Opinion: Time for Minnesota Vikings to fire Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman
If it wasn’t already clear, Sunday night burst loss in Green Bay has cleared up all doubts: it’s time for the Minnesota Vikings to quit head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman. Neither, but both longtime decision makers and executives of a franchise that has been perpetually stuck in NFL purgatory during their tenures.
It might also be time to part ways with quarterback Kirk Cousins, the third piece of a triumvirate that has been a dismal failure over the past four seasons, but it’s a complex conversation for another day in a near future.
The Vikings were outclassed, dominated and embarrassed by their hated rivals at Lambeau Field in a game that knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs and clinched the No.1 seed for the Packers. It was basically over before we started because Cousins ââwas on the COVID list, but that doesn’t excuse Zimmer and Spielman for getting things to this point. And with the team’s lack of competitiveness in all three phases, Cousins’ presence certainly wouldn’t have been enough to change the result anyway.
If the Wilfs do end up firing their coach and / or general manager next week, it will be a decision based on years of underperformance and mediocrity. The Packers’ defeat was just a jarring nadir in front of a domestic audience, a lifeless effort that should mark the end of a disturbing era of Viking football.
Let’s start with Zimmer, who appears to be the safer bet of the two to drop shortly after the end of the season with Sunday’s insane game against the Bears (although it looks like no final decision has yet been made. socket). He has now missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since being hired by the Vikings eight years ago. For a coach who has never made the playoffs twice in a row during his tenure, nor won more than one playoff game, that one-season flop should be the end of the line.
Zimmer was recruited in 2014 to fix the Viking defense and establish a winning culture. At the start of his tenure, he did just that. The Vikings won NFC North in their second season behind an emerging defense and managed a Blair Walsh field goal away from a playoff victory. Blame for the disappointing 2016 season fell on the offense, and that bad taste was quickly erased when the Vikings lost 13-3 the following year behind the league’s best defense.
But the start of the end may have been when Minnesota were beaten 38-7 by the Eagles in the NFC title game. They were mastered in the trenches and trained in this game, which will become recurring themes in many important games for years to come.
Then came the era of the Cousins ââand four years of mind-boggling mediocrity. At least in 2018 and 2019, Zimmer’s defenses continued to thrive and he could blame the offensive side of the ball again, whether the alleged culprit is a play and ploy in ’18 or the offensive line in ’19. . Zimmer’s defense dropped significantly in 2020, dropping a mostly successful attack, but he could argue that was because free agent departures, injuries, and COVID circumstances left the unit devoid of talent.
All excuses have dried up this year. Zimmer picked an array of players this offseason to reload his defense – and it failed dramatically. The Vikings are ranked 31st in total defense, 25th in scoring defense and are in the middle of the field in defensive DVOA and EPA. They are no better than a year ago. Of course, COVID-related injuries and absences have continued, but every team is dealing with it. Zimmer needed to increase the list he had, and he didn’t.
During his press conference on Monday, Zimmer pointed out that the Vikings have suffered a bunch of close losses this year, so the story of the season could be a lot different if a few of them went their way. Guess what? They’ve also had a number of wins that could easily have been losses. When pretty much every game is played on the wire, no matter how strong the opponent is, it comes down to practice.
Zimmer’s defense hasn’t been able to stop the run all year. The secondary has come back empty again and again in great times. Zimmer’s in-game clock handling has been poor. His fate should probably have been sealed when a bizarre late-game defensive strategy resulted in a loss to the then winless Lions. His steadfast, outdated insistence that the Vikings need to run more on the ball – which reappeared after the Packers’ loss – makes it easy to see how the team got through six offensive coordinators over the past six years.
It was a good race in Minnesota for Zimmer. There’s no doubt how much he cares about the Vikings franchise and his pursuit of a Super Bowl, given how much he’s been through over the past eight seasons. He is a good football coach who could certainly be successful as a manager or defensive coordinator elsewhere in the future, if he decides to continue down this path.
But it’s time for his tenure with the Vikings to end. Three playoff appearances in eight years is just not enough. The franchise needs to try something new.
On Spielman, for whom this statement also applies. He’s been in Minnesota since 2006 and has been the GM since 2012. It has been believed for several years now that he and Zimmer could be a global contract. That loss to the Packers, in the context of the past four (Cousins), eight (Zimmer) or ten (Spielman) seasons, was more than enough proof that it was time for some major top-down changes.
Spielman theoretically has more business to defend than Zimmer. He has shown great skill when it comes to reducing the draft and building up value, and has hit star players like Justin Jefferson, Brian O’Neill, Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith , and more.
But Spielman’s body of work leaves a lot to be desired. His strong suit is the draft, but four of his five first-round picks between 2016 and 2020 – Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hughes, Garrett Bradbury and Jeff Gladney – have become busts. Approaching the downside did not turn out to be as successful on Day 3 as you might expect. And not a single one of his four third-round picks in that latest draft has failed to enter the field this season, which is a worrying development.
Then there are the panic trades. When Irv Smith Jr. suffered a season-ending injury in August, Spielman traded a fourth-round draft pick in the Jets for tight end Chris Herndon. He’s only played 184 snaps this season, with as many combined penalties and drops (four) as he has catches. It’s a remarkable puff of movement, and it’s not a one-off thing for Spielman. He made a similar mistake a year ago, trading a second-round pick for Yannick Ngakoue after Danielle Hunter was injured, only to return Ngakoue for a third round two months later when it became clear he was not not up to their defense. Previous examples include the exchange of a fifth round against Kaare Vedvik to cut it three weeks later and the 2016 trading of a first round against Sam Bradford.
Perhaps more importantly, there’s Spielman’s track record in quarterback evaluation. If the Vikings are going to pull away from Cousins ââthis offseason (or the next) and look for a potential QB from the future, history suggests they should have someone other than Spielman leading that research. As the vice president of player personnel for the Vikings from 2006 to 2011, he was part of the group that sniffed Tarvaris Jackson and Christian Ponder. His first QB pick as general manager was Teddy Bridgewater, who looked on his way to becoming more than a solid starter before injury derailed his career. Spielman then didn’t draft from QB until the seventh round before taking on Mond last year, and it clearly hasn’t worked so far.
And of course, Spielman played a major role in bringing in both Zimmer and Cousins ââand getting into this cycle of mediocrity.
Like Zimmer, Spielman had a good run in Minnesota and did a lot of good things. But that just didn’t lead to enough success. The past two seasons have proven it and the loss to the Packers has put it right: it’s time for the Vikings to leave Zimmer and Spielman and try something new as they head into the future.
Is there any risk in going from a head coach-GM duo that sets a safe floor of at least seven wins? Of course there is. But that’s clearly a better choice than just keeping doing the same thing over and over again and waiting for different results. If it takes a season or two to rebuild and raise the squad’s ceiling, it would be worth it. If the Wilfs’ goal is to win a Super Bowl, they need to fire both Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman next week.
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