Vikings seek new leadership, fire GM Spielman, coach Zimmer

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have started fresh with a search for replacements for general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer after a second straight absence from the playoffs for a 61-year-old franchise still seeking its first title.

The dual firings came one 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 before addressing the players at team headquarters.

“We strongly believe we need new leadership to elevate our football team. Our goal is to consistently contend and win championships,” Mark Wilf said on a virtual news conference. “There’s not just one person that’s responsible. We’re clearly disappointed in the football results this year, and over the course of the past few weeks this is something we’ve been thinking and deliberating quite a bit on.”

Zimmer went 72-56-1 in eight seasons, the third-best winning percentage in team history, plus 2-3 in the postseason. The Vikings went 15-18 over the past two years. They won the NFC North in 2015 and 2017, but in the end the state of the division was the same as at the beginning of the Zimmer era — with rival Green Bay in firm control.

Zimmer went 7-8-1 against the Packers and found as much success against three-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers as anyone, 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 a league-most 146 points in the final two minutes of either half or overtime.

“I have given my heart and soul to this organization and to the players. I have had outstanding assistant coaches who have worked tirelessly,” Zimmer said in a statement released by the Vikings. “I’m sorry we didn’t get it done.”

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 past 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 thirdlongest 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.

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