In a series of moves not seen since buying the team in 2005, Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf fired coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman on Monday, a day after the end of consecutive losing seasons that had run out. the Wilfs’ patience with the two men.
Spielman, who had been with the squad since 2006, hired Zimmer to replace Leslie Frazier in 2014. There were two years left in the contract extensions they signed in 2020, but after the squad finished 8-9 and missed the playoffs for the second time in a row, the Wilfs went for a total reset.
“We are very proud of the fact that we, as the owner, are trying to think long term,” Mark Wilf said at a press conference on Monday. “We know we want to be consistent, but at the same time we assessed where we were at.… We are clearly disappointed with the results of football this year, and over the last few weeks, that’s something we’ve been thinking about. and deliberating quite a bit. “
Mark Wilf said the Vikings have already started both searches, but will hire a GM first so the person can help choose the head coach.
The mandates of Spielman and Zimmer were successful. Zimmer finished all eight seasons with a 72-56-1 record, behind only Bud Grant and Dennis Green in coaching games (129) and a winning percentage (.562) among the Vikings’ nine head coaches. The Vikings were 131-123-2, with six playoff trips, in Spielman’s 16 years.
But their struggles were often centered around the same position: quarterback.
A disastrous 2010 season and a three-game winning year in 2011 led the Wilfs to abandon the “triangle of authority” power structure that gave Spielman, head coach and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski , an equal right on the list. The property made Spielman the CEO in 2012; he has promised to build a competitive roster with local players and stockpiled top talent, taking seven picks in the 2012-14 first round. Six – Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater – have become Pro Bowlers.
But Spielman’s inability to resolve the Vikings’ long-standing need for a quarterback may have affected his tenure more than anything else.
He selected Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011; Spielman spoke about how Ponder’s early stats compared favorably to passer like Eli Manning and Drew Brees, and passed on Russell Wilson (whom Vikings coaches loved after working with him in the Senior Bowl) in the third round of the draft. of 2012. The Vikings went to the playoffs with Ponder in 2012, but the quarterback lost his starting job in 2013, as the Vikings went 5-10-1 in Frazier’s final season. .
As the Vikings grappled with their quarterback dilemma leading up to the 2014 Draft, ranking Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel slightly above Teddy Bridgewater on their draft table, they figured they could build a rival team around. ‘a developing ferryman.
Zimmer, the former Bengals’ defensive coordinator, came to Minnesota posing as a “fixer” who would build a top defense. Its units ranked in the NFL top 10 for points awarded each year from 2015 to 2019.
Its top teams – most notably the 2017 team which was 13-3 with the best defense in the NFL – were brilliant in the third downs, ranked among the least penalized clubs in the NFL and put pressure on the quarterbacks with Zimmer’s oft-imitated blitz disguises completing a four-man rush that didn’t sacrifice running responsibilities on the way to the quarterback.
Players like Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Barr and Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes and Smith have become pro Bowlers who have secured lucrative second contracts from the team. Zimmer’s teams effectively faced Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a stalemate, earning the three-time MVP’s hard-earned respect, who often praised the coach’s system and the players’ skill in executing it. .
Zimmer has struggled in parts of his job beyond his defensive background.
He’s gone through six offensive coordinators in his last six years with the team; while two (Pat Shurmur and Kevin Stefanski) left Minnesota for head coaching positions, Norv Turner stepped down in the middle of his third season, Zimmer fired John DeFilippo after 13 games in 2018, and offensive coaches have privately expressed their frustrations with their work constraints, especially with how Zimmer wanted the Vikings to run the ball.
While players praised Zimmer’s franchise, refreshing it to know where they were at, his blunt remarks didn’t go well with some players. The coach has become more sensitive to managing player workload in his later years, but his penchant for intense training has worn some Vikings teams down in his early seasons as initial demands for changes of the players were not satisfied. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs left the team for three days in 2019 and was traded after the season, following a period of dissatisfaction with his role in the offense.
And the quarterback position, especially during the last six years of the Spielman / Zimmer regime, has remained a problem that has required considerable resources.
“While these decisions are not easy, we believe it is time for new leaders to elevate our team so that we can consistently fight for the championships. . . . We are committed to lasting success and giving Vikings fans the Super Bowl Championships they expect and deserve. “
After a catastrophic knee injury in August 2016 derailed the Vikings’ plans to build around Bridgewater – with whom Zimmer became close after the Vikings drafted him 32nd in 2014 – Spielman traded a pick from first and fourth round in Philadelphia against Sam Bradford, who started 15 games in 2016 but only played two because of his long-standing knee problems in 2017.
Even though Case Keenum won a key game on Monday night in relief from injured Bradford and went 11-3 as a starter that year before leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game at the “Minneapolis Miracle,” Zimmer did never called Keenum his starter; instead of leading the usual starting QB press conference on Wednesday, Keenum spoke every week in a scrum near his locker.
Zimmer has raised concerns about spending a lot of money on a QB during the 2018 NFL combine with Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater set to become free agents. Zimmer said he told Spielman: “Look, we had a good team, that’s why we won 40 games. [over the previous four seasons]. It is not because we have had such and such a type. Let’s make sure we continue to understand that the team is the reason we did great things. ‘”
The Vikings, however, gave Kirk Cousins a fully guaranteed, three-year, $ 84 million contract a few weeks later, and the coach never appeared to click with the quarterback he would be linked with for the rest of his time in Minnesota. Sources have described Zimmer’s relationship with Cousins as distant; the weekly meetings they held this year, at Cousins’ request, helped build common ground between the two, but they never became close.
With two playoff games in 2019, the Vikings went 34-32-1 in four years after signing Cousins. The quarterback posted some of the best passing statistics in Vikings history, but like Bridgewater and Keenum before him, Cousins was one of the most pressured passers in the NFL as the Vikings tried in vain to solve their offensive line problems.
The team pledged nearly $ 120 million for free agents in 2016 and 2017 before using six picks in the first three rounds of the draft on the 2017-21 offensive linemen. Virginia Tech left tackle Christian Darrisaw, this year’s first-round pick, missed four games after groin surgery in August; Wyatt Davis, one of the Vikings’ four third-round picks, did not play a regular season snap.
While Brzezinski, one of the league’s most skilled salary cap managers, plans to stay, the Vikings’ new general manager and coach will have work to do.
Minnesota deferred about $ 18 million in salary cap costs to 2022, trying to present a competitive roster that could save Spielman and Zimmer’s jobs while facing a lower cap due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vikings have just four picks in the first five rounds, after Spielman distributed a fourth round for lightly used tight end Chris Herndon, and will face a big decision over Cousins, who carries a ceiling load. $ 45 million in the final season of his fully secured deal.