Vikings fire head coach Mike Zimmer, GM Rick Spielman

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. (Andy Clayton-King/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings fired general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer on Monday, after a second straight absence from the playoffs for a 61-year-old franchise still seeking a title.

The move came a day after the 45th anniversary of Minnesota's last Super Bowl appearance, after owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf met with each of the top two leaders of the football operation.

"We appreciate Rick and Mike's commitment to the team's on-field success, their passion for making a positive impact in our community and their dedication to players, coaches and staff," the owners said in a statement distributed by the team. "While these decisions are not easy, we believe it is time for new leadership to elevate our team so we can consistently contend for championships."

Zimmer went 72-56-1 in eight seasons, plus 2-3 in the postseason. The Vikings won the NFC North in 2015 and 2017, but in the end the state of the division was the same as at the beginning _ with rival Green Bay in firm control.

Zimmer went 7-8-1 against the Packers, enjoying as much strategical success against three-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers as any coach during his time, but the overall deterioration of the once-dominant defense he built soon after his arrival was a big part of what led to his dismissal. The Vikings gave up the third-most yards and ninth-most points in 2021, including a league-most 146 points in the final 2 minutes of either half or overtime.

The 65-year-old Zimmer had the seventh-longest tenure among head coaches in the NFL this season, with the 25 others in the league all hired within the last five years. The six peers ahead of him on the seniority list have all won a Super Bowl: Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Andy Reid.

``As an older guy, I don't know how much longer I'm going to play. I'm excited that we're not far away, and if we get the right people in here we could potentially take it to the next level,'' said wide receiver Adam Thielen, one of three players still on the roster to suit up for the pre-Zimmer Vikings.

The Wilfs have overseen the firing of four head coaches in 17 seasons owning the club, but Zimmer finished with the third-longest tenure in Vikings history behind Bud Grant and Dennis Green. Spielman and Zimmer were both given contract extensions in 2020.

Since Spielman was hired as vice president of player personnel in 2006, the only other NFC teams that haven't made it to a Super Bowl are Dallas, Detroit and Washington. Twelve different teams have won the conference in those 16 years, the last 10 of which Spielman had full authority over the roster as the general manager.

``It is not common in the NFL to be in a position for this long, which goes to show how this ownership group believes in stability and supports their leaders,'' Spielman said in a statement distributed by the Vikings.

Spielman was responsible for firing Leslie Frazier after the 2013 season and replacing him with Zimmer, who made his name as a clever and demanding defensive coordinator for Dallas and Cincinnati before finally getting his chance to run a team in Minnesota.

The 2017 team was the apex for the Spielman-Zimmer regime, when quarterback Case Keenum produced a career season and the defense led the league in fewest yards and points allowed.

The first crack in the foundation became clear in the NFC championship game, a 38-7 loss at Philadelphia one week after the ``Minneapolis Miracle.'' After Keenum's 61-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs as time expired beat New Orleans in the divisional round, the Eagles were the ones who made it to the Super Bowl in Minnesota's stadium.

Zimmer refused to cede the defensive play calling and, as Rodgers and other opponents will attest, remained one of the game's best strategists. His straightforward and hard-nosed approach won the respect of most of his best players on defense, but his style cut both ways.

Zimmer was never sold on Keenum and never meshed with current quarterback Kirk Cousins. He publicly second-guessed the offense several times, including just last week when he said after the Vikings were eliminated by a loss to the Packers that offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak should have called more running plays. Kubiak was the sixth offensive coordinator in the last six seasons.

After Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal in the 2015 playoffs that would have given the Vikings a victory over Seattle, Zimmer became especially hard on kickers, too.

In 2018, the Vikings drafted kicker Daniel Carlson in the fifth round. In his second NFL game, he missed all three field goals at Green Bay, including two in overtime in a 29-29 tie. The Vikings impulsively released him the next day. When asked for an explanation, Zimmer said, ``Did you see the game?''

Carlson missed just three field goals for Las Vegas this season. He sent the Raiders to the playoffs on Sunday by going 5 for 5 with the 47-yard overtime winner.

``I love coach Zim,'' linebacker Anthony Barr said. ``I know he's catching a lot of heat, but players play the game, too. I think you can point the finger at us as much as you can point it at him. Somebody's got to be the fall guy, I guess.''


Both in-house searches will begin immediately, but the general manager will be chosen first and have input into the head coach hire. Las Vegas, Jacksonville, Denver, Chicago and Miami also have vacancies for a head coach. The Bears and New York Giants need a new general manager, too.

The new regime must first figure out the quarterback situation, with Cousins coming off another productive season but just 33-29-1 with the Vikings. He carries a $45 million salary cap hit for 2022, the final year of his deal.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.