Vikings coach Mike Zimmer survives through ups and downs

December 16, 2018

There was time to kill and a strong sense that another loss was going to greatly increase the probability of Purple panic buttons being pushed throughout Vikings Nation.

So the pregame press box hours before Monday nights game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle were spent researching the NFLs head coaching (not-so)-merry-go-round since 2014, when the Vikings hired Mike Zimmer.

For the record, 22 teams have hired 34 head coaches since January 2014. Eight of the 14 hired in 2014 and 2015 have since been fired, including six of the nine with defensive backgrounds.

Tennessee and San Francisco have hired three coaches since 2014. The Browns will join them after the season. The Lions, Buccaneers, Bills, Bears, Broncos, Raiders and Jets have hired two coaches since 2014.

So, yeah, in case you didnt already know, anything can happen to anyone not named Belichick or Tomlin at any time in the NFL.

The Vikings did indeed lose Monday nights game 21-7. And one could argue that Zimmer himself was among the first wave to panic when he fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after a mere 13 games on the job.

The strong sense now is that in doing so Zimmer has gambled his reputation and possibly his job as leader of this franchise beyond this season. Its a bold move that heightens the stakes but isnt exactly career suicide, considering the Vikings still hold the sixth playoff seed and are heading into a favorable season-ending stretch against Miami at home on Sunday, the Lions in Detroit next week and Chicago in a Week 17 home game that could see the Bears resting their starters.

Zimmer not only could survive, he could thrive if his talented team regains its confidence and offensive rhythm against weaker opponents.

Zimmer, of course, is one of the leagues ultimate and grittiest survivors.

He didnt get his first head coaching job until he was 57. On his first opening day, he was the same age, 58, as Bud Grant was on his last closing day in 1985.

When Zimmers wife, Vikki, died unexpectedly at 50 in 2009, Zimmer coached the Bengals defense the following Sunday. His players gave him a game ball after a victory.

In Minnesota, he arrogantly said on Day 1 that he would fix the leagues worst defense. Then he did it.

He weathered the Adrian Peterson fiasco. Started seven quarterbacks in five seasons. And he has won two division titles, posted a 45-31-1 record and gone to a conference title game with a backup quarterback as an old-school, defense-oriented head coach at a time when the league trend is just the opposite.

In 2014, three coaches with defensive backgrounds were hired as head coaches. Two years later, Zimmer was the only one who hadnt been fired.

The recent trend, of course, is to hire young offensive-minded coaches such as Sean McVay, 32, and Matt Nagy, 40. Of the 20 head coaches hired in the past three years, 15 have offensive backgrounds.

Zimmer was asked Thursday if he thinks being a defensive head coach is more challenging in an offensively driven league. (Although that Belichick-Brady marriage seems to have done OK.)

Well, I dont know because Ive never been an offensive head coach, he said. But, yeah, its a tough job. Youre trying to do two jobs, so that part is hard. I suppose they do it like I do it, pay attention when the defense is out there. But you know some guys dont do anything with the other side of the ball.

In Kansas City, this years offense wasnt affected by Nagys departure as offensive coordinator. Thats because the offense belongs to head coach Andy Reid.

Now, Chicago, with Nagy as head coach, doesnt have to worry about this years success affecting the offensive continuity and rhythm around Mitchell Trubisky next season.

Yeah, I guess, Zimmer said. But it could go the other way, too. If youre doing well, they could take the defensive [coordinator] if youre an offensive coach. So, I guess, I dont know. I think being a head coach in the NFL is hard either way.

Hes right. And many of them have had the short shelf life to prove it.

Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com

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