MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Zimmer, known as a no-nonsense disciplinarian, is the new coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
A 20-year veteran NFL assistant coach who worked with Hall of Famer Bill Parcells in Dallas before turning the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense around as their defensive coordinator the past six seasons, Zimmer will be named the ninth head coach in the Vikings’ 54-year history.
Zimmer, a 57-year-old who has never been a head coach at any level, replaces Leslie Frazier, who was fired on Dec. 30, and becomes the third head coach hired since current owners Zygi and Mark Wilf bought the team in 2005.
The hiring on Wednesday came six years to the day Zimmer was brought in by the Bengals as their defensive coordinator.
“It’s a good hire,” said defensive end Brian Robison. “I think he’s one of those guys that’s very passionate. Obviously he’s going to expect the best out of his players week-in, week-out, and I think it’s a great job. (General manager) Rick (Spielman) and the (staff) did their homework as far as interviewing a bunch of guys and came up with what best suits our organization.”
The intense Zimmer will be a change from Frazier, who was usually calm and collected.
“We’ve got the guys in the locker room to handle any type of coach they throw at us,” Robison said. “We got a lot of mentally tough guys that, if you look at our season last year, things weren’t going the way they needed to be. Guys stayed in and fought hard, so I think we have guys that can pretty much handle anything in that locker room.”
Although the Vikings seem to have a need offensively at quarterback, they struggled mightily on defense in the 2013 season, when they were 5-10-1. With money to spend in free agency, their defense might be rebuilt.
“I’ve heard nothing but great things about him,” said Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford. “I heard he’s a passionate coach, a player coach, a man of respect. That’s what you want out of a head coach.
“I like the way he communicates with the players on the sidelines, he’ll get in your face and he’s aggressive. I love that as a defensive player. That’s what every defensive player wants.”
The Vikings were 31st in total defense last season, and Zimmer’s aggressive Bengals defense was third overall, with great balance. Cincinnati was fifth against both the pass and the run.
“You see the things he did in Cincinnati,” Sanford said. “They were playing great defense out there. That’s one aspect we’re looking to correct. That’s the last thing you want to be, almost dead last in the league in defense.”
Zimmer’s son, Adam, is an assistant coach in Cincinnati.
“It’s something he’s worked for a long time and just hasn’t been able to get someone to get him that chance,” Adam said. “I think he’s really excited about having the opportunity to prove everybody that didn’t give him the job wrong.”
Reaction on social media was lively.
Zimmer’s daughter, Corri, wrote on Facebook: “I’m overwhelmed with emotion. Over the last 6 years I have grown such a love for the Bengals organization. Since then the Bengals have actually become a team that is taken seriously and I have watched my dad turned their Defensive into something great. With that being said I have also watched my dad be passed up for head coaching jobs year after year after year when he clearly deserved it. I am in tears as I am finally able to say that he is getting what he worked his BUTT off for all these years. It’s about time … and I am still in shock as I’m saying this … but my dad is officially the HEAD COACH of the Minnesota Vikings!!!!!!!!”
Adam “Pacman” Jones, one of the stars of Zimmer’s Bengals defense, tweeted: “I told you’ll Zimm would be the Head Coach, that was a good move for the Vikings congrats to coach !!!”
Vikings center John Sullivan tweeted: “Very excited to play for coach Zimmer and to see the staff that he puts together. #skolvikings”
Hall of Famer and now broadcaster Deion Sanders tweeted: “Congrats to my dear friend and 1 of the best coaches I’ve EVER had Mike Zimmer!!! Well deserved and God bless. Truth”
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph tweeted: “Fired up about Coach Zimmer! As a Cincy kid he’s been fun to watch there and can’t wait to work with him! Welcome to the @Vikings!”
“Seems like the Bengals went far this year in the playoffs, and he called good plays on defense,” said defensive end Everson Griffen, who will be a free agent but hopes to re-sign with the Vikings. “Haven’t heard too much about him, but I can tell you that the way the Bengals play defense, the way they attack the ball and some of the things I’ve heard from guys around the league on his mentality, his style and aggression, it seems like a good fit for the Minnesota Vikings.”
Zimmer played quarterback and linebacker at Illinois State. He then coached on the defensive side at the collegiate level for 15 years at Missouri, Weber State and Washington State before joining the Dallas Cowboys as secondary coach.
He was a multisport athlete in high school and college. He played football and baseball at Illinois State; a neck injury ended his football career but he continued to play catcher for the Redbirds.
His high school, Lockport Township High School near Chicago, is also the alma mater of former Twins’ player Ron Coomer and Alando Tucker, who was briefly with the Timberwolves in 2009-10.
Zimmer’s father, Bill, was Mike’s high school football and baseball coach.
Zimmer has three adult children. His wife, Vicki, passed away suddenly of natural causes at age 50 in 2009. That same year, he was named NFL assistant coach of the year by cbssports.com and the Pro Football Writers Association.
Zimmer won a Super Bowl ring when the Cowboys beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. One of Zimmer’s players, unheralded cornerback Larry Brown, became the game’s MVP. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2000 and held that post through 2006. He coached under Parcells in Dallas from 2003 to 2006.
The Cowboys ranked in the top five in scoring defense six times during Zimmer’s tenure as secondary coach and defensive coordinator. He also led the Cowboys to top 10 finishes in yards allowed with both the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. In 2003, the Cowboys ranked No. 1 (253.5 yards allowed per game).
Zimmer moved on to Atlanta as defensive coordinator in 2007 before joining the Bengals in 2008.
Before Zimmer arrived, the Bengals had one top-10 defensive ranking in the previous 18 seasons. They’ve achieved that feat in four of the last five years under Zimmer, including a No. 3 ranking (305.5) this season.
The Bengals also ranked fifth in points allowed (19.1) this season. That included a 42-14 domination of the Vikings in Week 16. Zimmer’s defense set the tone that day in Cincinnati. On the third play of the game, the Bengals sacked Matt Cassel, stripping him of the ball and returning the fumble to the Vikings’ 4-yard line to set up the game’s first touchdown. Zimmer’s defense also held the Vikings to 10 first downs and scored on a pick-six in the game that essentially signaled the end of Frazier having any chance to save his job.
The Vikings, meanwhile, ranked last in points allowed (30.0) and 31st in total defense (397.6 yards per game) and pass defense (287.2).
Although the Vikings want to expand upon their offensive production and consider quarterback their biggest concern, Spielman’s extensive coaching search ultimately zeroed in on defensive minds who had success in 2013.
In a wide-ranging search that included at least 10 candidates that the Vikings either interviewed, requested an interview with or were believed to have an interest in, it was Zimmer, Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn who were reportedly the three finalists.
Zimmer was praised by Parcells recently in a Star Tribune article.
“He’s very competitive, he’s intense,” Parcells said. “I think he’s a smart guy. … Every place that I’ve ever heard that he’s been, the players really liked him. And yet he doesn’t coddle the players at all. He’s got a good balance with that tough love.
“I think now he’s got enough experience to handle the players and the big picture and the scouting and the constraints and the things that the league mandates now. He’s got enough experience to where he’d do a good job.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis also has said Zimmer has what it takes to be a head coach.
“Zim does a great job of identifying who to push and when,” Lewis was quoted as saying on the Bengals website. “He helps me by being the guy who puts his foot up their butt, getting them moving in the right direction so I don’t have to be the one to do it all the time.”
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