A head coach is the brains behind the brawn of an NFL team. Schemes, playbooks, and personnel often change drastically when a new head coach takes over. They are instrumental to a team’s success. The NFC North has a diverse group of coaches, and it will be interesting to see who can take their team to the postseason.
Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings is the longest tenured coach in the division, having been the Vikings’ head coach since 2014. Zimmer has a 57-38-1 record as a head coach, coupled with a 2-3 playoff record. Despite the talented roster that the Vikings have built in recent years, they have been unable to clinch a Super Bowl berth. The closest they came was during the 2017-2018 playoffs where they were thumped by the eventual champion Philadelphia Eagles 38-7 in the NFC Championship. The Vikings have been notorious for a stout defense and explosive offense, but 2020 could be Zimmer’s biggest challenge yet.
Matt Nagy exploded onto the scene for the Chicago Bears after being hired in 2018. As a rookie head coach, he won the Coach of the Year award, leading the Bears to a 12-4 record with an absurd defense and some creative play calling on offense. Nagy looked to be another coach in the vein of Sean McVay, with an offensive philosophy that could impact the entire league. 2019, however, was a much different story. The Bears faltered to an 8-8 record, and while the offense’s struggles can be attributed to Mitchell Trubisky, Nagy has some blame to take for out-thinking himself at times.
Matt LaFleur is the newest coach in the division, and much like Nagy before him, his rookie season was a huge success. The Packers finished with a 13-3 record despite a banged up roster. Aaron Rodgers was limited for most of the season, while star receiver Davante Adams missed four games. However, the Packers offense was able to survive and thrive. The 2019 season featured the breakout year from Aaron Jones, and while the Packers lacked a consistent threat across from Adams, Rodgers still managed to top 4000 yards on the season. The injury bug is often difficult for coaches to acclimate to, but LaFleur has shown his ability as a coach to fight adversity in just his first season.
The Detroit Lions’ Matt Patricia has perhaps the best resume of all coaches in the division with three Super Bowl titles as a Patriots coordinator, but he has also shown the least as a head coach. Patricia’s record stands at 9-22-1 with two back-to-back last place finishes in the division.
However, there is some optimism to be had. Patricia’s defensive scheme is vastly different from Teryl Austin’s, the former defensive coordinator, and the team had struggled to find the personnel to recreate Patricia’s unit from New England. In Year 3, it appears as though he finally has a roster worth getting excited about. Additionally, his record is not as bad as it appears. The 2018 roster was severely hampered by a poor offensive scheme from Jim Bob Cooter. Meanwhile, he did not have Matthew Stafford for nearly half of the 2019 season. Losing a star quarterback will sink nearly every team, and Patricia had little help from Jeff Driskel or David Blough.
All four coaches have had different paths to their current positions, and all four have very different outlooks. Patricia is looking to finally show what his scheme is made of. LaFleur wants to follow-up a fantastic first season. Nagy is looking to recapture his first season success amid a quarterback battle. Zimmer will try to finally push a Vikings team into postseason success.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Who is the best coach in the NFC North?
My answer: I think Mike Zimmer is the best coach in the division.
Zimmer’s Vikings have alternated between great (11-5 in 2015, 13-3 in 2017, 10-6 in 2019) to mediocre (7-9 in 2014, 8-8 in 2016, 8-7-1 in 2018), and 2020 could be a tough year for them. At the very least, it will be a new look.
The offense remains relatively the same with Kirk Cousins at the helm, but Stefon Diggs’ trade to Buffalo opened up a need at receiver. The Vikings addressed this by drafting Justin Jefferson in the first round, but replacing the star receiver is a tough ask for a rookie. Meanwhile, they saw multiple departures on defense, such as Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, and Trae Waynes.
However, Zimmer has the skills as a coach to rebuild that defensive unit successfully. The defensive line still features Danielle Hunter, while the team added to their secondary by drafting Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler early. Nine of their 15 total draft picks were spent on the defense, and given how much success the Vikings have had with mid-round draft picks, Zimmer will have plenty of tools to craft his ideal team. Zimmer’s defenses have often been near the top of the league, and while 2020 will feature plenty of new faces, we could see another dominant edition of the Vikings.