Minnesota Vikings Head Coaches: Ranked

April 8, 2022

Since the AFL-NFL Merger in 1969, the Vikings have had just eight Vikings Head Coaches grace the sideline. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers had fewer, with three (actually!). This is one of the reasons the Vikings are consistently adequate and occasional contenders; stability. In this thought exercise, we’ll rank each of those eight coaches and explore why it is so difficult to achieve the level of Head Coaching consistency we’ve enjoyed in Minnesota.

Best Vikings Head Coaches

#1 Bud Grant (1967-1983, 1985)

Synonymous with the rugged poise of The Purple People Eaters, some of us immediately picture fuzzy NFL Films shots of Bud’s stoic stare. The best Vikings coach of all-time is a no-brainer. He embodied Minnesota. He was the “Black & Blue Division”. His career coaching record is 158-96-5 and during that time he presided over the most dominant 10-year stretch in Vikings history. From 1969 to 1978, his Vikings won 9 NFC Central Titles and four Super Bowl appearances. The teams of the Bud Grant Era were so rife with Hall of Fame talent, it’s shocking that the likes of Alan Page, Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller and Chuck Foreman retired without reaching the Sport’s pinnacle. Bud won his final division title in 1980 before relinquishing the division crown to Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears for the next several seasons.

Winning %: .625
Best Season: 1973 – 12-2 – L Super Bowl

#2 Dennis ”Denny” Green (1992-2001)

Earning his first NFL head coaching job in 1992 after a brief stint at Stanford, Dennis Green inherited a promising Vikings squad that finished 8-8 in 1991. Minnesota would compile a record of 92-50 over the next nine seasons under Green, missing the playoffs only once.

The crown jewel of his tenure with the Vikings is, of course, the 1998 season where his offense headlined by Cris Carter and Randy Moss set the then-record for Points Scored in a Single Season. Unfortunately, after that spectacular season, the disappointment that came in the NFC Championship Game on January 17th, 1999 may be the first thing a Vikings fan thinks of when recalling his time with the franchise. The Vikings under Dennis Green exceeded expectations for the first several seasons until, after the tipping point that was that title game, they began to flounder in the face of them. A heartbreaking loss to the upstart Rams to cap the 1999 season, “41-Donut” (a 41-0 bludgeoning from the Giants) ended 2000, and a reeling Vikings team finished 5-11 in 2001, Green’s last season in Minnesota.

Winning %: .618
Best Season: 1998 – 15-1 – L NFC Champ.

#3 Jerry Burns (1986-1991)

Our #3 Vikings head coach of all time bridged the gap between #1 and #2. Coaching his teams to a 52-43 record over his 6 seasons, Jerry Burns . His teams were known for opportunistic play-style and a ferocious pass rush led by Chris Doleman and Henry Thomas. Of the remaining candidates, Jerry was the only coach to have led the Vikings to 3 consecutive playoff berths, and that ultimately gave him the edge for the #3 spot on this list.

Winning %: .523

Best Season: 1988 – 11-5 – L Divisional Round

#4 Mike Zimmer (2014-2021)

Still fresh? Listen, Mike Zimmer was the best Vikings Head Coach of the 21st Century. If you’d have asked me in 2017 ”who will be the Head Coach when the Vikings win their first Super Bowl?” I bet I’d have said, Zimmer. Rigid coverage shells, tantalizing blitz schemes, and hey, maybe just enough offense. That felt like the recipe for a while there. It resulted in a 72-56-1 career record for Zimmer and 3 non-consecutive playoff berths in 2015, 2017, and 2019 each followed by a listless disappointment the next year. The roster remained competitive but unfortunately, Zimmer’s teams always underachieved, winning just two playoff games over his tenure.

Winning %: .565

Best Season: 2017 – 13-3 – L NFC Champ.

#5 Mike Tice (2002-2005)

Yes. Sure the raw numbers favor Childress here, and Childress saw higher heights but Tice and Childress have the same amount of playoff wins (1) and I love Mike Tice. How does one not? He’s a former NFL Tight End who spent the last 3 years of his career with the Vikings, retired with the team, and became the Tight Ends coach the following season in 1996. His rise to Head Coach was organic as he soon took up the mantle as Offensive Line Coach, a position he held for most of 5 seasons before filling in as Interim Head Coach to Dennis Green in Week 17 of the 2001 season. He then won the job and held the job for four seasons, coaching the Vikes to 32-32 in that span. Having been the man at the helm for that beautiful 31-17 playoff victory in Lambeau earns him a little extra cache from me.

Winning %: .500

Best Season: 2004 – 8-8 – L Divisional Round

The Other Vikings Head Coaches

Brad Childress’ teams cracked the playoffs twice in his four full seasons (2006-2010)and he may be a BountyGate away from number 3 or 4 on this list. Childress was let go during the 2011 season and Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier was promoted. Frazier’s stint as Head Coach includes one 10-6 season with a Joe Webb Playoff game, and 3 abhorrent seasons. A special acknowledgment to Les Steckel’s 3-13 1984 campaign.