MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - It’s been the elephant in the room since the Minnesota Vikings were eliminated from the NFC Playoffs, and it became official on Monday: The team has parted ways with both Mike Zimmer as head coach, and Rick Spielman as general manager.
The Vikings announced Monday that Zimmer is out after eight seasons in Minnesota, and Spielman is also out as the head of the front office. Spielman had been with the Vikings since 2006, taking over as GM in 2012.
The two met with owners Mark and Zygi Wilf Monday morning, where they learned the franchise was moving forward without them.
"It’s a difficult day because of the relationships we have with Coach Zimmer and Rick. We really thank them for everything they’ve done for our organization," Mark Wilf told reporters Monday afternoon. "We strongly believe we need new leadership to elevate our football team. Our goal is to consistently contend and win championships. We’re looking for strong leaders, communicators and collaborators. We have tremendous appreciation for our fans, and we want to bring them the championships that they expect and deserve."
The Vikings beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday in the regular season finale at U.S. Bank Stadium, in what felt like Zimmer’s last game with Minnesota. The Vikings finished 8-9, missing the NFC Playoffs for the second straight season. Zimmer took his time leaving the field, stopped to take a picture with his son, co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer and waved to fans as he left the field.
Zimmer won 74 games with the Vikings over eight seasons, including a 72-56-1 regular season mark and NFC North titles in 2015 and 2017. His first playoff win was the "Minneapolis Miracle." His second came at New Orleans after Kirk Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown in overtime.
But the Vikings were also .500 or worse in four of those seasons, and missed the playoffs five times. That includes three of the last four seasons, something that didn't sit well with ownership. The defense ranked No. 29 in the NFL this season, with the rushing defense among the worst in the league. The scoring defense was 24th in the NFL, not good enough for Zimmer or the Vikings’ standards.
"The results speak for themselves, we’re not satisfied. It’s not where we want to be. We’re fully committed as owners to providing the resources to make sure we can keep competing year in and year out at the highest levels and try to get championships," Mark Wilf said. "The overall results for sure are not what we expect and we want. We just feel a change of direction was needed here. You are what your record is. You are what your results are in this business, and we looked at that totality and we just felt there needs to be a change. We felt it’s time to make a change."
Zimmer released a statement through the team Monday evening.
"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," he said. "We have had great sponsors and met so many great people, including my relationship with Bud Grant and all the people in the offices."
Zimmer said he gave his "heart and soul" to the Vikings. "I’m sorry we didn’t get it done," he said.
Spielman started with the Vikings in 2006 as the team's vice president of player personnel. He took over as general manager in 2012. Spielman made the move to sign Kirk Cousins as the next franchise quarterback, and with Cousins, the Vikings have won one playoff game and missed the postseason three out of four seasons. Cousins is currently under contract to make $45 million against the team's salary cap in 2022.
Spielman released a statement through the team Monday afternoon:
"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… While today is emotional, I wish the Minnesota Vikings and Vikings fans nothing but future success," Spielman said.
Zimmer leaves the Vikings as the third-winningest coach in franchise history. Spielman and Zimmer each signed three-year extensions with the Vikings before the 2020 season, after the team went 10-6 in 2019, made the NFC Playoffs and beat the Saints.
The Vikings' ownership group now begins its search for the next head coach, and a return to relevance in the NFC North and the playoffs.
Mark Wilf said Monday a plan is in place, and it appears that the ownership group wants to hire a new general manger first. That person will then have input on the next head coach. The decisions will also be made internally, not with the help of a search firm.
Wilf also doesn't consider it a rebuild. There's too many pieces back on the team next year not to be a contender.
"We have high expectations for this football team. We believe we can be super competitive in 2022," Wilf said.