EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings on Monday announced changes to their front office, as General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer will not be back in their respective roles.
The 2021 season was Spielman's 10th as General Manager and 16th overall with the Vikings. Zimmer spent eight seasons as the team's head coach.
The moves were announced by Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf and Owner/Chairman 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. 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."
Spielman joined the organization in 2006 as the team's Vice President of Player Personnel and directed scouting, free agency and draft preparations. He became the general manager in 2012.
Spielman's draft classes brought cornerstone players such as Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Dalvin Cook, Brian O'Neill, Justin Jefferson and others to the roster.
But Minnesota's draft classes — while filled with plenty of picks — hadn't made much of an impact at the top in recent seasons.
Of the Vikings seven players drafted in the first round since 2015, four are no longer on the team.
Spielman, who had a penchant for trading back in the draft, also wasn't afraid to make a big move in free agency or via trade, especially at the quarterback spot.
Minnesota sent a first-round pick to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford before the 2016 season, and the Vikings also landed Kirk Cousins in free agency back in 2018.
The Vikings won four NFC North titles made the playoffs six times in the past 13 seasons under Spielman, who was named the NFL Executive of the Year by Pro Football Weekly in 2017.
Spielman on Monday released the following statement:
I am honored to have been a part of the Minnesota Vikings organization and this incredible community for the past 16 years. The people of this state welcomed me and my family and treated us with the utmost respect throughout our tenure. Michelle and I created many special memories with our children here, and we will always consider Minnesota our 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.
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.
Finally, I want to thank Zygi & Mark Wilf and the entire Wilf family for believing in me and consistently providing the resources for us to be successful as a football operations staff. It is not common in the NFL to be in a position for this long, which goes to show how this ownership group believes in stability and supports their leaders.
While today is emotional, I wish the Minnesota Vikings and Vikings fans nothing but future success.
Zimmer, who was hired in 2014, had a regular-season record of 72-56-1 in eight seasons in charge of the Vikings. He won a pair of NFC North titles and made three total playoff appearances, compiling a 2-3 postseason record.
The Vikings had found success in odd-numbered years under Zimmer, winning the division in 2015 and 2017, along with a playoff berth in 2019.
But Minnesota missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2020 and 2021, the first time that happened under Zimmer. The Vikings were unable to qualify for the postseason in three of the past four years.
Minnesota had a losing record in Zimmer's final two seasons, going 7-9 in 2020 before a 8-9 season that ended Sunday with a home win against the Bears.
The Vikings 2021 campaign was defined by close games, as the Vikings played 12 straight contests (from Weeks 5-16) that were decided by one score. All in all, Minnesota played 14 such games in 2021, going 6-8 in those close games.
A longtime defensive coordinator, Zimmer was hired in January of 2014 to bring a tough attitude and rebuild a Vikings defense that ranked last in the league in 2013.
And while that gritty attitude led to an overall winning record in eight seasons, it wasn't without a shortage of tough circumstances.
Minnesota went 7-9 in Zimmer's first season, as the defense saw improvement but the offense languished without running back Adrian Peterson, who was suspended for all but one game of the season.
The Vikings surprised the league in 2015 with an 11-5 record and clinching the NFC North crown on the season's final day with an upset road win over the Packers.
But the Vikings were one-and-done in the playoffs on a bitterly cold January day, the scoreboard showing a 10-9 loss after a chip-shot field goal sailed wide left in the final seconds.
Undeterred, Zimmer held high expectations entering the 2016 season. Those were dashed, however, when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a non-contact, catastrophic knee and leg injury within two weeks of the season's start.
Minnesota still began the season hot at 5-0 but faded down the stretch to finish 8-8. Zimmer also dealt with numerous personal difficulties, including emergency eye surgery that forced him to miss a game.
Zimmer's best season came in 2017, as he led the Vikings to a 13-3 record and appearance in the NFC title game. Anchored by a defense that led the league in points allowed and yards allowed per game — and set an NFL record for the best third-down defense — the Vikings smothered opponents and allowed backup quarterback Case Keenum to efficiently run the offense.
After getting past the Saints with the "Minneapolis Miracle" walk-off win, the Vikings no-showed against the Eagles in a 38-7 NFC Championship loss. The loss denied Minnesota the chance to play in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
If the first four years of the Zimmer Era were defined by stout defenses and an instability at quarterback, the final four were marked by the reverse.
Minnesota signed quarterback Kirk Cousins during the 2018 offseason, but the Vikings missed the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record, failing to win the home finale against the Bears that would have gotten Minnesota into the dance.
Zimmer continued his odd-numbered success in 2019 with a 10-6 record and a Wild Card berth, plus another stunning win over the Saints. His defense, once among the league's best, began to show cracks of deteriorating despite the playoff win, and in a lopsided playoff loss to the 49ers.
The past two seasons were almost mirror images of each other with poor defensive showings, too many inconsistencies on offense and an inability to win crucial games when it mattered most.
The Vikings haven't been above .500 since the end of the 2019 regular season — a span of 33 games — despite having six different chances to get there. Minnesota is one of five teams — along with the New York Giants, Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons — to not have gotten above .500 since the start of the 2020 season.
Minnesota's defense, for which Zimmer called the plays for eight seasons, wasn't up to the recent standard of late. The Vikings ranked 29th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed in 2020, and then were 31st in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed this season.
Zimmer said the 2020 unit was the "worst one I've ever had." The 2021 defense ranked lower in some metrics.
Zimmer's tenure in Minnesota will be remembered for his no-nonsense approach, a period of impressive defensive play and a shuffling of offensive coordinators.
The Vikings used six offensive coordinators in eight seasons under Zimmer, with Minnesota finishing in the top-10 in points scored just once.
Mark and Zygi Wilf said the search for the next Vikings general manager and head coach will begin immediately. The next head coach will be the 10th in franchise history.
Zimmer also released a statement Monday afternoon:
I want to thank you for your support over these eight years. I've grown to love the people of Minnesota, it has become our home. You have been tremendous to my foundation and helping the kids of Minnesota. We have had great sponsors and met so many great people, including my relationship with Bud Grant and all the people in the offices.
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.
The fans make this place truly special. On Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium, it's an unbelievable atmosphere.
I'll miss coaching the players, some who have been with me for all eight years. I want to thank the players who welcomed me in 2014 and believed in me that I could lead them to be great.