UPDATE: Zimmer was fired by the Vikings on Monday morning.
Mike Zimmer's tenure with the Minnesota Vikings is likely to come to an end after today, per multiple reports this morning. Zimmer has generally been a solid head coach but the Vikings have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons and things have grown stale. Zimmer's vaunted defense has fallen off and it feels like he's had a strong dislike for Kirk Cousins simmering for years. It's a good time for both sides to part ways.
Minnesota does not have a clear path forward, though. They cannot launch into something resembling a full-scale rebuild because Cousins' contract is fully guaranteed next season and comes with a dead cap hit of $45 million if he is traded this offseason. This roster is here to stay in its current form for at least one more season and it will be hard to start preparing for the future with that much money sunk into a QB. Anything can happen, of course; Carson Wentz had nearly as high a dead cap hit this time last year and the Eagles didn't have a lot of trouble trading him to Indianapolis. But barring something crazy, Cousins and Co. will return for one more run in the Twin Cities next year and the Vikings' hiring preferences will be reflected in that reality.
Here are a few possible candidates to replace Zimmer in Minnesota.
Caldwell's name has been coming up this year after being out of the last few hiring cycles, and he makes quite a bit of sense as a potential Vikings hire. Caldwell is the definition of a high-floor low-ceiling head coach; his last stop in Detroit featured three winning records in four seasons and two playoff appearances, but his teams never advanced past Wild Card weekend.
In that way, he is very similar to Kirk Cousins, which makes this all a natural marriage. Caldwell may not stick around for more than a few years but can keep the ship steady as the Vikings transition into their next era of football. Far from the most exciting hire, but one that feels more likely to happen than any other.
Zimmer's time with the Vikings was not consistently outstanding but it also wasn't terrible and Minnesota may consider going a similar route with their next hire. Bowles is as close to a carbon copy to Zimmer as they could find in terms of resume and skillset. The Bucs defensive coordinator has a championship pedigree and experience handling the responsibilities of being the top decision-maker.
Defense is his area of expertise. Bowles has made a strong case for another shot at a head coaching job over the last few seasons, and he'd fit in the immediate vision for the Vikings. Bowles' strategies won't change drastically with the eventual and inevitable departure of Cousins. The veteran defensive coach is a strong choice for this particular job.
The above two options are not particularly fun, even if they are the most likely. Should the Vikings decide to break their mold and go out with the sole goal of building an elite offense in mind, it feels like it'll finally be time for Bieniemy to get his shot after years of being in the rumor mill.
He could be a big get for the Vikings as an offensive-minded head coach who knows exactly what it takes to reach consistent excellence. The biggest risk with Bieniemy is that it's difficult to separate his success from Andy Reid's. The most recent Chiefs disciple to get a shot at the top job is about to get fired in Chicago. But what's working in Bieniemy's favor here is that he broke into the NFL with Minnesota back in 2006. They know him. If anyone will give him a chance to prove he belongs as head coach, it's the Vikings.