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 night’s game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle were spent researching the NFL’s 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 didn’t already know, anything can happen to anyone not named Belichick or Tomlin at any time in the NFL.
The Vikings did indeed lose Monday night’s 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. It’s a bold move that heightens the stakes but isn’t 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 league’s ultimate and grittiest survivors.
He didn’t 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 Zimmer’s 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 league’s 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 hadn’t 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 don’t know because I’ve never been an offensive head coach,” he said. “But, yeah, it’s a tough job. You’re 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 don’t do anything with the other side of the ball.”
In Kansas City, this year’s offense wasn’t affected by Nagy’s departure as offensive coordinator. That’s because the offense belongs to head coach Andy Reid.
Now, Chicago, with Nagy as head coach, doesn’t have to worry about this year’s 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 you’re doing well, they could take the defensive [coordinator] if you’re an offensive coach. So, I guess, I don’t know. I think being a head coach in the NFL is hard either way.”
He’s 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: firstname.lastname@example.org