Vikings players are about to experience the personality U-turn that typically happens any time an NFL team makes a change at head coach.
Teams that lost with intense, high-strung coaches search for calm, laid-back coaches -- and vice versa -- whenever ownership goes back to the plate and takes another swing at hiring a head coach. In other words, teams like the 5-10-1 Vikings will go from the laid-back head coach like a Leslie Frazier and transition into the intense, high-strung coach like a Mike Zimmer, the former Bengals defensive coordinator who was hired as the ninth head coach in team history this morning. Eventually, the Vikings will get around to introducing the guy.
Zimmer, 57, has never been a head coach at any level. He's been an NFL assistant for 20 seasons, including the past 14 as a defensive coordinator. He's known as a gruff, no-nonsense coach, but his players have always praised him because he's a straight-shooter, which is something Vikings fullback Jerome Felton says is the key to differentiating a tough coach from a jerk that players will resist.
"Coach Frazier and Coach Zimmer have different styles, no question about it," Felton said. "But I feel if a person is a straight-shooter, that’s all that matters. Whether you come at that as being a little rough around the edges, like Coach Zimmer is, or real laid back, like Coach Frazier is, I think players respect that and gravitate toward that. At the end of the day, the league doesn’t owe you much, but if you at least get a coach that can give it to you straight, you can respect that. And from what I hear, that's what we're getting in Coach Zimmer."
Yes, Felton has seen HBO's "Hard Knocks," which chronicles a team's training camp. Zimmer has been on the show three times, once in Dallas and twice in Cincinnati.
"I've seen him on there a couple of times and he definitely looks like he’s pretty intense," Felton said. "He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, so I’m assuming it’s going to be an interesting training camp.
"I’m not worried about that, just the things I’ve heard from other people about what type of a guy he is. From what I’ve seen, I feel if I prepare myself right and I come in there ready to go, it will take care of itself. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited. It definitely will be a transition, but that’s part of the game."
Felton said he's also excited to see what Zimmer does with the team's defense. Felton and the Vikings' offense faced Zimmer's Bengals defense in the 42-14 loss at Cincinnati in Week 16.
"They were just tough and solid in everything they did," Felton said. "I wouldn’t say anything they did was unique, as far as they fooled us on anything. Everybody was just where they needed to be and were physical.
"If you look at their linebackers, they got some big linebackers in Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict, so I’m assuming that’s the style he likes. They were just a big, physical team. Looks like that’s been his MO his whole career. They also had guys who could come off the edge. They lost their D-tackle [Geno Atkins] last year, so that hurt them. Of course, it didn’t hurt them when we played them."
Zimmer not only is intense, he also has a much saltier vocabulary than Frazier.
"I never heard Leslie curse or even raise his voice," Felton said. "I heard more curse words and yelling from one episode of Hard Knocks than I heard in my whole time here with Leslie. So it’s going to be different. And it’s going to be an adjustment for some guys. But I think if you have yourself ready to go, I think you’ll be OK. He seems like he’s authentic, consistent and he’s going to tell you what it is. If you do your job, I think you’re going to be on his good side.
"I talked to [Vikings receiver Jerome] Simpson and [Bengals safety] Taylor Mays. They said the guys really like him. He’s rough around the edges. But he’s always going to keep it real with you. That's something I can respect. I think everybody can."