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Vikings Mailbag: Fan Reaction to Departures of Zimmer & Spielman

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We normally run the Mailbag on Mondays, but with the departures of Head Coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman being announced Monday, we have put together this unique edition. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag, which is presented by FedEx. Remember to include your name and town on the email. The questions below have been edited for clarity.

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With the coaching and staffing decisions made this year, do you see ownership being as frustrated as the fans? Will a change at general manager and head coach benefit the talent we have on this team? As a fan of the Vikings for 53 years, I feel we deserve a Super Bowl for once. I think it can happen, it's just how bad does ownership want it to happen.

— Jeff Wiebold

Welcome to special edition of the Mailbag, but one I feel was appropriate given Monday's massive news that General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer will not be back with the Vikings.

I use the term "massive" to describe the decisions made by Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf and Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf because, well, they are.

Spielman had been in Minnesota for 16 years, which is a lifetime in the NFL. Zimmer, of course, has been in charge for eight seasons, which is a long, long time for an NFL head coach. Prior to Monday, Zimmer's tenure was the seventh-longest among active coaches, and each of the six who have been with teams longer have won at least one Super Bowl with their current club.

And to answer Jeff's initial question … ownership was disappointed the ultimate goal couldn't be reached, which is why they decided to make these moves.

It would have been easy for the Vikings to keep the status quo and give it another go with Spielman and Zimmer in charge.

Besides the obvious respect that the Wilf family has for both men, especially Spielman, it's not as if the Vikings were a train wreck on the field in 2021.

We all know how many close games the Vikings played in during the 2021 season, and Spielman and Zimmer likely could have argued that they just needed a few more breaks in order for 2021 to be a more successful year.

But here is a quote that Mark Wilf said Monday afternoon:

"It's a difficult day because of the relationships we have with Coach Zimmer and Rick. We really thank them for everything that they've done for our organization," Wilf said. "They brought us to a new level where we're a first-class organization, a place that I think any coach or GM would want to come to. We strongly believe we need new leadership to elevate our football team. Our goal is to consistently contend and win championships."

Instead of running it back, the Wilfs decided on a fresh start. And they likely sensed the fan frustration that had been building.

The Wilfs badly want to bring a Super Bowl to Minnesota and felt that a clean break was the best path to ultimately reaching that goal.

To sum it up, this was not a knee-jerk reaction. The Wilfs put plenty of time and thought into it.

So, let's get into what reasons played a role in the departures of Zimmer and Spielman, beginning with the former Vikings head coach.

Zimmer needed to go. I liked Zimmer, but he is too old school and has not kept up with the changes in football. He doesn't even look like he enjoys coaching any more. He's an old grump on the sidelines … eight years is long enough. We need new blood. Minnesota has great fans, and it's appalling that our team never amounts to anything. We have many great players. Respect them and clean house. Don't keep dragging on at a mediocre level.

— Dianna Metz

It's been interesting listening to the comments from ownership and players. It seems while Zimmer hadn't completely lost the locker room there was certainly a disconnect between players and the coach. Definitely time to move on. I doubt the Wilfs will be as patient with the next coach. Hopefully they won't need to be.

— Jeff in Sacramento

Zimmer is not a bad coach. Let's start there.

And let's also acknowledge that he did plenty of good in his time here in Minnesota. Mark Wilf was right Monday when he said the franchise is in a better place now that when Zimmer was hired back in January of 2014.

If we look back, the Vikings were languishing after the 2013 season, most notably on defense, before Zimmer arrived.

But I look at his eight-year run, and excuse the football pun here, as a tale of two halves.

From 2014-2017, the Vikings went 39-25, won a pair of NFC North titles and were a single win away from the Super Bowl. They were a team on the upswing, and one that seemed destined to be annual contenders in the conference.

The also overcame numerous challenges from the nearly yearlong suspension of Adrian Peterson in 2014 to Teddy Bridgewater's knee injury in a non-contact practice just before the 2016 season.

But from 2018-2021, the Vikings went 33-31-1 and didn't win a division title, with the lone playoff berth coming in 2019 as a Wild Card team. Suddenly, a once-promising team was more mediocre, and that was evident by the fact that the Vikings weren't able to get above .500 in the past two seasons.

Let's dive a little deeper on some key factors that likely contributed to Monday's news.

