Mike Zimmer (Coach)

Ravens Request Interview With Joe Whitt Jr. For DC Job

The Ravens have an unexpected vacancy at defensive coordinator after electing to part ways with Don Martindale, and the club’s first interview request has gone out. Per Steve Wyche of the NFL Network (via Twitter), Baltimore has requested an interview with Cowboys defensive passing game coordinator/secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr.

This is the second interview request for Whitt, as the Seahawks also want to have a summit with the 43-year-old for their own DC post. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is generating plenty of head coaching interest for his efforts in revamping Dallas’ defense in 2021, but it seems rival clubs also appreciate Whitt’s role in that turnaround.

Of particular interest to the Ravens is the fact that the Cowboys forced a league-best 34 turnovers last season, including 26 interceptions. Though Baltimore’s myriad injuries — including an ACL tear suffered by takeaway savant Marcus Peters just before the season started — certainly contributed to the team’s meager 15 takeaways (tied for third-fewest in the league), head coach John Harbaugh obviously wants a coordinator with a plan for dramatically increasing that total.

Whitt joined the Falcons as an assistant DBs coach in 2007, then spent 11 seasons in Green Bay, first as a defensive quality control coach, then as cornerbacks coach, then as defensive passing game coordinator. His recent history has been more nomadic, as he spent one year each with Atlanta, Cleveland, and Dallas from 2019-21, all as defensive passing game coordinator/secondary coach. However, he would be in line for a promotion to Cowboys defensive coordinator if Quinn should leave for an HC gig.

In addition to some of the names mentioned as possible Martindale replacements in yesterday’s report on the matter — like Joe Cullen, Mike Macdonald, and Chris HewittJeff Zrebiec of The Athletic discusses the viability of candidates like Jim Leonhard and Mike Zimmer. Zimmer, recently fired as HC of the Vikings, has generally fielded top defenses throughout his tenure as an NFL coach, but it’s unclear if he wants to become a coordinator right away, especially as he has no prior ties to Harbaugh.

Leonhard, meanwhile, was a key contributor on Harbaugh’s first Ravens team in 2008, and he has established himself as a quality defensive coordinator over the past few seasons at Wisconsin, his alma mater. But Harbaugh may want someone with prior NFL coaching experience, and Leonhard may want to stay where he is; he reportedly turned down the chance to become the Packers’ DC last year.

In related news, it sounds like Wisconsin is trying to pry Ravens tight ends coach Bobby Engram from Baltimore and hire him as its new OC. Per Tom VanHaaren of ESPN.com (via Twitter), an agreement between the Badgers and Engram could be finalized soon, leaving the Ravens with a need for a new coach to lead Mark Andrews & Co.

Latest Candidates, Priorities In Vikings’ Coach, GM Searches

The Vikings are one of eight teams in search of a new head coach, and one of three (soon to be four, counting the Steelers) in need of a new general manager. New details have emerged regarding the worsening culture in the organization, and the emphasis being placed on better communication in the process to replace Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman. As the search comes into better focus, the order in which hires will be made has been confirmed, and another name has been linked to the head coaching vacancy. 

According to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, one of the main reasons Zimmer and Spielman were let go was to allow for a “culture shift”. She notes that there seemed to be a growing disconnect between players and the coaching staff, and that working towards mending that relationship will be key in trying to get the team back into the postseason. One damning comment came from veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks, who said “I don’t think a fear-based organization is the way to go”.

Cronin notes that an internal search committee has been formed to select the new general manager. Made up of members from a diverse range of backgrounds and skillsets – one of which is “the people and culture department, which includes diversity and inclusion” – they will choose the new GM, who in turn “will have input in the head coach [selection]” according to a tweet from the writer. Owner Mark Wilf has emphasized multiple times the need for strong leaders and communicators to lead the franchise going forward.

Part of the emphasis being placed so much on culture and communication stems from the apparent growth in tensions within the team as Zimmer’s tenure wound down. It had become “clear that for some, there was a need for a new voice”, something that many in the organization feel will be a positive step for the team. It has become known that “some coaches felt internally that the offensive staff was at times pitted against the defensive staff”, something which may have contributed to the high amount of turnover of offensive coordinators in Minnesota during Zimmer’s tenure.

