This current coronavirus-riddled NFL season has already cost two head coaches their jobs – Bill O’Brien and Dan Quinn. Coincidentally, by this time next week, the Vikings will have played both of these men’s former teams, the Texans and Falcons. Coach firings aren’t done yet. Others that figure to be jettisoned from their organizations include Adam Gase (NYJ), Matt Patricia (DET), Doug Marrone (JAX), and perhaps Vic Fangio (DEN) if the Broncos pin injury maladies on the second-year skipper.
Some Vikings loyalists surmise that Mike Zimmer belongs in this grouping. A levelheaded analysis, though, indicates that’snot quite the case. Yet.
Minnesota is dealing with an adjustment phase to life after Stefon Diggs, injuries to two Pro Bowlers in Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr, and a realignment of talent after the exoduses of several longtime defensive players.
Unless you flat-out dislike Zimmer personally (they’re out there), he is not worthy of termination after this 1-4 start. Andthat’s the unbiased take. Zimmer is not responsible for the team having to conduct salary-cap hopscotch last offseason – that is a Rick Spielman responsibility. When Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, Trae Waynes, and MackensieAlexander split town, it was an alternation Zimmer was forcedto navigate – not one he personally orchestrated.
Like all NFL coaches, Zimmer will be held accountable by either Spielman, the Wilfs, or both. It’s just more likely that those ultra-meaty decisions are made in 2021 rather than this weird 2020 season.
Probably Escapes Hot Seat this Season
In the last five seasons (since 2015), the Vikings have the NFL’s sixth-best record at 51-33-1 (.606). That’s better than the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, and Atlanta Falcons. Whether you are mad at home on your couch about games and feel Zimmer should be fired, you can be assured that the Vikings brass assesses his performance from all angles. Zimmer will not be fired in the heat of passion.
Most importantly, the bosses weigh wins and losses. Comparative to the rest of the NFL, Mike Zimmer has been a merchant of wins. 26 other NFL teams have fewer wins in the last half-decade than the Vikings. It’s hard to brush that off as luck – or to say “any coach could do that.”
Should you consider Zimmer vulnerable to termination this season because “look at what happened to Bill O’Brien and Dan Quinn,” consider the context. O’Brien personally executed mind-boggling front-office transactions that were close to universally panned by pundits, other league executives, and Texans fans. Zimmer doesn’t have the power to trade players.
Since the start of 2018, Dan Quinn had a record of 14-23 (.378)in Atlanta. That’s the 10th-worst mark in the NFL. The Vikings are off to a splotchy start in 2020, but they are not totally upside down in the win-loss column since the beginning of 2018 as was Quinn and the Falcons.
Mike Zimmer, Bill O’Brien, and Dan Quinn are not interchangeable, synonymous beings.
4 Years of Cousins is Sufficient Sample
Cousins’ first year can be chalked up to a get-to-know-you year in a new system. The second go-round, well, Cousins went out and dramatically won a playoff game. The third year – this one – has not started swimmingly. The fourth campaign, 2021, will be a sample size ample enough for the Vikings to render a verdict on the Kirk Cousins experiment.
And when they do so, Mike Zimmer will be adjudicated in tandem. Zimmer even said when Cousins arrived that his legacy and employment would be surgically attached to the hip of the former Washington signal-caller. Those were more than just enlightening words; they were foreshadowing.
What’s more, Cousins just extended his contract with the Vikings in March. Minnesota is on the hook for owing him starting-quarterback, guaranteed money. Unless he gets hurt or is traded, Cousins will be the quarterback of the Vikings indefinitely. If his play rapidly deteriorates, the odds of Zimmer’s termination spike.
In any event, the players, fans, Zimmer, front office, and basically everybody will know if Cousins was worth it by the end of 2021. It will be the perfect time to take the next steps on Zimmer’s future.
2021 Probably Requires NFC North Title
Let’s speculate and assume the Vikings rebound this rotten start to 2020 and reach a 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7 record. There will be enough of a turnaround there for Zimmer to convince his bosses that the beginning of 2020 was an outlier. A respectable finish almost assuredly gets Zimmer to 2021 because he can sell it as the return of Danielle Hunter, the maturity of his young defense (that “you guys” stuck me with), and another year of continuity with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
That’s to get him in the door for 2021. After that, he will need to go win a division title and thus host a playoff game. The division title is the requirement here because Minnesota must beat the Packers and Bears. A good coach should routinely topple his primary foes – not have it feel like a big deal when they’re beaten. Zimmer has had stretches where the Packers were not all that scary but recently that pattern has slid backward. On the Bears, Zimmer had limited problems in his first few seasons with Chicago. As of late, however, Matt Nagy’s bunch has a knack for frustrating the Vikings.
Cynicism will increase if Zimmer doesn’t finish better than 6-10 or so. The Vikings showed in the last couple of weeks that they “belong” in games with the Titans and Seahawks. That’s a signal wins are on the way. Zimmer will need enough wins to sell the notion that the team is forging ahead with optimism to 2021 if this season is not totally rectifiable.
The only way to do that is to win.