The Vikings made wholesale organizational changes on “Black Monday” in 2022. The team parted with coach Mike Zimmer after eight seasons at the helm and also fired Rick Spielman, who spent 10 years as the team’s general manager.
While Spielman’s ouster reportedly “blindsided” the GM, Zimmer’s was viewed as a foregone conclusion. The Vikings have made the playoffs just once over the last four seasons despite the Minnesota owners Zygi and Mark Wilf investing heavily in the team. Amid the team’s struggles, Zimmer’s “abrasive style” came under fire and the team decided it was time for “new leadership” after missing the postseason again.
“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,” the Wilfs said in a statement. “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.”
Now, the Vikings will search for a new coach for just the 10th time in franchise history. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reports that the Vikings are “expected to cast a wide net in their coaching search,” so they could take their time and interview numerous candidates. Here’s a look at seven that would be nice fits in Minnesota.
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Doug Pederson, former head coach, Eagles
The Vikings went to the NFC Championship Game in 2018 where they were crushed by the Eagles 38-7. Those Eagles were coached by Pederson, who led them and backup quarterback Nick Foles to a Super Bowl win over the Patriots. It stands to reason that the Vikings would be interested in adding Pederson to the fold.
Pederson is a relatively safe coaching candidate. He has a 42-37-1 record and has logged three winning seasons in his five as a coach, and he has seven wins in at least four. He has made the playoffs in three of five seasons as a coach; the Vikings got there just once in four seasons since their NFC Championship Game appearance despite improving the quarterback position, so the idea of adding Pederson should appeal to them.
Pederson’s swan song with the 2020 Eagles (4-11-1) wasn’t pretty, but the regression of Carson Wentz played a major part in that. With Kirk Cousins in the fold, the Vikings don’t have major quarterback questions, so that could be a good situation for Pederson.
Brian Flores, former head coach, Dolphins
The most shocking move of “Black Monday” was the Dolphins’ decision to fire Brian Flores. Flores put together a 24-25 record during his three seasons in Miami but coached them to consecutive winning seasons in 2020 and 2021. The 40-year-old’s team overachieved in his first two seasons before a slow start in 2021. Still, the Dolphins rallied to finish with a 9-8 record after winning eight of their last nine games.
Flores is a great, defensive-minded coach who turned the Dolphins defense into an opportunistic unit that finished Nos. 1 and 8 in takeaways the last two seasons. The Vikings could trust Flores to coach up their once-strong defense, and since their offense is better than that of the Dolphins, they shouldn’t have the same issues that Miami has had the last few years on that side of the ball.
Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator, Chiefs
The Vikings won’t solely look at retreads during this cycle, and Bieniemy is arguably the best of the first-time head coaching options.
Bieniemy, 52, has led the Chiefs to a top-five offense in each of his first four seasons as an offensive coordinator. He has helped the team get to two Super Bowls, winning one, and has helped Patrick Mahomes grow into a star. Andy Reid deserves a lot of credit for what the Chiefs have done, but Bieniemy has been his right-hand man since Matt Nagy’s departure.
Minnesota could rely on Bieniemy to turn its offense from middling into strong. If he can draw on Reid’s creativity to get Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook the ball, the Vikings’ offense could be potent. Bieniemy also played nine years as an NFL running back, so his presence would certainly benefit Cook, Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu.
Kellen Moore, offensive coordinator, Cowboys
Here’s a younger option for the Vikings to consider. Moore, 32, has been the offensive coordinator for the Cowboys the last three seasons. The team really wanted to keep him after firing Jason Garrett and he has stuck around for the Mike McCarthy era with excellent results.
The Cowboys have the No. 1 offense in the NFL in terms of scoring and total yards in 2021. When Moore and Dak Prescott have worked together, they have been nearly unstoppable. The Vikings could attempt to recreate that magic with Cousins and Moore, who is a former NFL and Boise State quarterback.
Moore would be the NFL’s youngest head coach if hired. It could be worth it for the Vikings as they look for a post-Zimmer culture change.
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Jim Caldwell, former head coach, Lions
Caldwell is another safe, proven coaching option for the Vikings. He has seven years of head coaching experience in the NFL and has posted five winning seasons. Only once has he generated fewer than seven wins, and that was in a season during which he had to start Curtis Painter at quarterback as Peyton Manning sat out following neck surgery.
Caldwell’s overall record as a coach is 62-50, but it’s 60-36 when discounting his one 14-loss season. He has a Super Bowl title under his belt and the quarterbacks with whom he has worked — Manning, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford — have all performed well under his watch. Cousins would benefit from working with him.
Kevin O’Connell, offensive coordinator, Rams
Here’s another young option to help out the Vikings’ offense. O’Connell is just 36, but he is considered a rising star and has spent the last two seasons working under Sean McVay. He has three years of experience as an offensive coordinator and spent five years as an NFL quarterback after being a third-round pick of the Patriots in 2008.
O’Connell served as Kirk Cousins’ quarterbacks coach for one year in 2017 while the two were in Washington. The results? Cousins threw for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while completing 64.3 percent of his passes. Cousins has been better in recent years, but perhaps the two could reunite with O’Connell bringing over some of McVay’s innovations to improve the Vikings’ offense.
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Scott Turner, offensive coordinator, Washington Football Team
This is an outside-the-box option, but if the Vikings are really going to cast a “wide net” in looking for a Zimmer replacement, Turner could draw consideration.
Turner, 39, has a Minnesota connection. He coached on Mike Zimmer’s staff and under his father, Norv Turner, from 2014 to 2016 and has since become an offensive coordinator in Carolina and Washington.
The younger Turner’s offenses haven’t been prolific, but considering that he has never worked with a consistent starting quarterback, he has done a solid job. The Vikings may like his combination of youth, skillset and familiarity with the organization. At the very least, they may give him an interview to see if he’s head coaching material.