Mike Zimmer's Continuity Struggles Compared to Other Long-Tenured Head Coaches

Credit: Joe Nicholson (USA TODAY Sports)

Entering his eighth year as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Zimmer is the seventh-longest-tenured active head coach in the National Football League. On the surface, Zimmer’s 66-50-1 record (including playoffs) in Minnesota is more than respectable. However, his .568 career winning percentage ranks 15th among 26 active coaches with head coaching experience. The remaining six have yet to coach their first game as a head coach.

There are so many positives that come with having a head coach in place who approaches or surpasses a decade’s worth of experience with the team. But none are more obvious than providing a sense of continuity for your franchise. Having the same voice in your quarterback’s helmet on Sundays — especially if you’re a defensive head coach like Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, or Pete Carroll — builds immediate comfortability and sustainable trust for the side of the ball that a defensive head coach isn’t necessarily responsible for, like Zimmer and the Vikings. Conversely, for offensive head coaches like Sean Payton and Andy Reid, having the same coordinator calling your defense allows for the other half of your roster to develop year after year while playing in the same scheme.

Lastly, as we all know by now, having stellar quarterback play is the easiest way to build continuity in the NFL. It’s no coincidence that the longest-tenured head coaches have had the same signal-caller for a vast majority of their time at the helm.

Below is a chart of the six-longest-tenured active head coaches in the NFL. The chart also displays who their quarterbacks have been and who their coordinators are side of the ball opposite their specialty.

Head Coach Quarterbacks Opposite Coordinators
Bill Belichick – New England Patriots (2000) Drew Bledsoe (’00)

Tom Brady (’01 – ’07, ’09-’19)

Cam Newton (’20 – Present)

Offensive Coordinators:

Charlie Weis (’00 – ’04)

Josh McDaniels (’05 – ’08)

Bill O’Brien (’09 – ’11)

Josh McDaniels (’12 – Present)

Sean Payton – New Orleans Saints (2006) Drew Brees (’06 – ’20) Defensive Coordinators:

Gary Gibbs (’06 – ’08)

Gregg Williams (’09 – ’11)

Steve Spagnuolo (’12)

Rob Ryan (’13 – ’15)

Dennis Allen (’15 – Present)

Mike Tomlin – Pittsburgh Steelers (2007) Ben Roethlisberger (’07 – ’18, ’20 – Present)

Mason Rudolph (’19)

Offensive Coordinators:

Bruce Arians (’07 – ’11)

Todd Haley (’12 – ’17)

Randy Fichtner (’18 – ’20)

Matt Canada (Present)

John Harbaugh – Baltimore Ravens (2008) Joe Flacco (’08 – ’18)

Lamar Jackson (’19 – Present)

Offensive Coordinators:

Cam Cameron (’08 – ’12)

Jim Caldwell (’13)

Gary Kubiak (’14)

Marc Trestman (’15 – ’16)

Marty Mornhinweg (’17 – ’18)

Greg Roman (’19 – Present)

Defensive Coordinators:

Rex Ryan (’08)

Greg Mattison (’09 – ’10)

Chuck Pagano (’11)

Dean Pees (’12 – ’17)

Don Martindale (’18 – Present)

Pete Carroll – Seattle Seahawks (2010) Matt Hasselbeck (’10)

Tarvaris Jackson (’11)

Russell Wilson (’12 – Present)

Offensive Coordinators:

Jeremy Bates (’10)

Darrell Bevell (’11 – ’17)

Brian Schottenheimer (’18 – ’20)

Shane Waldron (Present)

Andy Reid – Kansas City Chiefs (2013) Alex Smith (’13 – ’17)

Patrick Mahomes (’18 – Present)

Defensive Coordinators:

Bob Sutton (’13 – ’18)

Steve Spagnuolo (’19 – Present)

Disclaimer: Since John Harbaugh was a long-time special teams coordinator before becoming the head coach for the Ravens in 2008, both his offensive and defensive coordinators have been provided.

Now let’s take a look at Zimmer’s chart as he embarks on his eighth season leading the ship in Skolville.

Head Coach Quarterbacks Offensive Coordinators
Mike Zimmer – Minnesota Vikings (2014) Teddy Bridgewater (’14 – ’15)

Sam Bradford (’16)

Case Keenum (’17)

Kirk Cousins (’18 – Present)

Norv Turner (’14 – ’16)

Pat Shurmur (’17)

John DeFilippo (’18)

Kevin Stefanski (’19)

Gary Kubiak (’20)

Klint Kubiak (Present)

It’s important to note that all six head coaches who have more active tenure than Zimmer have won at least one Super Bowl. Four of the six have won their respective conference on multiple occasions (sorry, Sean Payton and John Harbaugh). Zimmer’s ceiling is capped at getting blown out in the NFC Championship game a week after arguably the luckiest play in NFL playoff history. If rookie safety Marcus Williams does his job and tackles Stefon Diggs after coming down with the reception, the 2017 Vikings are, more than likely, one-and-done following a second-half collapse to the Saints in the Divisional Round.

Considering what the coaches with more tenure have accomplished, there’s a steep drop-off once Zimmer’s tenure is mentioned.

When you look at the Vikings’ turnover at both the quarterback position and at offensive coordinator, it pales in comparison to the actual continuity that has taken place with the six coaches that have more active tenure than Zimmer. It’s borderline laughable that the Vikings are going on their sixth offensive coordinator in eight seasons under Zimmer. Meanwhile, defensive head coaches like Tomlin (four OCs in 15 seasons) and Carroll (four OCs in 11 seasons) have provided continuity and sustainability for their offenses.

For a franchise clamoring for continuity with Zimmer, how much of it actually exists? While I’m cognizant that Shurmur and Stefanski were elevated to head coaching positions following their lone seasons as OC for the Vikings, the constant state of change on the offensive side of the ball has been a staple for the duration of Zimmer’s time in Minnesota.

While a portion of the fanbase is hesitant at the idea of embracing change and making a switch at the head coaching position, I can assure you that there’s more change taking place every year within this organization — especially on the offensive side of the ball — than there is any semblance of continuity.

Year 8 is, without a doubt, a critical season for Zimmer. If he’s able to right the wrongs of his defense from 2020 while maintaining high-level production from Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and the rest of the offense, this past season will likely be viewed as an anomaly. But if the inconsistencies remain and Zimmer doesn’t win a playoff game for the sixth time out of his eight seasons as the head coach in Minnesota, a change at the top appears inevitable.

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