EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings ship is officially charting a major change in course with the dismissals of both head coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman.
The news was confirmed by the Vikings around 9 a.m. Monday with an accompanying statement from co-owners Mark and Zygi Wilf.
"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," read the prepared statement. "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."
The statement from the Wilfs stated that the search for a new GM and head coach will be led internally and begin immediately, saying "We are determined to have sustained success and bring Vikings fans the Super Bowl championships they expect and deserve."
On Monday afternoon Mark Wilf met with reporters on Zoom to discuss the decision to fire Spielman and Zimmer, and detail the process of replacing them. Calling it a "difficult day," Wilf said the possibility of making changes was broached a few weeks ago as struggles on the field grew worse, and crystalized in the last week when the decision to move in a new direction was made.
"The results speak for themselves... not satisfied, not where we want to be," Wilf said, emphasizing that he believes the pieces are in place to contend in 2022-23 with a new GM and head coach. "This is not in that mode of a full rebuild," Wilf insisted.
Wilf says there is already a "methodical, comprehensive" search plan in place. He detailed that while the candidate searches for both jobs will be done simultaneously, the general manager slot will be filled first and that person will have significant input on the head coach that is hired. Wilf says ownership is looking for strong communicators and collaborators to lead the franchise both on the field and off.
When asked why the Vikings aren't going to utilize an outside search firm, Wilf said the club is confident in "the football IQ in this building." He assured reporters that the Vikings are proud of their diverse staff and support the NFL's Rooney Rule mandating that candidates of color be included in the interview pool for leadership positions.
Few should be shocked by the Wilf's decision to let Zimmer go, as the Vikings failed to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The team's on-the-field product was wildly inconsistent, with a number of last-minute (or last-second) losses costing the club a post-season berth. This season, 12 games were decided by a single score.
The defense, which is considered Zimmer's forte, finished at the bottom of the league in most categories.
Zimmer finishes his 8-year run as the Vikings head coach with a regular-season record of 72-56-1. In his tenure the Vikings made the post season just three times, winning two games and losing three.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Zimmer thanked Vikings fans for their support.
"I’ve grown to love the people of Minnesota, it has become our home," Zimmer wrote. "I have given my heart and soul to this organization and to the players. I have had outstanding assistant coaches who have worked tirelessly. I’m sorry we didn’t get it done."
Spielman's dismissal comes as more of a surprise, as he has forged a close working relationship with co-owners Mark and Zygi Wilf. But Spielman's draft classes have been a seriously mixed bag, with only offensive tackle Christian Darisaw and defensive back Camryn Bynum from the 2021 class logging significant playing time this season.
There were major successes in Spielman's drafts, however: He did engineer the selections of Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson, Brian O'Neill and Dalvin Cook.
On the flip side were major flops. Vikings fans wince at the memory of names like Jeff Gladney, Mike Hughes, Laquon Treadwell and Garrett Bradbury, top selections that were mediocre at best and non-factors at worst.
The team's bio says Spielman worked with the Vikings for 16 years, 10 of them as General Manager.
In a written statement, Spielman said it was an honor being a part of the Vikings and thanked the community for treating him and his family with respect, adding that his family will always consider Minnesota home.
"Vikings fans, you are some of the most passionate in all of sports. The tremendous game day atmosphere and home field advantage at U.S. Bank Stadium is because of each of you. There is nothing like the emotions we shared together at kickoff each Sunday," he said. "To the Vikings players, coaches and staff, I sincerely appreciate your tireless efforts to win and your dedication to this community and the fan base. There are so many talented people throughout this organization, and because of that, the Vikings will continue to be a special place in the future."
What the future holds for the Vikings following Monday's firings remains to be seen, according to NBC Pro Football Talk (PFT) host Mike Florio.
"They need a strong presence in the building, since ownership doesn’t live and work in Minnesota," writes Florio. "They have a first-class stadium, a first-rate practice facility, and a first-tier fanbase. For far too long, however, the team has been floating around the middle of the pack, rising to the playoffs just often enough to get the franchise to stay the course."
Monday's changes at the top are the start of what promises to be a tumultuous offseason for the Vikings. Difficult personnel decisions loom in a number of areas, first and foremost at quarterback. Highly-paid Kirk Cousins racked up some significant numbers, but failed in a number of pressure situations with games hanging in the balance. Cousins also refused to get vaccinated against COVID despite pressure from the team and his head coach, and contracted the virus just before Minnesota went into Green Bay for a make-or-break game with the postseason on the line.
Cousins was placed on the COVID list and the Vikings were demolished 37-10, ending their playoff hopes.
This is a developing story: Check back for details as the day progresses.
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