1. The defense regressed

When Zimmer was hired, his top priority was turning around the league's worst defense. And he did, building that unit up to an eventual masterpiece that culminated in the Vikings leading the league in both points allowed and yards allowed in 2017. That 13-3 squad also set a record for third-down success. Opponents simply feared the Vikings, especially if they had to come to U.S. Bank Stadium, where the home crowd gave the unit even more of an advantage.

Unfortunately, that success couldn't be sustained. Zimmer's defense was solid in 2018 and 2019, but the past two years were underwhelming to say the least. And yes, while injuries popped up, it wasn't as if the Vikings didn't allocate any resources to that side of the ball.

Between draft picks and a plethora of free agents, Zimmer tried to rebuild the defense on the fly in both 2020 and 2021. He said the 2020 unit was the worst one he ever had, but the 2021 version gave up more yards and nearly the same amount of points.

2. Slow starts, and sputtering finishes

The main word I've seen thrown around for the 2021 Vikings is "inconsistency," a term that also applied to Zimmer's time here on a larger scale.

Over the past four seasons, the Vikings were hampered by both sluggish Septembers and dismal Decembers.

If we only look at the first four games each season from 2018-2021 (includes one October game in 2020 and 2021), Minnesota went a combined 5-10-1 in that timespan. The Vikings best record was 2-2 in 2019, but the other seasons felt like the team was playing catch up from the jump.

Those slow starts created needs for strong finishes, but Minnesota compiled an overall December record of 7-11 in the past four seasons, failing to make the postseason in three of those years.

The Vikings were never eliminated from the playoffs when the final month of the season began, but they could rarely do enough down the stretch to ensure a postseason berth.

3. A bit of a disconnect

When Zimmer was hired, there was plenty of chatter about his no-nonsense approach and how long he had to wait to get a head coaching job.

His old-school attitude worked wonders early on, as people around the league viewed the Vikings as this plucky team that would be a tough out each and every week.

But Zimmer's approach seemed to get a bit stale. He was notoriously hard on his players, even referencing late in the season that one particular team meeting was tough.

"I was very, very hard on them this past week. Very demanding," Zimmer said on Dec. 20. "I'm not saying that's the reason why, but these guys have a lot of pride, too. We just have to keep grinding on them, keep trying to get them better, keep working on the things that they need to improve."

The NFL season is a long grind for everyone involved. And the league has certainly changed a bit since Zimmer entered it back in 1994 with the Cowboys.

Once again, he did plenty of good in his time here. But even a lifer such as Zimmer knows this is a results-driven business. Whether it was his defense or the team overall, the Vikings had lost their spark with him in charge.

I am disappointed with the changes. I didn't want, but understand, the firing of Coach Zimmer. However, the firing of Spielman leaves me speechless. He is regarded as one of the best GMs in the business and his trades and drafting bears this out. This leaves the team rudderless without any football personnel to guide the Wilfs, who are not football people. I can only guess that maybe they did this to placate some coaching candidate who would like to control both, which is a very bad idea. At 73 years old and a lifelong Viking fan, I am not thrilled with the prospect of a gradual rebuild that may or may not bear fruit.

— Jerry Carrier in Lakeville, Minnesota

I can understand the coaching change. It's time for a fresh start, but Spielman, too? This was a solid roster going into the season, and that's Spielman's work.

— Steven Terry

Jerry and Steven were two of a few emails I received that included some surprise that Spielman is no longer in Minnesota.

While the Zimmer news might have been a bit expected, some felt that Spielman's departure was certainly not.

And I get that. He had been with the organization for 16 years and had been the GM since 2012. The list of impact players he brought in is plentiful, whether it was Adrian Peterson back in 2007 all the way to Justin Jefferson in 2020, with so many others in between.

But as I noted above, the Wilfs felt like a total overhaul was needed, even if that meant parting ways with a man they have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for.

Like Zimmer, Spielman also left this place in a better spot than when he arrived in 2006.

The draft was always Spielman's favorite time of year, and rightfully so, as it was his chance to put his stamp on the franchise that could reverberate for years. The Jefferson pick, for example, was a home run.

And Spielman smashed a few out of the park early on when he became the GM in 2012. In his first three years in that role, he took seven different players in the first round of the NFL Draft. Nearly all of them — Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater — were named to at least one Pro Bowl.

But if we look at Spielman's first-round history from 2015-2021, he also took the same number of first-round picks: seven. Four of those players — Trae Waynes, Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hughes, and Jeff Gladney — are no longer on the roster for one reason or another.

