Reusse: Zimmer's parents have supported him through thick and thin

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 16, 2014 - 7:06 AM
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Cincinnati Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer works with cornerback Leon Hall (29) during practice at NFL football training camp, Friday, Aug. 5, 2011 in Georgetown, Ky. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) ORG XMIT: NYEOTK

Ann Zimmer had a text on her phone when she woke up on Wednesday morning in Naples, Fla. It read: “I’m the ninth head coach for the Vikings.”

The transmission ended a decade-long wait for the Zimmers to hear that the efforts of their son Mike had been rewarded with an opportunity to run the on-field operation for an NFL team.

“Ten years ago, Jerry Jones swore to Mike that he was going to hire him, if Bill Parcells didn’t take the job with the Cowboys,” Ann said. “Of course, Parcells did take the job [in 2003].

“I wouldn’t say Mike has been frustrated waiting for this chance. Maybe a little disappointed, yeah, when he saw other coordinators with less of a record getting jobs, but as long as he was in football, coaching, Mike was OK.”

Ann and Bill Zimmer Sr. have been married for 58 years. They met in Peoria, Ill., where Bill was a football player of excellence for Bradley University. Bradley dropped the sport in 1970, which was 11 years after Bill had been inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Bill retired in 1995 from his duties at Lockport Township High School in northeastern Illinois. The Zimmers went to Naples for the winter and never moved back.

Bill Sr. was the football coach in Lockport from 1960 through 1993. He also coached wrestling. Mike was his quarterback and a standout wrestler. And there was never much doubt that Mike also would be a coach.

“Even when he was a kid, we would put a game tape in at home and he would sit back and watch,” Bill, 82, said on Wednesday. “He wanted to know what the game was all about.

“I’m tickled to death today … and proud of him to have the patience and strength to stick with it and get this chance.”

The real test of strength for the entire Zimmer family came in October 2009, when Mike’s wife Vikki died unexpectedly.

“It was devastating for Mike, for all of us,” Ann said. “Vikki was the greatest person. Mike was all football and Vikki took care of everything else for the family.

“She also would tell Mike to not yell so much at the players. She would bake cookies — mostly chocolate chip — and have him take them to practice, to make it up to the players for Mike being ‘so mean.’ ”

Ann and Bill Sr. raised three children in Lockport: Bill Jr., Mike and daughter Karen Bates.

“Our son Bill sells railways products,” Ann said. “He’s going to be in Minneapolis on Friday. We heard that’s when the Vikings are going to have the press conference.

“Bill called today and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could get in there to see Mike introduced?’ ”

There’s a strong possibility that Adam, one of Mike’s three children, will be joining his father in Minnesota.

Adam was an assistant secondary coach on Mike’s defensive staff this season in Cincinnati.

I don’t think Ann Zimmer can be cited for tampering when she expresses hope that her grandson gets a promotion to his father’s staff in Minnesota.

Mike Zimmer is known for his confronting style as a coach. It was a style learned from his father.

“He has the same personality with players as I did,” Bill Sr. said. “You got to know when to start in on them. You also have to know when to stop, or you’re going to lose a player. Mike knows both.”

Mike started tagging along with his father on football journeys when he was in second or third grade.

There’s a story about Kansas trying to recruit one of Bill’s Lockport players.

As part of the pitch, Bears all-time great Gale Sayers invited the player and Bill Sr. to Sayers’ Chicago-area home. Mike Zimmer, at 9 years of age, had a chance to play pool with Sayers.

“Some people say he’s more like me than his dad, since I’m more outgoing,” Ann said. “For instance, I’ve never heard Mike swear around the house. Bill didn’t swear at home, either.

“Maybe they do some of that at the football field, but never at home.”

Right, Mom … just a touch of swearing was noted from your lad on “Hard Knocks 2013.”

Ann Zimmer did offer an assessment of Mike’s coaching that Vikings fans expect to be more accurate than on his cussing.

“You’re getting a great coach up there,” she said.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.

preusse@startribune.com

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