From the NFC North to the AFC East, the firings began almost immediately after the NFL’s first 17-game season concluded.
The Vikings fired coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman on Monday following an 8-9 season. Division rival Chicago parted with coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace after going 6-11.
And in a relative surprise, Miami dismissed coach Brian Flores, whose Dolphins went 9-8, including a sweep of archrival New England.
Indeed, the career coaching records for each total 130-112-1.
Yet, while in South Florida the Dolphins seemed to be overachievers with a modest roster, both the Vikings and Bears were major disappointments this season.
As were the New York Giants (4-13), and general manager Dave Gettleman retired Monday, though he likely would have been fired otherwise.
One major problem for Minnesota and Chicago resides in neighboring Wisconsin: the Packers. While Green Bay is an NFL power and perennial championship contender, the Vikings and Bears have been more teasing than triumphant.
“We are determined to have sustained success and bring Vikings fans the Super Bowl championships they expect and deserve,” owners Zygi and Mark Wilf said in their statement after letting go of Zimmer and Spielman.
Zimmer was 7-8-1 against the Packers, which isn’t bad considering how Green Bay has performed in recent years. It was simply not close to good enough in that division.
The Bears under Nagy were 1-7 against the Pack in the longest running rivalry in pro football. Nagy, the 2018 Coach of the Year, simply was following the path of his predecessors: Chicago’s past six head coaches have had a losing record against Green Bay.
There also has been no evident progress at quarterback in Chicago, and the defense has taken a step backward. The 2018 Khalil Mack trade, Pace’s biggest move with the Bears, began well and now looks unproductive.
Minnesota’s talent pool seems deeper than Chicago’s, from a high-paid quarterback, Kirk Cousins, with some success to standout runners and receivers. The payroll has been high, but the results in 2021, and the lack of progress in the standings, doomed both Zimmer and Spielman.
“As an older guy, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to play. I’m excited that we’re not far away, and if we get the right people in here we could potentially take it to the next level,” said wide receiver Adam Thielen, one of three players still on the roster to suit up for the pre-Zimmer Vikings.
Flores, however, didn’t appear to be in danger of losing his job. One of three Black head coaches in the NFL, Flores brought Miami back from an awful first half of the schedule, turning around from 1-7 to 9-8 — including victories in the opener and finale against his former boss in New England.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who kept GM Chris Grier, hinted at communication issues.
“I’ve been looking at this over three years now and watching the organization grow,” Ross said. “I think an organization can only function if it’s collaborative and it works well together, and I don’t think we were really working well as an organization ... to win consistently at the NFL level.”
Gettleman, 70, saw the Giants go 19-46 during his tenure and were rarely in playoff contention in that period. New York’s offense was virtually invisible in 2021 even though the team spent in free agency for No. 1 receiver Kenny Golladay and tight end Kyle Rudolph, then spent a first-round draft choice on wideout Kadarius Toney.
“It was a privilege to serve as the general manager of the New York Giants the last four years and to have spent so many years of my career with this franchise,” Gettleman said. “We obviously have not had the on-the-field success I expected, and that is disappointing.”
Other coaches with tenuous job situations are the Giants’ Joe Judge, Houston’s David Culley and Carolina’s Matt Rhule. Denver fired Vic Fangio on Sunday, while the Las Vegas and Jacksonville positions became open during the season. The Raiders’ Jon Gruden resigned in the midst of release of embarrassing emails, and Urban Meyer was fired by the Jaguars following a series of missteps on and off the field.