Denny Green took the Vikings to NFC Championship Games in 1998 and 2000. He made the playoffs in eight of his first nine seasons as coach, compiling a record of 92-52 during that time. The Vikings fired him before the end of the 2001 season.
Brad Childress took the Vikings to the 2009 NFC Championship Game. He was fired 10 games into the 2010 season.
Mike Zimmer took the Vikings to the 2017 NFC title game. He missed the playoffs in 2018, a season in which his team faltered down the stretch, his expensive quarterback threw a tantrum during a final-game meltdown, and he fired his hand-picked offensive coordinator in December. This will be his pivotal season.
The Vikings enter the 2019 season with star power at offensive skill positions and on every level of the defense. They will be coached by Zimmer, whose record over the past four seasons is 40-23-1 with two playoff berths, and assistant head coach and offensive adviser Gary Kubiak, who coached the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory not long ago.
The Vikings should be good this year. They should make the playoffs. If they don’t, ownership will have to decide whether to give Zimmer and personnel boss Rick Spielman one more year to win with their expensive quarterback, or whether to give someone else (Kubiak?) a shot.
During his weekly news conference Wednesday, someone asked Zimmer about the state of his team.
“Hopefully, we approach things with a chip on our shoulder and try to prove something,” he said. “I don’t think we’re fragile, if that’s what you’re asking.”
That’s probably what the reporter was asking, and it’s a good question.
The 2019 Vikings are a Faberge Egg — impressive to look at, expensive, and, yes, fragile.
Ownership planned to win a Super Bowl with this current group of players, which is why Spielman has addressed the quarterback position with desperation — trading assets for Sam Bradford immediately before the start of a season, and signing Kirk Cousins to a record contract.
The Vikings missed their best chance in 2017, and now have key players dealing with the physical toll of playing for years in the NFL and the emotional toll of losing a big game.
They enter the 2019 season with talent and baggage, with a logical plan that leaves them with little margin for error and plenty of room for the kind of dysfunction that has marked the post-Bud Grant portion of franchise history.
Here are the key components of their plan and the potential problems they will face:
• Nine months after firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, the Vikings need Kubiak and new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to please Zimmer by running the ball more often and effectively while proving that they can work well together during a pressurized season. Kubiak and Stefanski are both known for their intelligence and lack of ego, but what happens if the offense fails? Zimmer has run off two offensive coordinators since November 2016. Now he has two to choose between.
• A year after signing Cousins, the Vikings are trying to make him less important by giving him better protection, easier throws and a better running game. At some point, Cousins will have to make big plays to win big games, or Spielman will get fired for investing $84 million in him.
• Dalvin Cook could become one of the NFL’s most productive and versatile backs, and if he does, the team’s offensive plans will succeed, but he has played in just 15 of 32 games since the Vikings drafted him.
• The 2017 Vikings defense ranked first in yards and points allowed. Those rankings fell to ninth and fourth, respectively, last season. This preseason, the first-team defense looked sluggish. Maybe that was a case of veterans judging preseason games to be worthless, or maybe it was a sign that this defense has grown stale.
The 2019 Vikings are talented enough to win it all, which is why Zimmer and Spielman probably will be punished, like Green and Childress before them, if they don’t.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org