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5 coaching candidates to replace Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer

Andrew Buller-Russ

The Minnesota Vikings have fired head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman after another season of missing the playoffs.

Zimmer had a fine tenure in Minnesota, reaching the NFC Conference Championship in 2017 but the inconsistency of his team’s play has been maddening at times.

Minnesota’s head coach reportedly faced a mandate to reach the playoffs or for the exit door handle. While he posted a 72-56-1 win-loss record since taking over in 2014, Zimmer’s days in purple are over.

Here are five Minnesota Vikings coaching candidates to keep an eye on this offseason.

Related: NFL Power Rankings – Los Angeles Rams survive, Green Bay Packers flop

Minnesota Vikings opt for Super Bowl experience over potential

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings already had one of the more experienced head coaches calling the shots, with Zim. Though, the big difference here is he’s a defensive-minded head coach whose defense hasn’t held up in the back end.

Someone like former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson could become a popular candidate for many teams in a similar position as the Vikings are. Of course Pederson won a Super Bowl just five years ago, more recently than any other candidate with head coaching experience in this hiring cycle. Many expect Pederson to be hired this offseason after taking the 2021 football year off.

It doesn’t feel like the Vikes are preparing to hit a full reset button, probably preferring to try and retool as they aim to compete for the playoffs again next season. A good way to ensure they don’t tumble down the standings could be by hiring an experienced hand like Pederson.

Kellen Moore provides Minnesota Vikings with bright offensive mind

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Minnesota Vikings’ issues as of late coming on the defensive side of the ball, fans have been clamoring for an offensive-minded head coach instead. There are several worthy candidates, but if it’s a young, rising star the front office seeks, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore may just be atop the list.

We know it’s not Mike McCarthy making the Cowboys’ offense explosive, since Moore has been there since before McCarthy joined the team. Many suggest Moore is the one who helps the Cowboys’ offense thrive. While having Dak Prescott and a host of weapons at his arsenal surely helps, it’s the play-calling and play designs that help them maintain their high-scoring pace, which at 31.2 points per game, led the NFL this season.

What’s been impressive is not only has the Cowboys’ offense thrived with Prescott, they’ve also had some success without him in the lineup like when Cooper Rush roasted the Vikes for 325 yards in Week 8. If Moore really can get the most of out a quarterback, then he should absolutely be a top candidate to be hired this offseason.

Rollin’ with Buffalo’s Brian Daboll

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

This could get awkward. Brian Daboll is the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, where former Minnesota Vikings great and Minneapolis Miracle hero Stefon Diggs has spent the past two seasons. However, Daboll has been the play-caller behind the surging superstar Josh Allen. Their biggest fault in Buffalo is their inability to execute explosive plays when running the ball. Hello, Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison.

While Daboll may feel like he has some unfinished business with the Bills after reaching the AFC Conference Championship last season, the idea of an offense featuring Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, and Cook for the next few years has to be intriguing.

Daboll has eight years of experience as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. This is the first time he’s had an elite QB, with Allen. For the past two seasons, the Bills have been in the top ten of offensive yards and points scored. Last season, they were No. 2 in the NFL in both categories.

If fans want an experienced offensive mind, with plenty of people in his corner, including Alabama‘s Nick Saban and New England’s Bill Belichick, why not roll with Buffalo’s Brian Daboll? Somehow he’s been able to keep Diggs happy, which evidently couldn’t happen in Minnesota. It could be worth a shot as Jefferson’s glow continues to grow brighter and brighter in the North Star State.

Minnesota Vikings re-hire Eric Bieniemy, this time as head coach

NFL:  Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Jul 30, 2010; Mankato, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) runs a drill with running backs coach Eric Bieniemy at training camp at Blakeslee Field at the Minnesota State University. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Current Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy entered the NFL coaching ranks with the Minnesota Vikings back in 2006 under Brad Childress. Bieniemy’s title was running backs coach, since he’s a former RB himself, it was a great role. His NFL coaching debut was also Chester Taylor’s first year in Minnesota, who produced a career-best 1,216 rushing yards.

The following year, the Vikings selected future-Hall of Fame halfback Adrian Peterson, who was immediately effective, winning Rookie of the Year. Bieniemy coached the Vikings’ running backs for five seasons before leaving once Childress was let go in 2010. He then went to his alma mater at Colorado as their offensive coordinator for two seasons before landing another RB coach gig, this time with Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2018, he was promoted to offensive coordinator after Matt Nagy left for Chicago.

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During his time with the Chiefs, Bieniemy achieved what the Vikings’ franchise never has. The illustrious Super Bowl ring. Of course, Patrick Mahomes is the ringleader there, but Bieniemy has consistently drawn praise throughout the league. Notably, he is not their play-caller, those duties lie with Reid, but Bieniemy has called plays at times for the Chiefs.

With the success the Chiefs have had since drafting Mahomes, Bieniemy has been on the head coach hiring shortlist, receiving several interviews, but has never been able to land a head coaching gig. Maybe Bieniemy’s waiting for the ideal landing spot, a place where he feels confident about his chances to win.

It’s easy to say he’s not the engine making the Chiefs a dominant offensive force or to knock him for a lack of play-calling experience, but many coaches don’t call their own plays, such as Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians. If Bieniemy can hire experienced play-callers, he should be considered a strong candidate for any open head-coaching spot, including the Minnesota Vikings.

Vikings turn to Minnesota native, hire Todd Downing from Tennessee Titans

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans
Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

You can call this the Kevin Stefanski hire, as Todd Downing draws a lot of similarities to the 2020 Coach of the Year for the Cleveland Browns.

Born in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, you know Downing wants to go back home and coach for the team he likely grew up rooting for. He also attended the University of Minnesota, before getting into coaching as an intern for the Vikings in 2003, when he was 23.

Downing has been involved with coaching in some form since he was just 19, back in 1999. He has a total of 21 years of coaching experience, with all but two of the seasons coming in the NFL.

Spending the past three years working up the ranks with the Tennessee Titans, Downing is now their offensive coordinator. Some may say, what the heck? One season as an offensive coordinator and you want him to take over for Zimmer? Get real.

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In reality, he’s no different from Stefanski in that sense. Stefanski only spent one season as an offensive coordinator before getting hired as the Browns’ head coach.

During his NFL coaching career, Downing has helped Pro Bowl quarterbacks put up strong passing performances. He’s coached Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, and now Ryan Tannehill, to name a few. He also knows how to operate a run-heavy gameplan, dialing up plays for Derrick Henry to smash through defenses this season prior to his injury.

With Todd Downing at the helm, the Minnesota Vikings could be uncovering the next young, offensive-minded coaching gem that gets them back into contention. Although he’d end up replacing the man who once hired him to be an offensive assistant on his staff in 2018, Downing may just be who Minnesota’s been searching for.