Meanwhile, Cronin’s ESPN colleague Jeremy Fowler tweets that the Vikings have done research on Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glen, and that he is therefore a name to keep an eye on if the team’s list of candidates grows in the coming days. Regardless of who the new HC and GM will be, it is clear they will be charged with making more than just schematic or personnel changes if they are to bring the franchise back to being a Super Bowl contender.

 

Vikings Fire GM Rick Spielman, HC Mike Zimmer

The clearing-out of the regime in Minnesota has begun, as the Vikings have fired General Manager Rick Spielman, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (Twitter link). Pelissero also reports that the team has let go of Head Coach Mike Zimmer as well (Twitter link). 

It was widely expected that Sunday’s game against the Bears would be Zimmer’s last with the Vikings. However, there was a belief that Spielman could stay on either as GM, or in some other capacity, and play a role in the selection process for a new HC. Instead, the 59-year old is out after 16 seasons working with in team’s front office, including the last 10 as GM.

Zimmer, 65, had recently expressed an overall sentiment of pride regarding his tenure with the Vikings. Knowing the writing was as the wall with team set to have a losing record for the second straight year, Zimmer said, “regardless of anything that goes on after the season, I can stand proud”. Zimmer ranks third in franchise history with 71 wins, but the team has a total of one postseason victory in the past four seasons.

The team Tweeted out a statement from its ownership group which says in part, “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”.

This news, along with the firing of Matt Nagy in Chicago and Brian Flores in Miami, brings the total number of coaching vacancies in the league to six (Vikings, Bears, Broncos, Dolphins, Jaguars and Raiders) and opens up one of two GM openings, the other being in Chicago after Ryan Pace was let go on Monday as well.

 

Vikings Expected To Fire Mike Zimmer, Retain GM Rick Spielman

On thin ice for much of this season, Mike Zimmer is not expected to receive a ninth year as Vikings head coach. Minnesota is expected to move on from its longtime HC after Week 18, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports.

This situation was headed toward this conclusion for a bit now, with the Vikings’ past two losses likely sealing the defensive-minded coach’s fate. Ownership nearly canned Zimmer after the Vikes’ run to the divisional round in 2019, so it was going to be tough for the 65-year-old HC to withstand back-to-back losing seasons.

While the Vikings have made the playoffs three times under Zimmer, his abrasive style has worn on the team, La Canfora adds. The team’s two Kirk Cousins contracts have not produced the desired results, with the high-priced quarterback set to finish 1-for-4 in playoff berths under Zimmer. The Vikings advanced to the postseason in 2015 with Teddy Bridgewater at the controls and reached the 2017 NFC championship game with Case Keenum. Zimmer’s defenses were in better shape during those seasons; injuries limited the Vikings’ defensive capabilities over the past two years.

A longtime defensive coordinator, Zimmer had the Vikings perched as a top-10 scoring defense from 2015-19. Over the past two seasons, however, the team has fallen off that pace. Going into Week 18, Minnesota ranks 25th in points allowed and 31st in total defense. The 7-9 squad has been without Danielle Hunter for most of this season and lost Everson Griffen in November. Hunter missed all of last season as well. Zimmer would likely be a strong DC candidate elsewhere if/once the Vikings pull the trigger on firing him.

GM Rick Spielman‘s status is less certain, but he should be expected to return. Spielman has been with the Vikings since 2006, lasting through the Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier and Zimmer tenures. Although the Vikings could start fresh with a new GM, Albert Breer of SI.com notes Spielman is expected to remain with the team — be it in his current role or in another executive position. La Canfora also hears Spielman is not viewed as a chopping-block candidate. Spielman, 59, could be in position to select the next Vikings GM, in a scenario similar to how the Broncos transitioned from John Elway in that post last year.

Mike Zimmer On His Vikings Future

Days away from what may be his final game as Head Coach of the Vikings, Mike Zimmer is expressing pride in his tenure with the team. As NFL.com’s Kevin Patra writes, Zimmer says, “regardless of anything that goes on after the season, I can stand proud”

The quote comes from an interview the 65-year-old conducted with team broadcaster Paul Allen. He adds, “when I walk into a stadium like Lambeau [Field] or I walk into U.S. Bank Stadium and I say to myself, ‘a billion people would love to be sitting here right now and doing this job’ “. 

