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If Vikings continue losing ways, could Mike Zimmer be shown the door in 2020?

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Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer watches during the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

The Vikings’ first 0-2 start since 2013 (when Leslie Frazier was Minnesota’s  coach) has been littered with ugly numbers. Outscored 71-45 by Green Bay and Indianapolis. Two touchdowns and four interceptions thrown by Kirk Cousins. A total of 876 yards given up by a defense that has been the pride-and-joy of coach Mike Zimmer. And on and on we could go.
“Right now, we’re not very good at anything,” Zimmer said after the Vikings’ 28-11 loss to the Colts on Sunday in Indianapolis.
This is the type of start that raises questions about people’s job security and that usually begins with the head coach. Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have shown they are willing to make an in-season change before, having fired Brad Childress in 2010 after a 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers dropped the Vikings to 3-7. This came a season after the Vikings advanced to the NFC title game, and almost exactly one year after Childress had received a contract extension that ran through the 2013 season and, reportedly, was worth between $4 million and $5 million a year.
So could Zimmer be in trouble if the Vikings continue to look as lost as they did Sunday? Especially since there is precedent for this ownership making a change? Don’t count on it.
It was no accident that it took an extended period of time for Zimmer to get a contract extension this past offseason after coaching 2019 with only one more year left on his contract. The 64-year-old almost certainly was seeking more security than he had last year and he got it by signing a three-year extension that won’t begin until 2021 and runs through 2023. That makes it a far more difficult decision when it comes to making a change, especially one that could be considered a quick reaction.
So why would the Wilfs fire Childress at the start of his contract extension and not Zimmer? There’s a few reasons for this. The first is that Childress didn’t just get fired for his team’s collapse. He also was let go, after an embarrassing loss to the Vikings’ arch-rival, in large part because he had decided to release wide receiver Randy Moss a few weeks earlier. Moss had only been with the team for about a month.
Childress was upset with Moss and made the move the Monday after a loss at New England without telling ownership he was doing it. Not surprisingly, the Wilfs were livid about a decision to jettison a guy like Moss, whom the Vikings had acquired from the Patriots for a third-round pick.
Zimmer, in his seventh season in Minnesota, isn’t beyond losing his temper, but it’s highly unlikely he would ever release someone considered a marquee player without telling ownership. It also would be nearly impossible for Zimmer to do that since he has a boss in general manager Rick Spielman. Spielman was in the Vikings’ front office when Childress was coach, but Childress had final say over the 53-man roster. Zimmer doesn’t.
The other thing working in Zimmer’s favor is the fact the Wilfs likely have no interest in paying off a head coach for three-plus years, so they can try to hire another coach who wouldn’t come cheap. The Vikings, like all NFL teams, make big money, but the pandemic is going to take a bite out of their revenues in many ways, beginning with the fact that at least the first two games at U.S. Bank Stadium won’t have fans in attendance. That’s a lot of lost ticket revenue, not to mention merchandise, food, soda and alcohol sales that won’t happen.
The Vikings made a decision in late July to extend Zimmer’s contract because of his 57-38-1 record as coach, placing the Vikings seventh in victories among NFL teams since 2014. The Vikings won NFC North titles in 2015 and 2017 under Zimmer, advancing to the NFC title game in 2017. Spielman also received a multi-year contract extension in early August.
If the Vikings owners had wanted to go in a different direction in 2020, that opportunity presented itself late last season when the Dallas Cowboys reportedly inquired about acquiring Zimmer’s rights and making him their coach. At that point, Zimmer’s contract had only this season left on it and making a change would have been easy and inexpensive.
But then the Vikings upset the Saints in a first-round playoff game in New Orleans and Zimmer’s future in Minnesota became much more secure. The second-round loss at San Francisco did not change that. This doesn’t mean that Zimmer will be in Minnesota for four more years — and his seat going into 2021 could be very hot — but the odds of a change being made this season are extremely remote. No matter how bad it might get.