Team history proves you never really know a coach until one of his players tries to sneak a Whizzinator through airport security, but Mike Zimmer has, at least, offered hints that he’s the right guy to lead the Vikings.
Thirteen days from his head coaching debut, here are 13 reasons to like Mike:
1. He’s not a type. Zimmer was hired for proven expertise. When the University of Minnesota officials hired Tim Brewster, they did so because they were looking for an energetic recruiter and program salesman. They hired someone they thought fit their requirements, instead of simply hiring the best coach they could find. Zimmer wasn’t hired because he fit preconceived notions. He was hired because he has proved that he knows his stuff.
2. Zimmer is a chess-master. Coaches are more important in football than any other sport, and Zimmer already has made the Vikings’ front seven look more dangerous, even in the absence of Jared Allen, because of his unpredictability. He will move Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr all over the field, freeing them to make big plays, and he might position Chad Greenway to have a good year after Greenway was asked to do things like cover Reggie Bush downfield last year.
3. When Denny Green turned the Vikings around in 1992, he did so by hiring one of the great coaching staffs in NFL history, one including Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, Ty Willingham, Tom Moore, Willie Shaw and John Teerlinck. Zimmer is a celebrated defensive coordinator who will take charge of that unit, and he hired the great Norv Turner to run the offense, and former Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray to coach his secondary. This team won’t get outcoached often, if ever.
4. He comes across as genuine. He’s needled his boss, Rick Spielman, in news conferences. He displays a sense of humor in off-the-record chats. His former players say he’s tough but lovable. Writers who have covered him say he’s honest. Best of all, he’s not a salesman. He knows his job is to improve players and win games, not beg for public approval.
5. He’s hungry. As a 58-year-old rookie, he knows this might be his only chance to be an NFL head coach. He’s not plotting a career path; this is his destination. During the offseason, he admitted that he considered abandoning his search for a head coaching job even before interviewing with the Vikings out of frustration. He’s appreciative of this chance.
6. He brings the demanding demeanor expected of a protégé of Bill Parcells. When cornerback Josh Robinson was slow to return from injury, Zimmer refused to use his name, saying “you can’t make the club in the tub.’’ Interestingly, Robinson decided to play on Saturday night. Also, Zimmer needled a player publicly without, like Parcells, calling the player “she.’’
7. Even at an advanced age for a rookie head coach, Zimmer is part of a braintrust that drafted for the long run. There were more NFL-ready players than Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater available in the first round. Spielman and Zimmer chose two players who could grow into stars.
8. He doesn’t, like a certain former Vikings coach, use the word “schematically’’ as punctuation.
9. He has yet to, like a certain former Vikings coach, predict the weather, or use the phrase “Calcutta Clipper.’’
10. He hasn’t scalped his Super Bowl tickets. Yet.
11. He has no known association with Al & Alma’s boat rentals.
12. He is unlikely to trade for Randy Moss during the season.
13. He is unlikely to try to fit 12 men into a huddle.
Zimmer faces a difficult schedule. He’ll compete in a difficult division. His team won only five games last year. His team’s weaknesses — pass coverage and secondary depth — can destroy a season.
He may not experience immediate success, but that’s OK. The man knows how to wait for something worthwhile.