The Case for Zim

The NFL regular season is over, as is 2018, and the end of the year reaper is taking coaching victims like a fall harvesting. As of this writing, five coaches have bit the dust (six if you count the Packers Mike McCarthy). But if you listened to or read any Vikings commentary since yesterday, there have plenty of folks calling for the head of one more—Mike Zimmer. Well, that isn’t happening, and in my opinion it shouldn’t.

I do know that this this notion is in opposition to my Morning Joes’ co-host Joe Johnson, as he stated when he was fuming and smoking on his post-game periscope on Sunday. (Alert—you may want to turn into the Morning Joes on Wednesday morning—we moved it to avoid the holiday—and listen to us debate it further.) But I have felt all season and continue to assert that Zimmer should stay.

I predicted it back in November for a story I wrote for The Sports Post and PrimeSportsNet.com that Zimmer wasn’t going anywhere. And certainly predicting it is no great shakes—it is either a yes or no situation—what’s more worthwhile talking about is what should happen. It was reported on Monday that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said that both Rick Spielman and Zimmer are safe, so we can now speculate if this was the right thing to do.

The twitter-verse has been lousy with “fire Zimmer” since yesterday’s poor performance in the “win-and-get-in” game against the Chicago Bears. With everything on the line, the Vikings showed up late to the game on offense and defense and that dug them a hole they could not climb out of. Certainly they couldn’t climb out against a very good—and simply better—team such as the Bears.

Folks want to lay that all at the feat of Zimmer, with, perhaps, Spielman and quarterback Kirk Cousins standing just behind him, so that a little bit gets on them. And that is fine. There is justification for that point of view. This kind of criticism comes with the territory for those folks, so you may fire away. But I am not in that camp.

That game on Sunday was extremely disappointing—on so many levels—not least of all that it allowed the Philadelphia Eagles back into the playoffs. But when you look at the whole season, it is hard not to surmise that the Eagles are a better team than the Vikings and deserve to be there more than Minnesota. And I firmly believe had the Vikings pulled out the win somehow on Sunday that we’d all be having this discussion next Monday after the Bears beat the Vikings in Soldier Field. So, I will find solace in the 18th pick in the draft instead.

The Vikings’ finish looks bad compared to where they were last season. (And while I was an advocate for keeping Case Keenum, I do believe now I was wrong then and am glad they made the move for Cousins. It was right to get a better quarterback who could handle more of the offense and was better at reading defenses.) But if you are blaming Zimmer for this season then you have to credit him for 2017.

Zimmer and Spielman have brought the franchise to this point, and while there may be some greener pastures shimmering on the other side of the fence, I don’t think the Vikings would have gotten to last season’s heights without this brain trust. The defense doesn’t become top five the past two seasons without Zimmer, et. al. And the offense doesn’t appear on the cusp of excellence without them.

But the offensive line is where the brain trust is culpable. I have been advocating for it for several years, even before it became widely popular in Vikingville to do so. Many decades of watching the game has proven to me it is won in the trenches, and while drafting skill positions (and defenders, in Zimmer’s case) is much more sexy than offensive linemen, the brain trust can no longer ignore the unit with their greatest assets: a first- and second-round draft pick. It is not like they haven’t tried (Clint Boling and other free agent swing and misses come to mind), it is that it just hasn’t worked out (Alex Boone, Bret Jones). That is on them and needs to be remedied this offseason—via free agency, the draft and even an unlikely trade.

Any of you folks who have read me (all three of you and my family, perhaps) know that I put a lot of stock into the human side of this business. I never want to forget that the players, no matter how much they are getting paid (and how much our purchases subsidize them), are human and subject to good and bad days, decisions and performances. And that sometimes, they run into players that are just simply better. This is not an exact science, and human beings can’t always just nut up and play they way that you expect them to when they lose a beloved offensive coach days before the season. That has to be factored into this season.

Over and above that (here comes the excuse parade), the team got a new offensive coordinator and changed him in mid-season (again), They got a quarterback working with a new offense. They lost their first-round pick to season ending injury again. They lost their star running back for a good portion of the season. They lost their left guard before the season and got their center back late. They have another former first-rounder that didn’t work out at receiver. And the list goes on. Some of these factors become the responsibility of the brain trust; some of them do not. So, you are can still make your case for cutting the whole bunch loose. I won’t join you.

Ultimately, I don’t want to go back to the days of Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress or even Mike Tice—those days always brought us back to where teams such as the Packers, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets find themselves today. While there is excitement at the point of acquiring something new, it always takes a while to build that new thing into something that we all want to cheer for (and perhaps my age makes me more aware of the clock on finally getting to the promised land). In addition, there is no guarantee that what you just acquired is going to be better than what you let go. Let’s see if Sean McVay takes the Los Angeles Rams further than Zimmer did last year. Or that Matt Nagy will with the Bears. Or that Andy Reid will in Kansas City. There are no guarantees.

But there are guarantees, in my mind, that Zimmer is better than what we had at the helm in recent memory (I have stated their names above). And in order to get to the point we all want the Vikings to be, it takes time to build. Things change fast, but usually nothing of permanence happens overnight.

