As the Minnesota Vikings embark on head coach Mike Zimmer’s eighth season, I often find myself circling back to a William Shakespeare quote. “Expectation,” he said, “is the root of all heartache.”
It’s no secret that we Minnesotans have seen our fair share of disappointment and heartache when it comes to our favorite local sports teams. And no other team provides us with more consistent disappointment than our beloved Vikings, considering just how much the community is invested in them.
Over the past 30 years, the Vikings have continually demonstrated that settling for mediocrity is unacceptable. Ownership has consistently made swift changes, especially in the immediate aftermath of what most would consider a successful season. There was the firing of Denny Green after 10 seasons, which included a .610 winning percentage, five divisional crowns, and two NFC Championship Game appearances. He was let go one year after leading the Vikings to an 11-5 record and a crushing 41-doughnut defeat to the New York Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship Game.
Mike Tice suffered a similar fate at the hands of Vikings ownership. Even though Tice’s Vikings went into Lambeau Field and beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Wild Card round in 2004, Minnesota decided to go in a different direction following a 9-7 season in 2005.
Or how about Brad Childress? Despite a .527 winning percentage, two NFC North titles, and one NFC Championship Game appearance during his five years as head coach, the Vikings told him to kick rocks one year after bringing the Vikings to the brink of the Super Bowl.
Even Leslie Frazier was canned the following year after going one-and-done in the 2012 NFC Wild Card round.
Which begs the question: After seven seasons with Zimmer, when and why did our expectations for this franchise change? When looking at the past four head coaches that came before him, it’s clear that Zimmer has a considerably longer leash.
For the most part, Zimmer is a fan favorite around these parts. His old-school, hard-nosed way definitely resonates with football fans across the entire state, even though the NFL is currently experiencing a more player-friendly shift with their head coaches. Andy Reid and Bruce Arians, winners of the past two Super Bowls, are some of the most pro-player head coaches that the league has ever seen — a far cry from the authoritarian way Zimmer carries himself.
Shifting gears here momentarily, even the Minnesota Timberwolves, who currently own the worst career winning percentage in American professional sports, decided to fire their head coach less than one year after he helped win their first playoff game in FOURTEEN YEARS. And don’t look now, but Tom Thibodeau’s New York Knicks are the current darlings of the NBA Playoffs — as long as their fans stop spitting on Trae Young.
After Wolves fans cringed at watching Jimmy Butler take his Miami Heat to last year’s NBA Finals, the fanbase still wants to point the finger at Thibodeau, even after two straight trips to the lottery without him. And before you bring up the Jimmy Butler trade, have Zach LaVine or Lauri Markkanen ever made the playoffs in their careers? Didn’t think so.
Come to think of it, Thibodeau and Zimmer aren’t that different from each other. Both are defensive masterminds who want to grind out wins with toughness, effort, and grit. Yet Minnesota sports fans adore Zimmer while scapegoating Thibodeau. The difference between the two is, unlike Zimmer, Thibodeau has a winning track record. Since becoming a head coach in the NBA, Thibodeau has won a playoff game in seven of his nine career seasons, while Zimmer has won a playoff game in just two of his seven seasons as an NFL head coach (thanks again, Marcus Williams).
I usually leave the hockey content to other folks, but for crying out loud, even the Minnesota Wild pulled the plug on Mike Yeo and Bruce Boudreau the following year after making the playoffs in 2016 and 2020.
The NFL is a What Have You Done For Me Lately league — no one can dispute that. And it’s coming up on four long years since the miraculous (lucky?) 2017 season. Since then, Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson — who beat Zimmer’s Vikings in the 2017 NFC Championship Game — and fellow 2017 Conference Championship Game attendee Doug Marrone have been fired by their respective organizations.
Yet Mike Zimmer and his 25-22-1 record since 2017 carries on. My only question is: When and why did we start settling for mediocrity for the Vikings?