Thank you, Mike Zimmer
By: Grant Schwieger
Monday, January 10th, 2022, officially marks the end of the Mike Zimmer era in Minnesota. This does not come as a surprise, as reports had been surfacing all week about his tenure coming to a close, regardless of how the season’s finale against Chicago played out.
While the last few seasons have certainly been disappointing for the Vikings, Zimmer accomplished a lot during his eight-year run as the head coach of the Purple and Gold, ending with a record of 74-59-1. He inherited a squad in 2014 that ranked in the bottom half of the league in Expected Points Added per play on defense the previous few years under Leslie Frazier.
Under Zimmer, the Vikings immediately turned their defense around, ranking around league average in 2014-2015 before really excelling in 2016 and 2017. As a defensive-minded head coach, it was a relief to see Zimmer’s defenses perform well, as Frazier before him was also a defensive coach but was not finding similar results.
Everything peaked for Minnesota in that magical 2017 NFC Conference Championship game run, but Zimmer’s defenses still performed well through 2019 as well. Those defenses have fallen off sharply, though, the past two seasons, which is the biggest reason he finds himself departing Minnesota.
One thing most Vikings fans might not realize is how much stability Minnesota had at the QB position under Mike Zimmer. Although the Vikings often found themselves changing their QB every few years, the play at that position was never as bad as it was pre-Zimmer (looking at you, Christian Ponder, Matt Cassell, and Josh Freeman).
From Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, and Kirk Cousins, Minnesota only had a QB rank in the bottom half of the NFL in PFF grade once under Zimmer (Bridgewater ranked 18th in 2015). This is a big reason Zimmer never posted a record worse than 7-9 in his 8 seasons.
Mike Zimmer’s defenses in 2020 (which he called the worst defense he had ever coached) and in 2021 collapsed tragically compared to the standards he had set for himself in his first six seasons. However, one area he managed to almost always succeed in was third-down defense.
Although it ends up meaning nothing, Mike Zimmer got to go out with a victory yesterday against the Bears, with his defense putting forth a performance that hopefully left him with a bit of joy. A Patrick Peterson pick-six capped off a solid second-half defensive performance. Even with all the positives from yesterday, the thorn in the Vikings’ side all season still reared its ugly head.
Minnesota allowed a TD with roughly 30 seconds left to go in the first half, marking the umpteenth time the Vikings defense allowed a score inside of 2 minutes to go in the first half of games. Nearly 22% of the points this team gave up all season came inside of those two minutes of games. That is 22% of their total points allowed in roughly 3% of total game time this year. Truly incredible.
Minnesota will miss Zimmer’s no excuses, no BS attitude. That attitude often led to great quotes and soundbites out of him, which never failed to entertain. Zimmer went out on Sunday with a fantastic comeback to a reporter who asked him about his job status.
Mike Zimmer will be the first to tell you how these last few years have not gone according to plan. While you might be hard-pressed to find a Vikings fan who still wanted Zimmer to stick around, he gives Minnesota a lot of things to be thankful for. No more were the ugly seasons where the team was eliminated by December. His teams were always competitive, and he made sure they fought tooth and nail until the end.
Unfortunately, this sums up the history of the Minnesota Vikings franchise. They entered 2021 with the 7th highest winning percentage all-time among NFL teams yet are the only team in the top 15 without a Super Bowl victory. Good, but never good enough. Will Mike Zimmer’s replacement finally get over the hump? Minnesota should start praying now.