Mike Zimmer and the Vikings marriage of mediocrity

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) Mike Zimmer
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) Mike Zimmer /

Why did the Mike Zimmer era ultimately fail to achieve its goal of bringing the Minnesota Vikings their first Super Bowl victory? 

After eight full seasons, the Minnesota Vikings have officially fired head coach Mike Zimmer. The news from last week came neither as a surprise nor good riddance for both fans and critics of Zimmer.

It was a mutual “it’s time” parting that ends a marriage of mediocrity which has encapsulated the Vikings franchise throughout its painful history.

A history of never great but never terrible. A history that has earned the phrase “if you’d be choking for 40-plus years, you’d be purple too.”

Why did the Mike Zimmer era ultimately fail to achieve its goal with the Minnesota Vikings?

Any good coach in any sport at any level knows how to overcome adversity and they can instill that trait in their players. Zimmer did face an unusual amount of adversity in his tenure with Minnesota, but that does not mean it was handled well.

The 2016 season was full of adversity for the Vikings, which ultimately became too much to overcome and it left the team with an 8-8 record and no spot in the playoffs. The worst part about the 2016 campaign was the fact that the team went 8-8 in the most Minnesota way possible.

First, the team lost their promising franchise quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, to one of the most freakish leg injuries to date. During a summer practice, Bridgewater was going through a routine three-step drop in a non-contact drill when he nearly lost his leg.

Nearly every ligament in Bridgewater’s knee had torn. Doctors feared that he might not even be able to keep his leg. This was coming off the promising 2015 season in which Bridgewater led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and NFC North title.

The injury put Minnesota into a panic, which led to the team trading for quarterback Sam Bradford in exchange for a first-round draft pick and a fourth-round pick. While the Bridgewater injury was perhaps the most significant, it was not the only injury the Vikings faced over the course of the 2016 season.

In fact, the 2016 Minnesota Vikings lost the third-most games due to injury of any team in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders – which has a metric to account for Adjusted Games Lost.

Every team faces injuries, the Vikings specifically were just hit hard one year and were unable to bounce back. Often a team that looked sorry for itself over the past seven seasons.

Players were not the only ones to show up on the injury report during Zimmer’s tenure. Zimmer, himself, underwent several eye procedures during his time as Minnesota’s head coach (some of the team’s performances made me want to tear my eyes out as well, coach).

Coaching through games resembling a pirate with an eyepatch, Zim sure did show some of that old-school grit that he tried so hard to portray.

The beginning of the end for Zimmer was the 2017 NFC Championship in Philadelphia against the Eagles. The Vikings had just come off perhaps the biggest moment in franchise history when Stefon Diggs and Case Keenum pulled off the Minneapolis Miracle to beat Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints 29-24.

It had felt like Minnesota had finally gotten over the hump. That the bad luck had finally run out. They finally made the big play that they needed to. The play that championship teams make.

Unfortunately, with a chance to play a home Super Bowl on the line, the Vikings never showed up that next week against Philadelphia, getting trampled 38-7.

Riding with all of the momentum in the world against a backup quarterback, Minnesota seemed to be unprepared, falling for flea-flickers and they were simply bullied, showing a lack of physicality, during the entirety of the game.

Then came the Kirk Cousins deal, and a marriage of mediocrity was formed. It is well-known that Zimmer did not want Cousins as his quarterback. Rather than try to better his relationship with his QB1, Zimmer spent the next three years pouting and pointing fingers – a reason why he is currently no longer Minnesota’s head coach.

Perhaps a reason why Zimmer was not a Cousins fan was because the two are so similar in terms of their careers. Looking at each individual’s resume, neither can win the big game, they both would crumble in primetime, and both struggled to beat teams with winning records.

Cousins gets the notorious knock for being unable to win in big moments. Having a 9-17 record in primetime (including 2-9 on Monday Night Football) and a 7-26 record against teams with a winning record.

This is not to say that Kirk brought this bad record over to the Vikings. Before signing Cousins to his lucrative contract (and extension) Zimmer’s Vikings were 12-20 against teams with a winning record.

Zimmer has controlled the narrative and used Cousins as a scapegoat for his own inability to win the big game. The lack of accountability from Zimmer is not the sign of a winning coach but a mediocre one.

In fact, Zimmer held an Eeyore-inspired presentation with the team where he highlighted all the adversity he faced in his tenure as Vikings head coach. The meeting reportedly left players “dumbfounded.”

Between Zimmer’s lack of accountability and Cousins’ lack of, well, ability to perform in big moments, Minnesota is going into this offseason fresh off of a necessary divorce and will have some new faces in place before the start of the 2022 season.

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