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.