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5 potential candidates to replace Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are. The Minnesota Vikings are headed down yet another season where a Mike Zimmer-coached team fell short of expectations. They entered the year facing long Super Bowl odds (+4000), but their expected win total was set at nine wins.

At 3-5, the Vikings find themselves three games behind the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North division lead. Coming off back-to-back losses, they don’t appear close to turning this ship around.

Zimmer’s had a fine tenure in Minnesota, reaching the playoffs in three out of his eight seasons as head coach, but the inconsistency of his team’s play has been maddening.

With the Vikings head coach reportedly facing a mandate to reach the playoffs, or reach for the exit door handle, it appears as though the man with a 67-52-1 win-loss record since taking over in 2014 could be coming to an end by season’s close.

If/when Mike Zimmer gets fired in Minnesota, who are some top head-coaching candidates to take over the Vikings? Here are five we’ve hand-selected.

Sticking with defense, Minnesota makes it Snow

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 9, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Fans walk through the snow before entering the Metrodome before the the game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Since joining forces with Matt Rhule on the Carolina Panthers as their defensive coordinator in 2020, Phil Snow has transformed their defense from allowing the second-most points per game to one allowing the seventh-fewest.

Snow is a bit like Zimmer, he likes exotic blitzes and funky schemes at times, but his methods work. The Panthers are also allowing the second-fewest passing yards per game, with a secondary comprised mostly of younger players. Which is something the Vikings have greatly struggled with during the past few seasons of the Zimmer era.

One potential roadblock, Snow has been working alongside coach Rhule for nine consecutive seasons, following him from Temple to Baylor and now to the NFL. He’s also 65, the same age as Zimmer. Is now the right time to be a head coach for the first time in Snow’s coaching career?

While most in Minnesota are likely ready for drastic changes, meaning an offensive-minded head coach, if Rick Spielman or whoever ends up handling hiring duties, wants to stick with a defensive approach, Phil Snow could be the way to go. Snow also coached Vikings defensive tackle James Lynch at Baylor where he had 13.5 sacks his final season.

Related: 2021 NFL Power Rankings – Cardinals soar to No. 1, Titans and Seahawks plummet

Rollin’ with Buffalo’s Brian Daboll

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
Aug 21, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll gestures during warmups before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Buffalo Bills won 41-15. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

This could get awkward. Brian Daboll is the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, where former 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 not being able to run the ball. Hello, Dalvin Cook.

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 Justin Jefferson, Cook, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn 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?

Vikings hire Joe Brady, Justin Jefferson’s college coach at LSU

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
Aug 27, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Regarded as one of the brightest up-and-coming offensive minds in football, it’s not a matter of if Joe Brady gets a head-coaching gig, it’s a matter of when. Also joining with Matt Rhule in Carolina, Brady has been the offensive coordinator of the Panthers’ offense since 2020.

Before becoming a Panther, Brady was practically starring at LSU as their passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach, where Justin Jefferson truly did become a superstar. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind, Brady knows how to use Jefferson already as well as how to get the most out of his offensive talent.

Being that he is younger, just 32, Brady doesn’t come with the experience some may prefer in the head coach position. Brady only has a total of nine years of football coaching on his resume, and the Panthers don’t exactly have a top-scoring offense. How much of that has to do with their quarterback inconsistency and the unavailability of Christian McCaffrey remains to be seen.

For now, Brady would appear to be a longshot for the Vikings head coaching position, but perhaps his ties to Jefferson could help provide some fuel.

Minnesota looks for Super Bowl magic, reaches out to Byron Leftwich

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Aug 14, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Kyle Trask (2) and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl last year, sure Tom Brady was undoubtedly the biggest factor in the franchise getting another win, but coach Bruce Arians is never shy about issuing credit to Byron Leftwich either. Fans know him best from his days slinging footballs with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Leftwich is carving out quite the post-playing career as a coach as well.

Arians is a big fan of Leftwich’s, he hired the former QB to be his offensive coordinator in 2018 with the Arizona Cardinals. When Arians took the job in Tampa, he brought Leftwich with him to repeat his role in Florida.

Ever since he’s starting calling the plays for the Bucs in 2019, Leftwich has coordinated a top ten unit, both in yardage and points. Remember, he had the no-risk it, no biscuit Jameis Winston for the first year, Leftwich hasn’t always been graced with TB12’s presence.

For the Vikings, a risk-it for the biscuit approach would likely be met with open arms after the conservative game-planning has led to more disappointment at the end of games. Perhaps hiring Byron Leftwich can be the cure to all of Minnesota’s lack of a deep, downfield passing game and fans can someday relive the glory days of when the ‘Randy Ratio’ ran rampant through the Twin Cities.

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

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans
Oct 24, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing walks the sideline against the Kansas City Chiefs at Nissan Stadium. 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.

He has spent his past three years working up the ranks with the Tennessee Titans, where he 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.

In reality, he’s no different from Stefanski in that sense. Stefanski only spent one season as an offensive coordinator.

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 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.