The Vikings owners declined to make a coaching change after the team performed a belly flop. That wasn’t the wrong decision.
Here’s change that should be considered, though, for Mike Zimmer. He should look inward and consider adjusting his coaching style after overseeing an outfit that claimed first prize among the NFL’s biggest disappointments this season.
Teams need coaches to lower the temperature in stressful times, not raise it. You wonder if Zimmer’s penchant for being short-fused didn’t rub off on his team.
The Vikings played skittish in their biggest games. Too often they looked emotionally tight and not ready for the moment. That reflects poorly on Zimmer’s leadership.
Now is a time for serious organizational soul-searching. This season never felt right. Something was amiss. The heated sideline exchange between Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen after a failed third-down pass in the finale became a snapshot that defined the season.
Some might brush that moment off as two competitors letting their frustration boil over in public view. That wasn’t frustration. It was panic. Panic that a season that began with championship optimism was about to go up in flames and they couldn’t stop it.
Nobody expects Zimmer to be Mr. Sunshine, but there has to be better coaching methods than going for two-point conversions in a huff after a rookie kicker misses one field goal in a preseason game. Or offering repeated public rebukes of his offensive coordinator’s play calls. The whole vibe this season just felt … uptight.
Zimmer’s players showed passionate support of him the day after the season ended. In no way has he lost his locker room. He remains a savvy defensive strategist who has instilled a culture of accountability throughout the entire organization.
Starting over isn’t the answer right now.
Pressure is building though. The Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling reported that Zimmer has one season remaining on his contract. It’s hard to envision the Wilf brothers giving him an extension after this debacle.
Barring that surprise, Zimmer will enter 2019 as a lame duck, the ultimate win-or-else edict in sports. Some fans think all the Vikings need are two new starting guards and then it’s Super Bowl homeboy. Sorry, it can’t be that simple. It wasn’t the offensive line that gave up a 16-play, nine-minute drive with the season on the line Sunday.
Zimmer’s tenure has been a roller-coaster ride, the dips occurring when expectations were raised. His team collapsed like a wobbly card table in the NFC Championship Game last season. And this season was a bust. A coaching change will be inevitable if the Vikings don’t show a significant spike next year.
The regroup starts immediately with Zimmer in the market for an offensive coordinator. Let’s assume he hires someone with similar philosophical views this time. Here’s a crazy idea: Maybe figure that out during the interview process.
Fans who lap up Zim’s gruffness probably enjoyed his “run the ball” critiques of John DeFilippo’s style, but coach-vs.-coordinator friction projects an image of internal chaos. It’s a bad look.
The offense became discombobulated once Zimmer started voicing his complaints publicly. He and his next coordinator need to establish a clear-cut vision for how the offense should operate. And then Zimmer should get out of the way.
The offensive line remains the root of the problem, an area that Zimmer also can help fix. Hint: Pick an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft and don’t sway General Manager Rick Spielman to take a defensive player.
Ask Zimmer how many cornerbacks he needs and he’ll respond “one more.” It’s a funny quip, but the offensive line isn’t a laughing matter. The Vikings need major upgrades there, not one more cornerback.
Expectations will remain high next season. Maybe not Super Bowl-or-bust, but the Vikings still have a premier defense, talented skill players on offense and an $84 million quarterback.
The pressure to win big isn’t going away. It’s on Zimmer to make sure he and his players handle that burden with more composure.