Minnesota names Zimmer head coach
By Chris Tomasson
The Vikings on Wednesday offered the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator their head coaching job and he accepted. He becomes the ninth coach in the team’s history, replacing Leslie Frazier, who was fired Dec. 30.
Zimmer has spent the past six seasons with the Bengals. That included gaining a bit of a cult following on “Hard Knocks” for his intensity and salty language. But he also might have been auditioning for possible future bosses in showing off his coaching abilities.
“My hope was ‘Hard Knocks’ would give him a little more exposure and that it would make people think of him as a head coach,” said Brian Billick, a former Vikings assistant and Super Bowl-winning coach with Baltimore who is now a Fox and NFL Network analyst. “It’s long overdue that he got a head coaching job. … He’s done a great job (in Cincinnati) and will do a great job in Minnesota.”
Zimmer, 57, had been an NFL assistant the past 20 years and was a college assistant 15 years before that. He had five interviews for NFL head coaching positions before finally hooking on with the Vikings.
Some have said Zimmer’s no-nonsense attitude turned off possible bosses in the past. But there’s been little bad anybody has been able to say lately about his defenses, with the Bengals finishing in the top seven in total defensive three straight years and four of the past five.
The Vikings, coming off a 5-10-1 season, did not make an official announcement Wednesday on Zimmer. But multiple sources confirmed Zimmer will take over, the ninth straight Minnesota boss brought in with no NFL head-coaching experience.
“I think it’s a good hire,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “I think he’s a guy that obviously is going to help us win. He’s just a guy who’s very passionate about his job. … He’s going to yell at you when you need it and praise you when you deserve it.”
Zimmer was one of seven candidates known to have interviewed with Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman and was the only one who got a second interview. The Vikings also interviewed Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman and offensive line coach Jim Tomsula, and Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
A source told the Pioneer Press on Monday that if Zimmer wowed the Vikings in a visit Tuesday and Wednesday to Winter Park, the team might abandon its original plan to bring in two or three finalists. And that’s what happened.
Zimmer met with Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf. While he wasn’t available for comment Wednesday, Zimmer told the Pioneer Press in a brief interview Tuesday night that his interview had gone “fine.”
News of Zimmer being hired was received well by several former bosses. Mike Price, who had Zimmer as an assistant with Weber State and Washington State from 1981-93, said he was “so excited” and his “phone has been ringing off the hook.”
“I’m happy for him,” said Barry Switzer, who gave Zimmer his first NFL coaching job with the Dallas Cowboys in 1994. “He’s been in the league a long time. … I wish him well. It’ll fun to watch.”
After joining Switzer’s staff, Zimmer won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys as defensive backs coach in 1994. He was with Dallas through the 2006 season, including 2003, when he was defensive coordinator and the Cowboys led the NFL in total defense.
After spending 2007 as Atlanta’s defensive coordinator, Zimmer moved on to Cincinnati in 2008. During his second season with the Bengals, his wife, Vikki, died in October 2009 at age 50 with what was termed natural causes.
Price was a pallbearer at Vikki Zimmer’s funeral. He said her death was extremely hard on Zimmer.
“It was so sudden, so tragic,” Price said. “I think he got closer with his (daughters) then. It was tough. But he is better now.”
Price has three children: son Adam, 29, a Bengals assistant who could be coming to Minnesota, and daughters Marki, 26, and Corri, 23.
With Zimmer’s defense playing a key role, the Bengals made the playoffs each of the past three years. Vikings guard Brandon Fusco got a taste of Zimmer when the Bengals staff worked the Senior Bowl in January 2011 and Fusco was preparing for the NFL draft as a senior out of Slippery Rock.
“He’s a really hard-nosed guy,” Fusco said. “He’s a pretty fired-up guy. He loves coaching guys, making them better.”
The Vikings have plenty of room for improvement. On defense, they were last in the NFL in 2013 in scoring and next to last in total defense.
The Vikings also had plenty of problems on offense, having come off a season in which they had major quarterback problems while going through starters Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. No doubt there will be plenty of eyes on whom Zimmer selects as his offensive coordinator.
ESPN reported that the Vikings have asked to speak with Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He has 29 years of NFL coaching experience, including 16 as a head coach.
“I had Norv as (head) coach in 2004 (with Oakland),” said CBS analyst Rich Gannon, a former Vikings quarterback who concluded his NFL career that season with the Raiders. “He has been successful wherever he’s been. Mike is going to put together a great staff. People are going to want to join his staff. He’s a no-nonsense guy, but players love playing with him.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.