Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has said on multiple occasions that he expects the team to be pretty good this year. And he may be right. What happens if he’s not?
A second straight year of no playoffs could trigger a change in Minnesota. Zimmer isn’t flinching at the chatter; he’s pushing back against it.
“I think if you polled all the offensive coaches in the league, they would say that I’m still ahead of the curve,” Zimmer said, via Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “They would tell you how much they respect me. So I don’t worry about all that. The fans can say all that stuff they want, but the people who know, they know.”
That doesn’t mean Zimmer isn’t feeling pressure to atone from a ridiculously bad season in 2020, especially in his area of expertise -- the defense. Then again, Zimmer thinks that he did pretty well, given the talent level on the team.
"[Co-defensive coordinator] Andre [Patterson] and I talked early in the season and said, ‘If we can win eight games with this group that we got, it’s probably one of the best coaching jobs there was,’” Zimmer said. “We ended up winning seven.”
This year, it will take more than seven for Zimmer’s work to be regarded as successful. And that puts extra pressure on him.
“I feel pressure every year, so I don’t look at it like I’m coaching for my job,” Zimmer said. “I’m going to put my resume out there on the field just like the players. And if people don’t think I’m good enough to do it, so be it. Somebody else does.”
That’s an interesting perspective. Should the Vikings fear that, if they make a change, Zimmer will land on his feet elsewhere, and thrive? That goes directly to the question that every team must ask itself when changing coaches. Can you be sure that the next coach will be better?
Zimmer has been good, but the Vikings have yet to put together consecutive playoff seasons under his command. This year, they’re risk the first back-to-back failures to get there since he was hired in 2014. If they stay healthy (Zimmer’s recent complaint about the impact of finances on depth confirm the importance of avoiding injury), and if the offense doesn’t regress the way some fear it will based on the preseason performances, they should get back to the postseason field again.
The real question, if they get there, is whether and to what extent they’ll be able to compete with the best teams the NFC has to offer. That’s been the problem with the Vikings of the past 40-plus years. They’re periodically good enough to get close to the Super Bowl, but they’re never good enough to punch through. The best way for Zimmer, now 65, to stay in Minnesota as long as he wants would be to rise up in a year that has not nearly the number of high-end franchises that are currently crammed into the AFC.
It starts today. If the Vikings are indeed going to have a year that stretches deep into January, they need to make quick work of the Bengals on the second Sunday in September.