The Rick Spielman-Mike Zimmer longevity secret: Avoid disaster

General manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer are heading toward their seventh season working together with the Vikings, both fresh off signing contract extensions that could extend their partnership to an even decade if they make it to the end of their reported new deals.

Spielman has two more years on his resume as general manager, having started in that role in 2012 and hiring Zimmer in 2014.

It has been a successful partnership — one during which the Vikings have won 6 of every 10 games, made three trips to the playoffs and advanced in the postseason twice.

Ben Goessling outlined several key points of their relationship and journey in a strong piece this week, and we talked more about it on the Access Vikings podcast along with Andrew Krammer.

While having a certain amount of success is clearly a primary driver of longevity for Spielman and Zimmer, I would also argue that they have also astutely recognized that avoiding disaster is also a huge key when it comes to self-preservation. Indeed, it might be the biggest key to the Spielman-Zimmer partnership lasting as long as it has and projecting to last deeper into the future.

They have never bottomed out. The worst record they’ve had as a tandem is 7-9, in Zimmer’s first season. That followed a 5-10-1 season under the Spielman-Leslie Frazier tandem, after which Frazier was fired.

Their disappointments — primarily 2016 and 2018 — still had moments of promise that finished 8-8 and 8-7-1, respectively, and playoff hopes that flickered late into the year. Most importantly, they’ve followed every mediocre year with a playoff season in 2015, 2017 and 2019 — giving the impression that a trip to the Super Bowl was within reach at any given time if things went their way.

When you can do that as a general manager, as Spielman has done, you can remain in your position even without the Super Bowl titles or appearances of NFL GM peers who are similarly long-tenured.

And if the coach and general manager are linked up in both their decisions and their contract statuses, they more or less become a package deal.

If you’re the Wilf family, do you want to disrupt something good — particularly right now, in 2020, when there is so much chaos — by chasing something that might be better but might be much worse?

Or would you rather maintain the status quo, knowing that as a baseline you will probably be in the hunt to make the playoffs?

The Wilfs have made their choice: Avoid disaster. It happens to be something Spielman and Zimmer are quite good at.

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