As if they were specifically waiting for every Vikings source to write the “Zimmer on the hot seat in 2020?!” article (about two years after yours truly got crucified for reporting the same), the Vikings have leaked that they’re currently working on a multi-year extension for head coach Mike Zimmer.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 22, 2020
Zimmer has been incredibly successful, especially during the regular season, since joining the purple in 2014. Coming off of a 3-13 season, Zimmer lead the Vikings to 7-9 (the worst record he has posted). In total Zimmer has a 57-38-1 record, and he has gone 2-3 in the playoffs as well.
He has done so well that fans and some in the media have felt that he essentially not done enough. The team seemed to signal as much after the second playoff embarrassment in three seasons, by letting Zimmer’s long-time collaborator and “defensive coordinator” George Edwards go the same week the Vikings were dominated by the 49ers and mere weeks after the team released a statement supporting Zimmer (after many began to question whether he was the right man for the job as the Vikings had perhaps their best on paper roster ever (which is saying something) but weren’t the dominating force some said they should have been).
While that sounds confusing, it is a valid question as one has to wonder if Zimmer’s success is a product of general manager Rick Spielman’s draft acumen or because of his defensive mastery.
You could argue the opposite, as well, as Spielman has had remarkable success with draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. On the other side? It’s a much more mixed bag.
He’s missed on every wide receiver outside of a fifth-rounder (although that pick hasn’t aged as well as it should’ve a la Percy Harvin), had bad luck at the QB position (in terms of who was available in the case of Ponder (a terrible QB draft class) and in terms of Teddy Bridgewater for obvious reasons.
You could argue that Zimmer has an innate ability to identify, draft and develop talent for his defense. The question is whether or not that defense is enough to warrant keeping Zimmer as the team rebuilds.
Spielman essentially did the bidding of Zimmer since 2014, focusing on player after player Zimmer coveted. This team has used FOUR first round picks and one second rounder on corners this past decade on Xavier Rhodes (who predated Zimmer’s arrival), Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, Jeff Gladney and Mackenzie Alexander respectively.
That’s for a position group that has two starters and a nickel spot. That’d be okay if the corners weren’t the weak spot of the defense in 2019, or if the team hadn’t NOT picked an offensive lineman before the 4th-round from 2013 to 2017.
Zimmer has been known to give complete control to his offensive coordinators, plural. He’s gone through FIVE offensive coordinators since 2014 in Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur, John DeFilippo, Kevin Stefanski and now Gary Kubiak.
Shurmur and Stefanski left to be head coaches, but DeFilippo and Turner either gave up or were fired mid-season. That means an offensive coordinator has a 50% chance of either bolstering their career or nearly ending it when joining the coaching staff.
Hardly encouraging, even with Gary Kubiak the closest thing to King Midas the league has seen this century. But, it is that inconsistency from the offense that has drawn criticism to Zimmer as he essentially is a glorified defensive coordinator who at times seems so disconnected from what the offense, HIS offense is doing that he can’t answer simple offensive game plan answers after a loss.
But he has been a winner and his defenses have typically ended the season with good numbers in terms of points allowed, or total defense. The issue is and has been those defenses showing up in big games.
The 2017 playoffs are a good example as it was seemingly the last time we felt like Zimmer’s defense was good enough to win a championship as long as the offense scored 18-20 points a game.
They shut out the high powered Saints offense in the first half of the Divisional Round of those playoffs, then couldn’t stop anything they did in the second half. That was the start of the criticism that Zimmer was unable to adjust to the oppositions adjustments.
Then came the Eagles and their back-up QB Nick Foles. Zimmer admitted that he essentially out-coached himself, as the veteran Vikings defenders looked completely lost as the Eagles walked up and down the field with impunity from the second quarter on.
Then the 2018 season started and there were reports that the defense had given up on Zimmer. That’s where my hot seat article came from, as other reporters with more access and success (and probably better credit scores) reported the same.
The defense improved but still never felt like the force it was in 2017. Outside of the amazing game plan against the Saints in last seasons playoffs (where flipping the defensive ends and tackles destroyed the under 6’ Brees’ throwing lanes), it has essentially become an unspoken understanding that the Vikings need an elite offense if they’re going to make a serious run.
With teams like the 49ers showing that there are new powers in the NFC, and the Vikings essentially tearing down a lot of what Zimmer built as they ran face first into the chainsaw that is the salary cap, many questioned if Zimmer was the man to rebuild this defense before a draft that could make or break this team for the next five or more years.
The good news is that, again, Zimmer is good at identifying and developing defensive talent. The problem is that it takes his corners about three years to get up to snuff, and that it could be noted that perhaps those players wouldn’t necessarily work in another scheme.
So it makes sense that the team would extend Zimmer, as he had another year left on his deal and thus was integral to the 2020 draft and its FIFTEEN picks, especially considering five of those picks were defensive backs.
It also should be noted that Kubiak is the most accomplished offensive coordinator Zimmer has had yet, and that he could elevate the offense to the elite level needed to get over the hump that is teams like the Niners.
However, it does feel like we’ve seen all of this before. With Zimmer coming in during the tail end of the three year run where the team had a whopping seven first-round picks. Zimmer also had Norv Turner, who is considered to be on the same level as Kubiak in terms of offensive prowess.
With the team spending every last dime to the point of this off-seasons blood-letting, it is also at least fair to ask that question as it has felt that Zimmer has focused too much on his defense with results that lead to his long time “defensive coordinator” George Edwards being fired as a sign that ownership was not satisfied with the status quo.
So, this is a bit of a head scratcher. But then again, perhaps this is me nit picking because of my own expectations which derive from that same status quo, one that has objectively at least kept the window of opportunity open longer than any time since Denny Green ran the show.
Either way it looks like Zimmer is the man. Then again, Brad Childress lasted about a year after signing his extension, so this doesn’t necessarily mean THAT much.