“I think I’m a fairly smart guy and I know he is a smart guy, so I think we are going to try to be smarter than that.”
This also is the first time the Wilf family has hired a coach with the current power structure already established. Spielman has final say on personnel and Zimmer has final say on his coaching staff, schemes and who plays.
“We feel this is the winning structure in the NFL,” Mark Wilf said. “And I think Coach Zimmer understands the structure he’s being hired into. As long as everyone communicates and is forthright, we’ll all have no problems.”
Coaching ‘super powers’
In 18 seasons before Zimmer’s arrival in 2008, the Bengals had one top-10 ranking on defense. With Zimmer on board, they’ve done it four times in the past five seasons.
“If you were to say, ‘What’s Zim’s super powers?’ I would tell you his super powers are finding flaws,” Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker said. “He knows when something doesn’t look right and he knows how to fix it.”
Crocker said honesty, fairness and results are three reasons Zimmer is able to push players as intensely as he does and yet still be so widely adored by those same players.
“And being honest is something I can’t say about the majority of coaches in this league,” Crocker said. “Mike is going to tell you the hard truth. You have the choice to take it, run with it and be successful, or go the other direction.”
‘Calling a spade a spade’
Bill Zimmer said other teams have misread his son in the past.
“He comes across as a crazed, stern guy,” Bill Zimmer said. “Well, he is a stern guy, but only because it’s in the players’ best interest. We were told after one of the jobs he didn’t get that the team said he was too blunt. He says what he thinks.”
Never was that more evident than in 2010 when reporters asked Zimmer for his feelings on Bobby Petrino quitting as head coach of the Falcons 13 games into his first season in 2007. Petrino accepted the University of Arkansas head coaching job while his former Falcons staff, including Zimmer, was left with a 3-10 team and uncertain futures.
“When a coach quits in the middle of the year and ruins a bunch of people’s families and doesn’t have enough guts to finish out the year, I’m not a part of it,” Zimmer said. “And you can put that in the Arkansas News Gazette. … He’s a coward, he ruined a bunch of people’s lives, a bunch of families, kids, because he didn’t have enough [guts] to stay there and finish the job. And that’s the truth. … He’s a gutless [expletive]. You can quote that.”
Crocker was with the Falcons in 2007. He said players loved that Zimmer spoke the unvarnished truth.
“He called a spade a spade,” Crocker said. “You don’t know what that means to players. Zim is always, always about doing the right thing. Coaches don’t always do what they’re supposed to either. Look at Petrino. He’s still doing stuff he shouldn’t. Zim called him out. What he said was the absolute truth.”
Meanwhile, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said the Petrino incident was a valuable learning experience for someone who was trying to convince teams that he not only had the coaching acumen but the tact necessary to be a head coach.
“I don’t think Mike thinks that’s one of his most glowing moments,” Lewis said. “Sometimes, we’re not able to speak everything that’s on our minds. It causes too many ripples. But I have no doubt that Mike will be fine in Minnesota.”
Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was in Atlanta as offensive coordinator when Petrino left.