Mike Zimmer Fired: Three candidates to replace the former Vikings head coach

The Minnesota Vikings will be looking for head coach candidates for the first time since 2014 after firing Mike Zimmer.

Head coach Mike Zimmer is out in Minnesota according to a report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The Vikings have decided to fire Zimmer after eight seasons — a run that saw him become the NFL’s seventh-longest tenured active head coach. Zimmer ran out of chances after qualifying for the playoffs just three times during his eight years, never making it beyond the Conference Championship game. So what’s next for Minnesota? We explore potential head coach candidates for the Vikings in 2022.

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Mike Zimmer fired in Minnesota

Zimmer is out largely because he and the rest of the Vikings’ brain trust overestimated the abilities of quarterback Kirk Cousins. Minnesota not only signed Cousins to a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed contract in 2018, but they doubled down by giving him two more fully guaranteed years in March 2020.

Assuming he isn’t traded this offseason (he’s due another $35 million in 2022), Cousins will have earned $150 million in five seasons with Minnesota. Has that been money well spent? Not when you consider he has won exactly one playoff game during his time with the Vikings.

But that’s not the only reason Zimmer is done.

Zimmer lost way too many close games in his final year with the Vikings, and his defense-first, at-times conservative mindset surely played a role in those outcomes.

Vikings Ownership Group releases statement

“This morning, we met with Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer to notify them we will be moving in a different direction at the general manager and head coach positions in 2022,” said the Vikings Ownership Group in a statement released Monday morning.

“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. 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. We wish both Rick and Mike and their families only the best.

“Our comprehensive search for a new general manager and head coach will begin immediately and will be led internally. We are determined to have sustained success and bring Vikings fans the Super Bowl championships they expect and deserve.”

Three Vikings head coach candidates

Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf are making just their fourth coaching change since buying the team in 2005. This is an organization that values stability. So the Wilfs aren’t looking for some short-timer. Here are three of several candidates we expect the Vikings to consider in the coming days and weeks.

Kellen Moore, Offensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys’ wunderkind play-caller will be a busy man — whenever it is he’s free to interview. Dallas’ season will extend at least through Wild Card Weekend and potentially beyond. But the Vikings could decide that Moore is worth the wait.

He has done a fabulous job with Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense in 2021, ranking at or near the top of the NFL in points (31.2 per game), yards per game (407.0), and yards per play (6.0).

There will be questions about his age (33) and experience — Moore is just a month older than Cousins and has only been coaching since 2018. But the success of young, quarterback-friendly assistants has made teams more willing to take risks on the relatively unproven.

Brian Daboll, Offensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills

Experience isn’t an issue with Daboll. He’s been an NFL assistant for more than two decades, including the last four years as Buffalo’s play-caller.

The job he’s done with Josh Allen is nothing short of remarkable. Daboll has harnessed Allen’s raw ability and turned him into one of the NFL’s most dynamic players.

And unlike Moore, Daboll knows what to expect during the coming weeks. He interviewed with the New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers last year, only to see the jobs go to Robert Saleh and Brandon Staley, respectively.

Daboll, 46, has worked for the Patriots, Jets, Browns, Dolphins, Chiefs, and Bills during his long stint as an NFL assistant. He was also the play-caller during Alabama’s 2017 National Championship run.

Byron Leftwich, Offensive Coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sensing a theme here? Yet another young-ish, successful OC on a playoff team who should be on Minnesota’s short list. Leftwich has already interviewed with the Jaguars for their vacancy, and we expect most teams with an opening to request an interview.

Like Moore, Leftwich’s rise has been meteoric. Following a 10-year NFL playing career, Leftwich broke into coaching in Arizona as part of Bruce Arians’ staff there. He was the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2017 and 2018 — taking over OC duties on an interim basis after Mike McCoy was fired. He and Arians reunited in Tampa, and they won a Super Bowl together in 2020.

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