Following the Minnesota Vikings’ first (and, so far, only) win of the season in Week 4 over the Houston Texans, head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien was let go by the Texans. Now, as the Vikings turn the page on a frustrating loss to the Seattle Seahawks, they are preparing to face an 0-5 Atlanta Falcons team that just let go of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
That’s two coaches in two weeks and we’re just rounding the quarter pole of the season.
NFL head coaches don’t often reach a stage of total job security. It’s a brutal fact of life in the NFL that coaches get relieved of their duties every year. Even coaches with Super Bowl wins on their resumes eventually lose their jobs in this “what have you done for me lately?” league.
Side note: sports journalism like a lot of fields, especially at times like this, is fraught with uncertainty and a serious lack of job security. Therefore, we (okay, most of us) take no pleasure in reporting on coaches or players or GMs losing their jobs. It’s news, though. It’s an unfortunate part of the job. And when teams are playing poorly – especially teams that had high expectations – speculation about coaches being let go inevitably mounts.
The proverbial NFL coaching hot seat is full right now.
Matt Patricia of the Detroit Lions, Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles, Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals, Adam Gase of the New York Jets and Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers have all been mentioned in association with the infamous hot seat. None of those coaches have led their teams to more than one win this season.
Which brings us to Mike Zimmer, who in case you hadn’t heard, has led the Vikings to a 1-4 start.
Go ahead and search for “hot seat” and “Mike Zimmer” on Twitter or Google. You’ll find a lot of results. Thus far, from what I can see, the speculation about Zimmer’s job security is just that: speculation. I’ve yet to find anything that looks like a credible report with sources (obviously anonymous) suggesting his job is in trouble. Maybe they are out there, but I looked and didn’t see any yet.
When you have one win in five weeks after entering the season as a co-favorite to win your division, however, the hot-seat talk fires up. And when your team loses in prime time by one point in a game that included what many deemed as questionable or controversial coaching decisions that backfired, the din of discontent is amped up even more.
That’s the situation in which Zimmer finds himself. The last thing he can afford now is a loss at home to a winless Falcons team that just changed coaches midstream. Having a bye the following week would theoretically provide extra time for a new coach to step in and get organized. In other words, if there was ever such a thing as good timing to replace a head coach, a bye week is it. Everyone from the front office down to the final player on the practice squad knows this.
Zimmer needs a convincing win against the Atlanta Falcons.
The good news for him is that, even without Dalvin Cook, the Vikings should be able to handle the Falcons. Atlanta’s offense has some talent, even if Julio Jones is out again, but the Dirty Bird defense is bad. Really bad. Kirk Cousins should be able to shred them. Being 2-4 heading into the bye week isn’t good, especially with a trip to Lambeau Field looming in Week 8. However, it would seem to be enough for Zimmer to hold onto his job. He’d remain on fairly thin ice, though. A blowout loss to the Packers following the bye could revive the speculation in a hurry.
So, exactly what does Zimmer need to do in order to retain his job? Win games, yes. But how many wins does he need? What’s realistic?
A LITTLE HISTORY
Here’s where things stood with each of the past four Vikings head coaches to be let go:
- Denny Green went 11-5 in 2000 and then started the 2001 season 5-10 before being replaced by Mike Tice for the final game of the season.
- Tice was given his walking papers following a 9-7 record in 2005.
- Brad Childress replaced Tice in 2006 and in 2009 got his team to the NFC Championship Game against the Saints. You know how that went. Then 2010 happened – it was arguably the strangest season in Vikings’ history. Childress was let go following a 3-7 start, replaced by Leslie Frazier.
- Frazier was gone following a 5-10-1 record in 20013.
So, Tice was let go following four seasons of mediocrity (6-10, 9-7, 8-8, 9-7). Frazier was let go following three bad seasons out of four (6-10, 3-13, 10-6, 5-10-1). It would seem Zimmer’s case most closely resembles that of Childress and Green – two coaches who had experienced success and taken their teams to the NFC Championship, but then ultimately stumbled to bad records amidst heightened expectations. Again, Green was 5-10 and Childress was 3-7 before their jobs were taken away.
So, again, how many wins does Zimmer need? Some are suggesting that missing the playoffs (which seems almost certain at this point) will be enough of a reason for Zimmer to lose his job. In looking at Green’s five wins and the three from Childress and taking into account the obstacles faced by the Vikings in 2020, especially on defense, an argument could be made that six wins might be the magic number for him.
ARE SIX WINS ENOUGH?
With apologies to the “Tank for Trevor” contingent, looking at the remaining schedule, six wins is certainly plausible. The Vikings would need five more victories, and the following five games figure to give them the best shot:
- Week 9 at home against the Lions
- Week 11 at home against the Cowboys
- Week 12 at home against the Panthers
- Week 13 at home against the Jaguars
- And then either Week 15 at home against the Bears or Week 17 on the road against the Lions.
This assumes losses in the following games: Week 8 against the Packers, Week 10 at the Bears, Week 14 at the Buccaneers, Week 16 at the Saints on Christmas Day. The Vikings won’t be favored in any of those road contests. They might not be favored in some of those home games either (e.g. the Panthers and Bears).
Is a 6-10 record good enough?
Maybe not… if the team suffers some ugly blowouts or Zimmer makes what are deemed by the front office (not the fans) as poor coaching decisions. Or if it’s determined that he’s “lost the locker room.” There’s no indication that we’re there.
There are those in Vikings nation who are impatient and have already have seen enough. There are some who want Zimmer gone already and want the team to lose as many games as possible in order to get a top pick in the NFL Draft. Setting biases aside, though, and assuming the team continues to show flashes of good play and effort and wins additional games. How many wins are enough wins for Zimmer to be coaching this team in 2021?