Will the Vikings fire Mike Zimmer? Failure to live up to expectations could doom veteran coach

Mike Zimmer is in his eighth season as the Vikings’ head coach. He is the seventh-longest-tenured coach in the NFL and ranks third all-time in wins as a Vikings coach with 69.

That may not be enough to save him if the Vikings don’t turn things around quickly.

As the NFL season enters its final stretch, Minnesota finds itself at 5-7. It’s outside of the playoff picture entering Week 14, and would close as the NFC’s No. 9 seed if the season ended before another game was played.

That’s not where the Vikings were hoping to find themselves this year. Their struggles could punctuate a disappointing four-year stretch during which they had Super Bowl aspirations but were only able to make a single playoff appearance.

Zimmer could end up being the scapegoat for this. After all, the Vikings just lost to the previously 0-10-1 Lions, and fans began to turn on him. Will Minnesota’s ownership group follow suit? That’s the biggest question that Vikings fans will ask themselves as their team tries to avoid another disappointing season.

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Will the Vikings fire Mike Zimmer?

There’s no guarantee that Zimmer will be gone after this season, but barring a bounce back in the final five weeks, it seems like the Vikings will make a coaching change.

The Vikings have simply failed to live up to expectations in recent seasons. They went to the NFC Championship Game in 2018 when Case Keenum had a career season. However, they were shellacked by the Eagles and since that contest, the team hasn’t been able to fully right the ship.

Minnesota invested heavily in quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was supposed to take the team over the hump. Instead, they have won just one playoff game with him at quarterback.

Cousins deserves some of the blame for those shortcomings; however, it is apparently Zimmer who is being faulted by the Vikings’ ownership group, as CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora explained after the Vikings’ Week 1 overtime loss against the Bengals this season.

The Wilfs, who own the team, have pondered significant changes in the past, and seriously considered parting ways with head coach Mike Zimmer even after a playoff appearance two years ago, sources said. It is not lost on those within the organization how significant this season is to maintaining job security there. Zimmer’s coaching style can be grating for coaches and players, they have churned through coaches and coordinators over the years, and the pressure is on for them to have a much improved 2021.

If Zimmer’s coaching style has worn on players and coaches alike, the Wilfs could certainly opt to give the team a fresh start. Additionally, La Canfora noted that ownership is frustrated, as their heavy investments since that NFC Championship Game run have yielded little return.

Ownership has invested major resources in the roster of the team – as well as its infrastructure – in recent years, with the Kirk Cousins era, if you will, yet to bear much fruit. The expectation is that the team will be more consistent and fundamentally sound this season.

The Vikings are 5-7 entering Week 14 and are on the outside of the Wild Card race looking in, so they haven’t met ownership’s expectations for the season. They have committed the sixth-most penalties this season (84) for the third-most yards (797). And worst of all, they lost to the previously winless Lions on a last-second touchdown pass by Jared Goff.

From that lens, it would seem that Zimmer would likely be out. It is, however, worth noting that 11 of the Vikings’ 12 games have been decided by one possession. They just happen to be 4-7 in those contests, so perhaps the owners would be willing to chalk that up as bad luck.

Also, Zimmer is under contract for two more seasons, so perhaps the Vikings could do what the Bears did with Matt Nagy last season and keep Zimmer for one more year to defer paying two coaches at once for at least one more season. If the Wilfs view Zimmer’s tenure as over, they won’t do this, but if they think there’s still a glimmer of hope, this would be an option.

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Mike Zimmer career record: Playoff wins and losses

Zimmer has largely been a strong coach for the Vikings. He led the team to double-digit wins in three of his first six seasons and didn’t finish with a record worse than 7-9 in his first seven. He had a five-year run of records that were .500 or better, to boot.

Overall, Zimmer is 69-54-1 during his time as Vikings coach. Here’s a look at how he has done during each season.

Season Record Total yards offense Yards allowed defense
2014 7-9 27th 14th
2015 11-5 29th 13th
2016 8-8 28th 3rd
2017 13-3 11th 1st
2018 8-7-1 20th 4th
2019 10-6 16th 14th
2020 7-9 4th 27th
2021 5-7 6th 30th

As you can see, one of the factors in Zimmer’s decline is the defensive regression. Zimmer is a defensive-minded coach and was one of the best defensive coordinators in football during his last coordinator stint with the Bengals (2008-13). 

The recent struggles are partly related to the departure of defensive coordinator George Edwards, who served as the defensive coordinator from 2014-19. Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson haven’t been able to take the Vikings to the same heights and have particularly struggled to get quality play out of its relatively young secondary the last two seasons. 

Still, part of that falls on the elder Zimmer. He was the one that hired the co-defensive coordinators, after all.

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Zimmer hasn’t had much playoff success. He has made it to the postseason three times — in each of the 10+ win seasons — but he has a record of just 2-3. His teams have only beaten the Saints in the postseason and were each blown out following their victories.

Season Opponent Round Result
2015 Seahawks Wild Card L, 10-9
2017 Saints Divisional W, 29-24
2017 Eagles NFC Championship L, 38-7
2019 Saints Wild Card W, 26-20 (OT)
2019 49ers Divisional L, 27-10

The most disappointing part of this for the Vikings is that they were hoping to go on a Super Bowl run after the NFC Championship Game. In three seasons since then, they have won just one playoff game.

If the Vikings continue along at this clip, they will make it one win over four seasons. And that would almost certainly doom Zimmer.

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