Zimmer was hired in January 2014 to replace Leslie Frazier in what was his first head coaching position. His track record includes an 11-5 record in his second year in charge, earning the team its first NFC North crown in six years, as well as a 13-3 season in 2017 that ended with a loss in the NFC Championship game. On the other hand, it also includes back-to-back losing seasons in 2020 and 2021, and, if the Vikings lose on Sunday to the Bears, a year with double-digit losses for the first time in his tenure. Minnesota has one playoff victory in the last four seasons.

Zimmer has 71 career wins as head coach, which ranks him third in franchise history, and he is currently under contract through 2023. However, uncertainty has surrounded his position throughout the season, in which his usually-solid defensive unit ranks 31st in the league allowing over 385 yards per game. Zimmer is aware of the internal and fan-driven pressure mounting during a roller coaster season including eight one-score losses: “I do think it’s different that people can talk about your job and being let go and things like that and not understanding the effects of all your coaches, effects of all the players, effects of their families and they say it after you lose every week”.

The 7-9 Vikings end the year hosting the 6-10 Bears with many questions to be answered once the offseason begins.

Latest On Mike Zimmer, Vikings

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer‘s job security is once again a topic of conversation. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com says Zimmer’s future in Minnesota is presently unclear, though a playoff berth would obviously be a major boost to his prospects.

Unfortunately for him, he will be without starting quarterback Kirk Cousins for tonight’s matchup against the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers in Lambeau Field. Cousins has landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, so Sean Mannion will get the nod in a must-win contest in which Minnesota is a 13.5-point underdog.

As such, the Vikings are very much at risk of sitting out the postseason for the fifth time in eight seasons under Zimmer’s stewardship. And since he was said to be on the hot seat earlier this year, and given that ownership was prepared to cut ties even after a 10-6 season and a playoff win in 2019, it would seem that another season with no chance at a title might be too much for Zimmer to overcome.

That is especially true when considering the manner in which the 2021 campaign has unfolded. The Vikings have lost eight games by one score and actually have a +12 point differential despite their 7-8 record. They have suffered a handful of heartbreaking losses, they have been penalized for more yards than any other NFC team, and they have allowed more points in the final two minutes of a half than any team in football (h/t Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune). They have also dropped games to the then-winless Lions and a Cowboys team that was playing Cooper Rush at quarterback due to a Dak Prescott injury.

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports says internal discussions about Zimmer’s future have taken place, and the Vikings have researched potential HC candidates. Zimmer, 65, does boast a 71-54-1 regular season record, but he could be looking for a new employer (or considering retirement) in a couple of weeks. Injuries, COVID-19, and other circumstances have doubtlessly played a role in this year’s disappointments, though that may not be enough to earn Zimmer a reprieve.

Vikings HC Mike Zimmer On Hot Seat?

A hard-luck 0-2, the Vikings are set to battle uphill in an effort to extend their odd-year playoff streak to four. Mike Zimmer may need to accomplish that and more in order to keep his job.

Those within the Vikings organization realize this is a critical year for job security, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes, adding that ownership has mentioned to associates a playoff berth will be necessary in order to prevent changes. Vikings ownership was prepared to make changes at a better point for the franchise as well.

The Wilfs, per La Canfora, considered firing Zimmer even after the 2019 season, in which the Vikings went 10-6 and upset the Saints in the first round. Zimmer, who is now in his eighth season as Vikings HC, persisted and ended up receiving a contract extension in the summer of 2020. The Vikings limped through the worst season in Zimmer’s tenure in the months that followed, however, ratcheting up the pressure on the current regime to rebound in 2021.

Zimmer, 65, is 64-49-1 as Vikings HC and has steered the team through some difficult quarterback stretches. Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford‘s injuries altered Minnesota’s blueprint, and the team went 13-3 behind bargain-bin signing Case Keenum in 2017. The Kirk Cousins era introduced QB stability for Zimmer, but the Vikings’ inability to make the playoffs in two of the high-priced passer’s three seasons certainly has not helped the veteran coach.

Zimmer is Minnesota’s longest-tenured head coach since Dennis Green, who lasted nine seasons in the Twin Cities. With the exception of an injury-riddled 2020, Zimmer’s defenses have been upper-echelon units. But ownership’s patience appears to be wearing thin, applying some pressure on the hard-edged HC going into a three-game homestand.

