Mike Zimmer was asked via Zoom a couple of weeks ago if he thought it was fair for NFL owners to fire head coaches during a pandemic that’s wiped out the offseason, canceled the preseason and is now throwing weekly curveballs the likes of which no other regular season has ever seen.
“I don’t think it’s right,” the Vikings coach said. “Just my personal opinion, the way the season has been. It’s not right, but that’s just how it goes. It’s a business that’s results-oriented. I guess no one really cares.”
At the time, only two NFL head coaches had fallen. Zimmer had coached against Houston’s Bill O’Brien the day before he got fired as coach and general manager at 0-4. Two weeks later, Zim faced the Falcons right after they fired Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff for starting 0-5.
Last week, Detroit reminded us there’s a new Ford in town. And this one — Sheila Ford Hamp, who replaced her mother, Martha Firestone Ford — has pulled her first trigger just five months into her new gig as acting owner.
The Thanksgiving Day debacle against Houston was the final pratfall for Lions coach Matt Patricia, who went 13-29-1, and GM Bob Quinn, the man who was so eager to hire his buddy Patricia that he fired Jim Caldwell, who reached the playoffs twice and had three winning seasons in four years in Detroit.
“It clearly wasn’t working,” Hamp said Saturday. “We can’t hide from our past, that’s for sure. I’m very dedicated to turning this ship around.”
Good luck. This ship hasn’t pointed in the right direction since winning its last championship in 1957.
A good start would be getting in line first to woo the plum candidate hanging from the Andy Reid coaching tree. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has a head coach’s presence, the locker room respect of being a former player and, oh yeah, he also knows every nook and cranny of the Andy Reid system.
For whatever reason, Bieniemy didn’t get the proper attention from teams looking for head coaches last year. Vacancies were being filled as he was busy helping Reid and Patrick Mahomes win Kansas City’s first Super Bowl in half a century.
This year should be different for Bieniemy, who is Black. He probably will be chasing another Super Bowl, but changes to the league’s Rooney Rule include a requirement that teams interview not one, but two minority candidates for each head coaching vacancy.
The league’s two interim coaches — Houston’s Romeo Crennel and Atlanta’s Raheem Morris — are Black. Morris is 4-2. Crennel is 4-3, including 3-0 vs. Detroit and Jacksonville, meaning the 73-year-old has had a hand in the firing of three people — Patricia, Bob Quinn and Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell, who was let go on Sunday.
Jacksonville is letting coach Doug Marrone finish the season. Heading into Sunday’s game against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, Marrone is 1-10 this year and 12-31 since nearly beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship game to reach Super Bowl LII, also at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Meanwhile, Zimmer has scraped himself off those early-season coaching hot seats. He has gone from 1-5 and last in the NFC to 5-6 and one game out of the seventh and final playoff spot.
Zimmer knows his job wasn’t in jeopardy after six games. He signed a three-year extension in late July and knows the Wilf family has become one of the league’s more patient ownership groups.
He jokes that he has spent his entire 42-year coaching career thinking his job’s not safe. In a way, that gives him an edge. The kind of edge that keeps pushing a guy. The kind of edge that earns a guy his first head coaching job at 57 and helps him sign three-year extensions at 64.
Zimmer used the past five games to remove himself from those popular coaching hot seats the media likes to update weekly. If he uses the next five games to reach the playoffs, his Vikings would join the 1970 Bengals, 2015 Chiefs and 2018 Colts as the only teams to make the playoffs after a 1-5 start.
And that would be some feat in the midst of a pandemic in which three of Zimmer’s peers got dismissed as if this were any normal year.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org