Now that the Vikings disappointing season has been unceremoniously put out of its misery, the time for off-season evaluations is upon us.
Let's start things off with the man at the helm - head coach Mike Zimmer
Head Coach Mike Zimmer
Mike Zimmer just completed his fifth year as head coach of the Vikings. Those five seasons have included three basically .500 seasons where his team finished out of the playoffs, two NFC North division titles, and one playoff win.
There may be an exception, but I believe most coaches that have made it to the Super Bowl as a head coach have done so within their first five years at the helm. That’s not to say it can’t happen later, but historically it hasn’t.
Zimmer’s tenure has been a pattern of a mediocre year, good year, mediocre year, good year, mediocre year. I guess that’s optimistic for next season. He’s built a consistently good defense, if not a consistently good team that makes runs into the playoffs.
And therein lies the problem. Zimmer has been a top defensive coordinator for a long time. But he’s only been an above average head coach. He’s not been willing to give up ‘‘his baby” calling plays and being the de facto defensive coordinator, and has been more of an observer on the offensive side - pretty much giving his offensive coordinators free reign on that side of the ball.
More importantly, Zimmer has not been able to adequately prepare his team for big games or the post-season. Perhaps because he’s too involved in his defensive coordinator duties to look at the bigger picture of building a consistent message and culture - and team chemistry. He’s also been out-coached in big games in the past, and this may have damaged his stock in the eyes of his players. Philadelphia last season was the biggest example, but also the season finale this season against the Bears, and generally against the playoff teams the Vikings played they have been out-coached. Those opponents have had better game plans, more motivated troops, and got more from their players.
This situation isn’t a recipe for consistent post-season success. And so change needs to happen. And that change needs to come from Mike Zimmer, but not necessarily by replacing Mike Zimmer.
The first thing Zimmer needs to do - and change - is to decide what he wants to be. If he wants to be a head coach and honestly feels these duties are where his strength as a coach lies, then he should focus on that and delegate the defensive coordinator duties to the defensive coordinator.
On the other hand, if he feels he’s best as a defensive coordinator, he should have the self-awareness to step down from the head coaching duties and be defensive coordinator. He should be welcomed back in either role - but not both.
A Time For Fresh Ideas
Zimmer has built the Vikings defense into a consistent, top unit. That has come largely from the development of talented players, and a solid scheme. But as players have changed, the scheme has not adapted as much as perhaps it should to get the most from them. Zimmer has thought aloud about some changes he has contemplated, but never really put in place. Perhaps because he doesn’t have the time to see them through himself as he would like. Or perhaps he has become more unsure as an innovator compared to his earlier years, and its time to hand it off to a younger capable man with good ideas. Either way, if you’re not innovating and evolving as a team in the NFL, you’re falling behind and not getting the most from your players.
Zimmer Needs to Decide
Bottomline, Mike Zimmer needs to decide what role he wants to pursue going forward. Being both head coach and defensive coordinator is selling both positions short while not providing the hands-on direction and leadership the offense needs.
Mike Zimmer has a wealth of knowledge and ability as an NFL coach. But if the Vikings want to bring home a Lombardi trophy, they need Mike Zimmer to have only one role.
That should be the discussion Rick Spielman has with Zimmer as he evaluates him and how to improve the team going forward.
Should Mike Zimmer continue his dual-role of head coach and de facto defensive coordinator?
This poll is closed
He should just be fired