Vikings, Mike Zimmer Finalizing Extension

The Vikings are eyeing a long-term future with Mike Zimmer. They are finalizing a multiyear extension with their seventh-year head coach, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (on Twitter).

Zimmer, 64, and the Vikings previously agreed on a new deal just last year, but that came in the form of an exercised option for 2020. He was again set to enter a lame-duck season.

Although Zimmer waited a long time to become a head coach, he has been Minnesota’s most successful leader since Dennis Green. The Vikings have consistently deployed a high-end defense under the longtime NFL defensive coach, and they have continued to make playoff appearances despite Zimmer’s team having yet to use the same starting quarterback in three straight seasons.

Zimmer has led the Vikings to playoff berths with three different signal-callers — Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins — and has overseen five straight top-10 scoring defenses. Minnesota has never ranked below 11th in points allowed under Zimmer.

While the Vikings spent the past several seasons building around a similar nucleus, Zimmer will be tasked with leading a reshaped contender this year. Minnesota cut Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph, let Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander walk in free agency and traded Stefon Diggs. They also appear to be set to move on from 10-year defensive end Everson Griffen, who remains a free agent. The Vikings are counting on their longtime leader to keep the team’s playoff window open with some younger pieces.

Only six teams — the Patriots, Saints, Steelers, Ravens, Seahawks and Chiefs — have longer-tenured HCs than the Vikings. Zimmer is 57-38-1 in his six-season run. He is the third-winningest coach in the franchise’s 59-season history.

Vikings Likely To Cut Xavier Rhodes; Latest On Everson Griffen

Earlier today, we discussed a possible extension for Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, an extension that would give Minnesota some much-needed cap space. In addition to a potential new deal for Cousins, Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune notes that other priorities for the Vikings this offseason include extensions for head coach Mike Zimmer, GM Rick Spielman, and running back Dalvin Cook, all of whom are only under contract through 2020. The team will also need to find a new OC, as the Browns just hired Kevin Stefanski to be their next head coach.

The Vikings may also be looking at some significant turnover on the defensive side of the ball. As Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press observes, four of the team’s six defensive starters with Pro Bowls on their resumes — DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, S Harrison Smith, and CB Xavier Rhodes — are on the wrong side of 30, or will be next season (Twitter link).

Per Tomasson, Minnesota is likely to release Rhodes. That does not come as much of a surprise, as Rhodes’ play has declined dramatically since he signed a lucrative extension in July 2017, and the team could net a $8.1MM cap savings by cutting him.

Tomasson also suggests that Griffen may not be back with the team in 2020. Pursuant to the terms of a reworked deal that Griffen and the Vikings agreed to last March, Griffen is technically under contract through 2022. But because he played at least 56% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2019 and recorded at least six sacks — he actually played over 77% of defensive snaps while posting eight sacks — he has the ability to void the 2020-22 seasons and hit free agency. Or, even if he does not choose to do so, the Vikings could release him and save about $13MM of cap space.

In any event, it figures to be a busy offseason for Minnesota, a talented team that has just not been able to get over the hump.

Vikings To Stick With Mike Zimmer, Rick Spielman

The Vikings won’t be on the hunt for a new head coach or a GM. On Friday, Vikings owner Mark Wilf backed Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman in a press release and ensured their status for 2020: 

We value Mike and Rick’s leadership and we have every intent of Mike continuing as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and Rick leading our football operations, next year and beyond.”

The Vikings finished the year 10-6, good enough for a Wild Card spot in the NFC. They enter this weekend’s game against the Saints as underdogs – particularly with a thinned-out secondary to guard Michael Thomas & Co. – but Zimmer and Spielman will return, regardless of the outcome.

It’s worth noting that the contracts for Zimmer and Spielman will expire after the 2020 season. An extension would truly solidify their standing in Minnesota. Otherwise, they’ll be lame ducks heading into next year.

Zimmer, 63, has led the Vikings to three playoff appearances and two divisional crowns over five seasons. In 2017, the Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game where they were stopped by the Eagles. Last year, the Vikings fell short of expectations with a 8-7-1 finish, and they waffled at times in 2019, but they still believe Zimmer is the best man for the job.

Spielman, 57, spent six years as the team’s vice president of player personnel before being promoted to GM in 2012.