Generally when an NFL team is looking for a head coach there are four different archetypes that they choose from.
First of all, you have the in-house promotion. This is what we saw the Dallas Cowboys do last time they were looking for a leader way back in 2010 when they promoted Jason Garrett to the full-time job (at the time of this writing Garrett still technically holds the job for what it’s worth).
Next, you have the hot coordinator option. There is always a coordinator, whether offensive or defensive, that is garnering attention across the National Football League. This year there is Greg Roman (Ravens OC), Robert Saleh (49ers DC), and a handful of others.
Another direction for teams is the college option (no pun intended). Every now and then a team goes to the world of college football to find the next up-and-comer. Pete Carroll is probably the biggest success in this realm in recent history, although Houston’s Bill O’Brien came from Penn State and is certainly not performing poorly. This year names like Urban Meyer, Lincoln Riley, and Matt Rhule are all the rage.
Finally, there are times when an NFL coach of old (or older) times either returns to the game after a sabbatical (Jon Gruden to the Raiders) or got fired by a team recently and is getting a new job (Ron Rivera, potentially Mike McCarthy). You can almost set your watch by a team’s new head coach being molded from one of these four paths.
There is a name that keeps popping up for the Cowboys that isn’t really any one of these
While there are definitely names from each of these umbrellas that some have connected to the Cowboys, there is a name that has popped up a lot over this past week that doesn’t really fit into any of the outlined boxes.
This week is one that we’re all well-familiar with in following the NFL. The week after a non-playoff team’s regular season ends, if they have moved on from their previous head coach, they are typically busy setting up interviews. We are seeing this from the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, so on and so forth. Washington already hired Ron Rivera as previously alluded to.
Even though they are expected to move on from Jason Garrett, we have not seen any of this from the Dallas Cowboys. They have stayed quiet and in standstill despite many calling for a sign - any sign - of action.
This has led many to believe that the Cowboys must have their next move planned and feel security in it not being thwarted by a competitor, otherwise logic (a dangerous thing to discuss with regards to America’s Team) would suggest they would have started earlier. One possible explanation is that they are waiting on a coach that has been busy with a playoff/bowl game.
A coach who fits that description is Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Zim notably served as a Cowboys defensive coordinator for a long period of time early on in this century, so his familiarity with the organization and ownership is better than most. What’s more is that Zimmer is literally an active head coach in the playoffs and continues to find his name connected to the Cowboys. Ask yourself this: How often is a coach in the playoffs that does not have an expiring contract connected to a team with a soon-to-be head coach opening?
The answer is rarely, but it keeps happening with Mike Zimmer
Why does Mike Zimmer continue to be referenced as an option by NFL insiders for the Cowboys job? He has a job. He did it well enough that his team is in the playoffs. He is under contract for next season. It’s very strange to suggest a candidate like this for a head coach opening in general.
In spite of all of that, Zimmer continues to be connected to the Cowboys. As of Friday morning there were four different NFL insiders/outlets that dropped his name when talking about the Cowboys. How could it be that this many outlets have heard enough to publicize his name if there weren’t legitimate validity to it? We talked about this earlier in the week.
- December 28th, 2019: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport suggested that the Cowboys could trade for Mike Zimmer (unless he is fired he can only be acquired via trade).
- December 29th, 2019: ProFootballTalk’s Mike Floria named Mike Zimmer as an option for the Cowboys job prior to the final game of the 2019 regular season.
- January 1st, 2020: On an episode of the Yahoo Sports NFL Podcast, Charles Robinson threw out the idea of Dallas pairing Lincoln Riley (as a head coach) with Mike Zimmer (as a defensive coordinator) if the latter were fired.
- January 3rd, 2020: ESPN’s Dan Graziano noted that he believed the Cowboys could go with a defensive head coach (he suggested Dennis Allen or Leslie Frazier) but added that he would be watching the Saints-Vikings Wildcard game and that the Cowboys could “take a run” at Zimmer. For what it’s worth, Graziano also mentioned Dan Campbell as another option.
In the span of a single week, four different NFL insiders and outlets all named Mike Zimmer as a potential option for the Dallas Cowboys in some capacity. All of this happened in spite of the fact that Zimmer’s team, who he is currently the head coach of, is playing a playoff game at the end of the week. That doesn’t feel like a coincidence.
The situation regarding the Cowboys head coach is obviously one of great intrigue, and given the week we have all been experiencing, one of great mystery. It certainly would explain some of the apparent patience that the Cowboys have exhibited if they truly were of the understanding that they could simply (being casual with this term admittedly) trade for Zimmer when Minnesota’s season ends, but this can’t all be so easily explained can it?
If there is one thing that can’t be easily explained it’s why a head coach that is under contract for next season continues to be linked to a job that isn’t even open and has been so by so many different people.
Update: 4:15pm ET
Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf issued a statement in support of Mike Zimmer on Friday. This would seemingly end all speculation that Zimmer could wind up in Dallas.
#Vikings owner Mark Wilf statement on Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman:— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 3, 2020
"We value Mike and Rick’s leadership and we have every intent of Mike continuing as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and Rick leading our football operations, next year and beyond.”
Update: 6:15pm ET
Pro Football Network reported on Friday afternoon, after the official statement from the Vikings, that it’s still definitely possible for Minnesota and Mike Zimmer to go their separate ways when their season is done. According to them Zimmer has “worn out his welcome” in Minnesota.
With questions surrounding the job security of Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman, owner Mark Wilf released a statement on Friday afternoon that said, “We value Mike and Rick’s leadership and we have every intent of Mike continuing as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and Rick leading our football operations, next year and beyond.”
However, multiple sources have told Pro Football Network Insider Tony Pauline that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has worn out his welcome in Minnesota. And despite the public statement from Wilf, Pauline reports that there’s a very real possibility he could get fired if the Vikings do not pull off the upset win over the New Orleans Saints in this weekend’s NFC Wild Card game. Sources went on to tell Pauline that if the Vikings do fire Zimmer, expect offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to be named the team’s new head coach.
But don’t expect Zimmer to be out of a job for long. If this happens, Pauline has heard that Zimmer would become the leading candidate to replace Jason Garrett as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. PFN Insider Ben Allbright also reports that Zimmer would be a serious candidate in Dallas if he were to be fired from the Vikings.
They also mention that if things don’t ultimately materialize for Dallas and Zimmer that names like Lincoln Riley, Matt Rhule, and Mike McCarthy could be options.