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No matter what happened on Sunday the course was seemingly already plotted for coaches Mike Zimmer and Matt Nagy before the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings played each other in their season finale.
It didn’t matter who won or lost although, for the record, the Vikings collected a 31-17 victory to give their fans some solace that there might be better days ahead.
But for both teams there surely will be different days ahead.
Barring significant changes of direction in both NFC North teams, both Zimmer and Nagy will be fired before the sun sets on Monday. In Chicago, the Nagy firing might be accompanied by the firing of general manager Ryan Pace as well, although that isn’t quite settled.
And so for both these veteran coaches, Sunday was something of a farewell from their long-held posts.
And both handled it quite differently.
Zimmer, who completed his eighth season with the Vikings, struck something of a feisty tone in his post-game presser.
“Let’s not go there today,” he said when he was asked about his tenure with the team. “You know what I’m talking about tomorrow, let’s talk about it tomorrow. This isn’t the time to recollect for eight years.”
Zimmer, 72-56-1 but out of the playoffs and under .500 the past two seasons, seemed to blame some of the issues of the last two seasons on Covid-19 and even unvaccinated players.
“Yeah, obviously these last two years with COVID and protocols and guys not getting vaccinated and missing games and everything, it’s been really difficult,” he said. “But like I told — I think I told them last night maybe in the meeting — I appreciate the way that this team goes about their business, the way they work, the way they represent the team, the way they represent the organization, the way they come out to practice every single day, the way they go in the weight room and into meetings.
“We don’t have a lot of — I can’t say the word I’m wanting to say — but we don’t have a lot of guys who are just cashing checks. They’re trying to get better each and every day.”
Nagy, 34-31 in his four seasons with the team, was more willing to reflect on his tenure.
“My four years that I’m here, I look at a few things,” he began. “You look at developing players specifically at their positions, guys that you’re a part of in the draft process with Ryan (Pace ) and all of our personnel and our coaches and all the time that goes into that.
“Then you look into each specific season. We had a really good first year together at 12-4, and now we continue to grow here. As you build through the draft, you have young guys that are getting better and better each year, and they’re improving. We have some older
guys too on this roster that have been a part of this and just kind of seeing how that role is.
“I’m just proud of these players. I really am. I’m proud of the coaches. I know how much they care, and I know how much they want to be better. To me, that matters. Now, again, we understand our record. We know that that’s real, that’s a part of it. But do the guys care, and do they fight? And they do do that.”
Unfortunately for Nagy, NFL teams aren’t judged on how they feel and or hard they try. The standard is production regardless of emotions and activity.
And in Chicago, the production simply wasn’t good enough as the club wasted time and draft picks during the Mitchell Trubisky experiment and the Justin Fields selection this year didn’t pay dividends quickly enough to save anyone.
Nagy understands that.
“There’s a lot of realism to everything,” he said. “When you’re in this position and you’re a leader of a team, you go through and try to create and build a culture like we have here, you want to be able to get better.
“You want to be able to go through the highs and lows throughout the year. We know how the season went this year. We know how it went towards the end of the year and of course today’s game. Right now it’s not really — I’ll have time here when the season ends to be able to reflect, as always.”
Nagy was part of the Andy Reid coaching tree so he might be able to have a homecoming of sorts if the Chiefs current offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, lands a head coaching job.
Zimmer was a well respected defensive coordinator in Dallas and Cincinnati before he landed the Vikings’ job in 2014. If he wants to return to those duties for some team — maybe even for the Cowboys if Dan Quinn is hired this cycle — he’ll have opportunities.
The Vikings were generally a solid defense during Zimmer’s time but the team often failed to finish — losing on last-minute scores or because their field goal kickers botched makeable kicks.
Zimmer was asked about that on Sunday and whether the coach felt he was given enough resources to make the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
“Let’s talk about that another time,” Zimmer said.
Time as head coach during which Zimmer might engage in such thoughtful conversations might not be on his side.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero