Should Mike Zimmer Be on The Hot Seat?

In 2014, the Minnesota Vikings were looking to change directions after an uninspiring 5-10-1 record under Leslie Frazier. Minnesota responded by pivoting toward the oft-overlooked, surly veteran defensive coordinator from Cincinnati. The earliest reports rightly noted that Zim was chosen primarily because of the belief he could fix the defense.

Fast forward seven seasons and things aren’t quite as hopeful among Vikings fans, leading many to ask: should Mike Zimmer be on the hot seat? Notice the first word. The question isn’t is Zimmer on the hot seat – he almost certainly is – but, rather, should he be.

For many, the answer is a straightforward yes. The NFL moves pretty fast; the simple fact that he’s had close to a decade of coaching with one team means it’s time to deliver. TVG’s question to Vikings writers & podcasters about 2021 success featured at least one answer about the necessity of winning a Super Bowl. Many fans believe there is reason to fire Zimmer unless Minnesota finally gets that elusive Lombardi.

The reality, though, is that Zim’s job security (or lack thereof) is likely more complicated than just one outcome. One could easily envision a scenario where Minnesota makes a run to the NFC Championship game or perhaps even a Super Bowl berth that results in Zim sticking around. Maybe the firing threshold will be even lower.

Alas, we return to the article’s central question: should Mike Zimmer be on the hot seat? To answer that question, let’s take a trip down Minnesota’s memory lane.

Mike Zimmer, The Hot Seat, and A Promising Start

All things considered, Zimmer did well in his opening year with the Vikings. As I mentioned at the top, we were coming off an underwhelming 5-10-1 record. Our defense was lousy. Zim changed the feel around the team. Gone was Frazier’s soft-spoken, gentle ways. Zim was brash and to the point. The team responded with a 7-9 record in spite of the talent deficiencies.

In his second season, Zim led us to an 11-5 record. We went toe-to-toe with the Seahawks in the playoffs, a superior team. Were it not for a brutal FG attempt from Blair Walsh, Zim’s squad would have beaten the better team. Credit where it’s due: Zim’s team played really, really well.

The next year began with that infamous 5-0 start before things largely unraveled due to injuries. Now, it’s the coach’s job to get the most out of his group, not to make excuses. Perhaps Minnesota ought to have still been able to get to the playoffs that year. Therein lies the issue, though: Zim’s down years have corresponded to peculiar situations that are out of his control.

Indeed, Zim has navigated a true smorgasbord of peculiar situations, as Dustin Baker outlined over at Vikings Territory. Baker draws attention to not only the injuries, but also the Adrian Peterson situation, the pandemic, Walsh’s miss, and the Diggs trade. He then explains: “Since arriving [in] Minnesota, Zimmer has engineered a win-loss record of 64-47-1 (.576), which is the eighth-best in the NFL since 2014. It’s bedfellows with the Baltimore Ravens (.598) and Buffalo Bills (.554). To a degree, that means Zimmer is winning ballgames in spite of the oddities.” For what it’s worth, a recent ESPN article broke down the odd-year, even-year discrepancy in Zim’s winning percentage: “Minnesota has gone 34-14 (.708) in odd years under Mike Zimmer but only 30-33-1 (.477) in even years, including 7-9 last season.” 2021 is an odd year, so let’s hope the pattern holds.

With the peculiar circumstances in mind, how much can we really blame him for the off years? On the one hand, he’s been in Minnesota for seven years. The team hasn’t gotten beyond the NFC Championship Game, so it’s now time to put together a truly dominant season that results in a Super Bowl. On the other hand, few have had to deal with as much as Zim has had to deal with over these past several years. He’s also put together several strong, competitive teams.

We’ve got a strong roster and a reasonable chance of winning the Super Bowl. What should the Vikings do if Mike Zimmer fails to lead this team deep into the playoffs?

What to Do?

Not too long, Cole Smith wrote a piece for Zone Coverage where he details Minnesota’s struggles in primetime games. Fans, by and large, associate our consistently underwhelming prime time performance with our well-compensated QB, but Cole notes that continued struggle in 2021 could lead to a coaching change: “If they can’t perform when America’s eyes are on them, it could cost both Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman their jobs.”

Cole’s probably right here. We’ve got a tough schedule, one that features prime time games against Dallas, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Green Bay. I’m most worried about those pesky Bears, but all four games will be tough. Anything less than 2-2 will still be a major disappointment.

I’ve got our Vikings going 11-6 this season (a record I broke down in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). Frankly, anything less will also be reason for disappointment. I get that there are various factors working against this team, including some concerns about injuries and depth. We need to be legitimately competitive, though, and we also need to make some noise in the playoffs.

I’ll admit that I’m a big fan of Zim. I happen to believe that he’s the right man to lead the Vikings. At some point, though, we need to see that next step. Kirk Cousins is now in his fourth year with the team. Even without Irv Smith Jr., the offense has elite skill players. During the offseason, Spielman brought in a ton of defensive talent, headlined by Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Everson Griffen, Bashaud Breeland, and several others. There’s no reason for us to be unsuccessful. The pieces are there.

So, we return to the question from the beginning: should Mike Zimmer be on the hot seat? Truthfully, I don’t know the answer. I want to say no because I’m a fan, but the harsh reality is that anything less than true contention may result in new leadership in Minnesota.