So, I am still in for what Zimmer and Spielman and the rest of crew is building. I still feel the Vikings are on the cusp of another playoff run, and I would like to give Cousins another chance to lead it. If it is more of the same next season (particularly behind a better line) than I start thinking about the future with someone else. But, for right now, the Vikings have determined that Zimmer and Spielman are the people to direct that charge. And I am on board for them being the ones to do it.

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Joe Oberle

Joe Oberle is a veteran sportswriter/editor/reporter and has covered the Vikings since 2008. The author of three books, he has been published in numerous periodicals and websites. He is the managing editor for VikingsTerritory.com and purplePTSD.com, as well.

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  1. I think what has hurt this team more than anything outside of Pat is who they chosen at OC ~Norv was not the Norv of old nor was JD the magic man many thought he was~And lets not kid ourselves this was JD offense that Stefanski ran over the last 3 weeks~I think the fact the Vikings have had two OC leave before the end of the season says a lot about their bad chose’s and that has to be fixed~Is Stefanski the right man for the OC job?~Maybe maybe not~But the one thing the Vikings have to do is make sure they find the right guy who brings out the best in Cousins~That along with some really good OG’s who are capable of both run and pass block~

  2. Nice article and what I posted yesterday to fellow Purple friends who were emnading the firing of Zimmer:

    Kirk Cousins stats:
    3 yr AVG in WASH: 4392 27 12 67 97.6
    2018 Vikings 4298 30 10 70.1 99.7

    Brett Favre stats for comparison and s#^*s and giggles:
    2009 Vikings 3,547 33 7 68.4 107.2
    Granted, Favre had AD and cheating defenses stacking the box, but other than the QB rating, Cousins is right there with Favre and our last really good team before the 2017 season.

    Case Keenum stats:
    3 yr AVG elsewhere: started 10 games at the Rams before MN
    2017 Vikings 3,547 22 7 67.6 98.3
    2018 Broncos 3,890 18 15 62.3 81.2

    The loss yesterday is still very raw and painful, but blaming Cousins or Zimmer is misplaced anger. Cousins stats show he is a model of consistency, actually exceeding what he had previously done with the Redskins; however, he is solid, consistent QB that Minnesota has not had since Culpepper, and Culpepper had a couple HOF WRs in Moss and Carter to help carry him. Diggs and Thielen are good but HOF… TBD.
    Fire Zimmer for getting Cousins or this weak season? No, I am upset that we took CB Mike Hughes with our 1st round pick rather than an offensive linemen like NYG starting Guard Will Hernandez who was a beast this past year for the Giants. He was available and projected by many to go to the Vikings. I like Hughes a lot, but what was our immediate need? Offensive line, we were so deep in the secondary that the Hughes pick was kind of a head scratcher. Berger had retired but Easton had played very well and you can’t predict a season ending injury. We knew Isadora, Compton were decent backups but not starters, so we moved out Right Tackle Remmers to Right Guard and figured Rashod Hill or a later draft pick (2nd rounder O’Neill) could play RT. Easton was lost for the year, Remmers struggled working the interior, no one stepped up at LG after losing Easton where Hernandez would have excelled FOR YEARS. Our O-line as a group is mediocre and they showed that every time we played a good defense or solid team. Was our O-line miraculously transformed with a new OC in Stefanski after running over a weak run defense in Miami and a hapless Lions? Of course not, those teams were weak. Cousins couldn’t have really done much better and I fully expect he will keep the team competitive when he is not running for his life and that starts with the offensive line, period.
    Zimmer runs the defense who were still solid this year, gave up 6 points more per game, but 4th in overall defense; so firing Zimmer for the offense issues is not the answer either. Hopefully a healthy Easton will return next year, (he’s a FA); Compton is a FA, gone; O’Neill worked out great, good draft pick; Remmers struggled but not sure if we keep him with O’Neill, so he may be gone; Elflein is solid, Reiff is getting old but played well overall at LT. Like last year, we will need a GUARD and if we don’t address that need, especially with Chicago’s defense exploding with acquiring Khalil Mack; we are in trouble. I don’t know what FAs are out there, but I’d go young unless we get an elite Guard like Steve Hutchinson; otherwise go with monster 6’4, 330 pound first round pick and shore up the O-line so Cousins has the time to do what he does best, pass the ball.
    Keenum did exactly in Denver what Zimmer and the Vikings feared he would do if we kept him, be mediocre and would have been paid a huge salary to remain with the Vikes. I like Keenum, a lot, but I’ll take what the Vikings coaching staff didn’t see with a backup playing for nothing but his next contract playing with absolutely no pressure or expectations to perform (see TB Fitzpatrick, Eagles Foles). Keenum is a solid backup and nothing more.
    The pressure on Cousins this season was immense and statistically he handled it better than he ever has in his career. I’ll take that consistency at QB every year and I’m sure he will give us 25-30 TDs, low INTs, high completion % and 4,000 yards give or take. AND most of all, for once in over a decade, we are not talking about the need for a franchise QB (sorry Teddy).