Garrett Bradbury hasn't lived up to expectations and didn't return to the starting center position immediately once he returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He said it "was a wakeup call." Jefferson is a bona fide star, and Christian Darrisaw looks to be a strong foundational piece. Jefferson is the only one of those players to make a Pro Bowl.

Spielman's best draft class was undoubtedly the 2015 edition, which produced key starters in Waynes, Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs. And while that draft class is one of the best in franchise history, Spielman couldn't replicate the success in recent years despite trying a similar formula of drafting mid-round edge rushers and linebackers, late-round wide receivers and trying to hit on so, so many picks in the sixth and seventh rounds.

On the trade front, Spielman also struggled a bit in recent years. The Sam Bradford deal was needed to replace Bridgewater, but it came at a costly price and at a time when the Vikings were trending toward going all in on winning.

Other deals, whether it was for Kaare Vedvik, dealing away Hughes or acquiring Chris Herndon, simply didn't work out in Minnesota's favor.

And then there is the decision to sign Kirk Cousins, which will go down as Spielman's biggest decision in his time here.

Nobody envisioned the Vikings going 33-31-1 in the quarterback's first four seasons here. The expectation when he was signed — both internally and externally — was to be annual playoff participants and at least get back to the NFC title game.

It didn't happen that way, and Spielman is now no longer in his role because of it.

On a personal level, I enjoyed my interactions with Rick, even if they were a bit goofy at times. But he personally texted me when my mom passed away three years ago and was a help for whatever project I was working on.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Wilfs likely agonized on the decision to let him go. But sometimes a change is needed for all involved.

And that doesn't mean that Spielman shouldn't be proud of his time here. He will long be remembered as a key figure in the story of the Minnesota Vikings.

As for being "rudderless" or wanting a coach to do personnel, Mark Wilf said the plan is to hire a GM first before selecting the 10th head coach in franchise history. He also expressed a confidence in the football operations department that remains.

"We're just trying to elevate off this foundation we have here and get it to the next level, so we do feel we have the resources here to do the search internally," Mark Wilf said. "We know as ownership we're not making the decision ourselves. We have a lot of great input with a lot of great thought going into it from around this building and around the league, and that's how we're going to make this decision.

"We're going to be thoughtful about it. We're not going to rush into it. We're going to be deliberate. We're going to be thorough," he continued. "We're not going to say we have to have this or we have to have that. We want to get people that are great communicators, great leaders and know how to create a culture that people can thrive in on the field, off the field, all around."

This team needs a complete overhaul … 75 percent the players need to go. I know with contacts and the salary cap, not much will happen to change this team's dynamics, but there remains a bleak future for the Vikings. They lack a passion for the game due to the fact they are overpaid and do not feel the need to win they make more money than they are worth. Credit to Tom Brady as he has kept his passion for the game and desires to win. Even though he has been paid well, he is humble and it is about the team winning and playing with passion.

— Bill from North Carolina

I'm not sure who the next Vikings GM will be, but I can assure you that they will not be jettisoning three quarters of the Vikings roster.

I understand fan frustration given the disappointing 8-9 season, but to borrow a line from Mark Wilf, "the cupboard isn't bare" here in Minnesota.

Offensively, Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Brian O'Neill, Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, K.J. Osborn and Irv Smith, Jr., (remember him?) are players to build around who are currently under contract for 2022.

Kendricks and Smith (and an ideally healed Hunter) are those guys for the defense, which looks as if it might undergo yet another shakeup in 2022. Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson, Xavier Woods, Mackensie Alexander and Sheldon Richardson are notable names who are scheduled to be free agents in March.

Wilf said he has no interest in a rebuild, and noted that he expects the Vikings to be back to their competitive ways in 2022.

There is plenty of validity to those points, even if the 2022 season feels a million miles away because a new general manager and head coach need to be hired.

Those positions will be filled, and the attention will then turn to the state of the roster. Cousins, as he always is, will be a storyline, especially as he enters the final season of his current deal.

But other priorities will include the direction of both the offensive and defensive schemes, what direction to go in free agency and the always-interesting draft.

Monday's news was tough for many involved, and signifies a significant change in the history of this franchise.

But the Wilfs didn't make these decisions in haste. And the hope is that these moves, even if they appear painful now, will lead to brighter days ahead for the Vikings.