After eight seasons, the Mike Zimmer Era is officially over in Minnesota. It ends with a 72-56-1 record, three playoff appearances, and two playoff game wins. Now that the defensive-minded head coach — along with general manager Rick Spielman, who joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2006 — are no longer with the team, here are the five best candidates to replace Zimmer.
What’s the situation with the Minnesota Vikings?
Mike Zimmer is a great defensive coordinator and was a good head coach as well. However, after back-to-back losing seasons with the amount of talent on the team and the high-priced salaries that go along with that talent, the situation was no longer tenable.
The Minnesota Vikings needed to fire him.
Now that Zimmer and Rick Spielman are gone, owner Zygi Wilf has a decision to make. In the past, owners generally hired GMs first and let them pick the coach. Nowadays, that is less and less common.
Owners hire coaches and let them pick their GM (Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch in San Francisco), hire a GM and a coach independently (Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes in Detroit), or bring them in as a package deal from another franchise (Doug McDermott and Brandon Beane in Buffalo)
No matter how Wilf decides to do it, the Minnesota Vikings need an offensive-minded head coach. That coach will need to see what they can get out of quarterback Kirk Cousins in the final year of his deal and make the most of the explosive weapons on offense: Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Theilen.
The Vikings also need someone with NFL experience to work with a veteran team. It doesn’t have to be a former head coach, but straight-up college guys need not apply.
To bring this type of coach in during the 2022 offseason, Wilf should consider these five head coaching candidates, ranked in order of fit and attractiveness to the Vikings franchise.
5. Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett
Aaron Rodgers loves Nathaniel Hackett and, maybe, Hackett could help turn Cousins and Jefferson into the next Rodgers and Davante Adams combination. The Packers OC runs a well-balanced offense in Green Bay, which would look good with the Vikings’ array of weapons.
There are two problems with Hackett. One, he may not want to stay in NFC North and face his old coworkers twice a year. Two, a team that wants Rodgers next season (looking at you, Denver Broncos) may throw a bag of money at the coach in hopes of luring his current QB.
4. Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll
One of Zimmer’s biggest issues with the Minnesota Vikings was that he wanted to run the rock, old school-like, even though he had a reliable QB and a host of talented pass-catchers. Bills OC Brian Daboll could be a perfect fit since he refuses to run the ball, even when he needs to!
Jokes aside, Daboll is a creative play-caller who’s worked for Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, and a host of New England Patriots disciples before branching out on his own to work for his hometown Buffalo Bills. The most appealing part of Daboll is how he turned Josh Allen into an MVP candidate and former disgruntled Viking WR Stefon Diggs into an All-Pro.
3. Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy
Andy Reid disciple Eric Bieniemy is No. 3 on this list because he is the definition of a middle-of-the-road candidate for the Minnesota Vikings. That’s not a bad thing either. He’s not a young, hotshot stat nerd who learned under an exciting young head coach, but that’s OK.
Bieniemy is a 52-year-old former NFL running back who’s studied at the feet of Reid for nine seasons. If even a little of Reid’s offensive creativity, calmness under pressure, and relationship-building skills have rubbed off on Bieniemy in the last decade, he’s going to be one heck of a head coach, and the team that gets him will look pretty smart.
2. Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell
This isn’t the Rod Carew sensible single up the middle, Minnesota fans. This is the Harmon Killebrew swing for the fences. The 36-year-old was Cousins’ quarterbacks coach his last year in Washington and has coordinated Sean McVay’s offense for two years now in LA.
Cousins had the best season of his career under McVay in Washington, so he’s comfortable in the system. And, McVay disciples Zac Taylor and Matt LaFleur tore up the league in 2021 with a combined 23-11 record, which could mean good things for O’Connell.
Handing the keys to the franchise over to an unproven youngster like O’Connell is a risk, but if the Minnesota Vikings want to swing for the ol’ Metrodome baggie, this is the move.
1. Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson
Doug Pederson has one thing that no one on this list has: a Super Bowl ring as a head coach. And that should be something that the Vikings brain trust puts a premium on. This isn’t a team with a bunch of young players who need to learn how to be professionals. It’s a team of veterans who want to be in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Arizona.
Pederson got the best out of both Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, which, we see now, is no small feat. He also understands how to lead an NFL team which, as talented as the rest of this list might be, we don’t know they can do that yet.
For the Minnesota Vikings, Pederson simply makes the most sense. Next season, he can try to lead the team’s veteran group to the promised land, and if that doesn’t work, let him start from scratch with a new QB in 2023 and see what he can build.