The Minnesota Vikings and head coach Mike Zimmer are going into a pivotal season. If the season goes well Zimmer will save his job but if not it will mark the end of the Zimmer era. Looking at a coach’s career as a whole and compare it to other coaches is a way to determine if making a coaching change is appropriate. There is a running debate on social media comparing Zimmer to Dennis Green, both favorably and unfavorably. Let’s put this question to bed: Dennis Green is a better head coach than Mike Zimmer.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer Hasn’t Been What Fans Had Hoped
Dennis Green is one of the most liked Vikings head coaches of all time. There are few universally loved head coaches in the NFL but he was liked by fans more than most. He also was well-liked by his players and being seen so positively by both fans and players is a rarity. Green also won a lot of games while at the helm for the Vikings. Green is the better coach of the two but the gap between them isn’t as drastic as some think. They are very contrasting in coaching philosophy and the X’s & O’s as well.
The first things I looked at when coming to a conclusion were basic wins and losses. In Zimmer’s 117 games coached he has a win percentage of 0.568 to Green’s 0.591 in 171 games. That’s good for second and third-best in team history. Green has an edge here but a good 2021 could put Zimmer pretty even with him, but still edge Green.
The next stats I looked at was unit rankings for the offenses and defenses over their spans as Vikings head coach. Mike Zimmer’s defenses have ranked on average ninth in the league. Dennis Green’s defenses ranked 17th on average. Green’s Offenses ranked 10th on average, to Zimmer’s 15th on average. These measures indicate a slight edge, overall, to Zimmer.
The above is based on Zimmers’s seven seasons versus Green’s 10, which may not be fair. If comparing Zimmer’s first seven versus Green’s first seven seasons, the gap narrows.
Offense: 15th ranked on average
Defense: 9th ranked on average
Offense: 1oth ranked on average
Defense: 14th ranked on average.
The win percentage in their first seven seasons is .634 for Green to Zimmer’s 0.561, a significant advantage for Green. It’s interesting that in spite of having very similar unit rankings they have a significant difference in win rate. This is due to the NFL’s transition to valuing offense over the defense from a rules point of view. Having the top-ranked defense most seasons isn’t going to win as many games as being the top-ranked offense. Of course, having both units excel is best but in the current NFL environment, the offense will contribute more to wins than defense. Yes, there is a gap in the eras these two coached in but Green’s era is where the transition to offense began. Coaches like Green and teams like the Rams that came shortly after the Green era spurred that transition.
These two are very different coaches from a philosophy and player management stance. Players loved Green like a father figure, Randall Cunningham credit him for resurrecting his career. He was a strong influence on Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper, and Cris Carter just to name a few. He was also typically careful to criticize players publicly, though he would tee-off on the team as a whole. However, players knew he had good intentions and there was trust between Green and his players.
In contrast, Zimmer has gained a reputation for not being player-friendly. He has particular hate of kickers, jettisoning them on a whim when they miss a kick. He hasn’t had much better relationships with his QBs either. He’s publicly ripped both Case Keenum and many times Kirk Cousins. Even his beloved defensive players haven’t avoided the ire of Zimmer. This isn’t saying he doesn’t have players that love him, because he does but the locker room is much more split on that opinion than it was for Green.
From a game plan and X’s & O’s point of view, they couldn’t be more different. They’re nothing highly successful in this theater field units that were ranked at the top, and on average in the top 10. Green is the offensive guru and Zimmer is the defensive guru. As I stated above, the offense is more valuable than defense right now so Green has the slight edge in this area.
Mike Zimmer Hasn’t Lived Up to Past Coaches
Neither of the two has an outstanding playoff record. Green had two playoff wins in his first seven years. Zimmer also has just two wins and both have an NFC Championship Game appearance. Due to Green being a better mentor, more trusted, better player developer, and winning more games Green is the better coach. Zimmer is also a very good coach and is much closer to Green than many give him credit for and still has the opportunity to surpass Green.
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