoring in the 2018 season, there’s a lot of football to reference.
The Argument For keeping Zimmer
In 2005, Zygmunt Wilf and five partners were able to purchase the Vikings. The very next year, he hired Brad Childress to replace Mike Tice as Minnesota’s head coach, who was fired after the infamous “Love Boat” affair, led by one of the Vikings’ worst free-agent signings in their franchise’s history, cornerback Fred Smoot.
Childress, who aside from the efforts of future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Peterson and shooting star Brett Favre, should always be known for his efforts to create a team around a quarterback named Tarvaris Jackson.
Leslie Frazier, at one time a fine defensive coordinator, took over after Childress completely bottomed out after a 31-3 home loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2010. Frazier then promptly took the Vikings into Green Bay in 2011 where they lost 45-7 in a Week 10 matchup.
In 2012, Peterson carried Minnesota to the playoffs by defying the laws of human physiology in rushing for 2,097 yards a year after a total ACL-MCL tear in his knee. But, given time, Frazier returned the team to 5-10-1 and the NFL’s worst defensive ranking in 2013.
I bring this data to show clearly how Mike Zimmer has taken a Vikings team that has wavered on the cusp of mediocrity and failure since about the time that Randy Moss left town to a team that is respected, week in and out, to play intimidating defense and win tough football games.
Zimmer’s defenses have ranked 11th, fifth, sixth, first and ninth in his five seasons as head coach. He has helped develop numerous Pro Bowl and All-Pro players and his defensive innovations and system designs have been imitated in playbooks throughout the league.
If Zimmer is lacking intuition and expertise on the offensive side of the ball, I would ask who might be put up as an example of such a Renaissance coach, besides Bill Belichick himself, who most likely will end up having the Lombardi Trophy renamed in his honor before long.
In 2015, Zimmer and his young Vikings defense played superlative and complimentary football with 23-year-old Teddy Bridgewater under center and Peterson back on the field and leading the NFL in rushing. The head coach led Minnesota to the playoffs, where they unfortunately lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Seattle Seahawks thanks to the foot of Blair Walsh.
Think about that one. Seattle went on to lose to the Carolina Panthers following their win over the Vikings and after that, Carolina beat the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 to earn a spot Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos.
In 2016, Minnesota lost their top quarterback, running back, and numerous offensive linemen to immediate injuries. Still, they started 5-0 with Sam Bradford at the wheel before the hounds sniffed them out and the ensuing jailbreak ended the Vikings’ season, and most likely, Sam Bradford’s career.
In 2017, they took on another bag of doorknobs to the face by losing Bradford and star rookie running back Dalvin Cook to season-ending injuries by Week 4 where they were sitting with a 2-2 record.
But then, Minnesota went on and tore up the league, going 11-1 in their final 12 games of the season, creating the magical “Minneapolis Miracle”, and earning an appearance in the NFC Championship Game.
Along the way, the Vikings had found that they had an All-Pro wideout in Adam Thielen and another game-breaker in fellow receiver Stefon Diggs, along with a bevy of defensive standouts.
So 2018 was a mess for Minnesota. Was it Zimmer’s fault? Sure, enough of it was, or that’s what Parcells would say at least. He takes the heat because he is indeed the head coach.
But NFL success is not built in a day or in a season and sometimes owners have to recognize that the guy in charge of their team is the one guy with the absolute ability, skill, or expertise to put them in the position to win.
There are other factors not be ignored, such as the role of the general manager, who, in the case of the 2018 Vikings, should also be examined carefully when it comes to acumen and his own executive action.
This coach deserves an extension from Minnesota. Having a chance at a Super Bowl–or even a playoff team–supersedes taking a chance on guy who could turn out to be a Tice, Frazier, or Childress.
Mike Zimmer has proved that.