One year ago, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was a relative unknown. Having spent twenty years coaching in the NFL all at the assistants level, he’s taken a backseat to some big name coaches like Barry Switzer, Bill Parcels and Marvin Lewis. As it often is in the NFL, these head coaches reaped the glory (and the angst) while Zimmer and the other position coaches/coordinators quietly went along and did their jobs.
So when Zimmer was hired as the head honcho here in Minnesota, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the collective fan base responded with a puzzled, “who?” But what a difference on year makes.
Sure, Zimmer turned relatively the same football team, minus Adrian Peterson, from a 5-10-1 squad in 2013 to a 7-9 team in 2014 for some concrete improvement, but where Zimmer has truly had the biggest impact with his players is in the locker room and on the practice squad with this team.
We all love the man Leslie Frazier, but as a head coach, near the end it started to be a little too much of the inmates running the asylum if you know what I mean. Players were cocking off to the coaching staff, many had checked out before the season was done; the message that Frazier was conveying was no longer being heard after three years in the position. A change was needed.
Enter Mike Zimmer.
Like I mentioned above, when the coaching search began, it’s unlikely that Zimmer was on any of the “short-lists” that the fans were putting together. But very quickly he rose to the top of the short-list within the organization.
Looking back now, with a year under his belt and plenty of player feedback from the 2014 season, you can see why he was ultimately the choice the organization made. But it’s the players that know him the best, those he spent multiple years with in Cincinnati and Dallas, that are now giving us a bit of a clearer picture to how impactful and just how good of a coach Mike Zimmer really can be.
Over the past three weeks, the Vikings, on their free agent binge, have been interviewing players they are considering to bring in for the 2015 season. As it often times ends up, a handful of those players are familiar with the situation here in Minnesota. Some have played here before (Shawn Hill), others, like Michael Johnson, Terence Newman and Taylor Mays have played for Zimmer before. It’s been comments from those players, and their desire to sniff out what Zimmer is selling up here in Minnesota, that should have Vikings fans excited for what’s around the corner.
Mays spent three seasons under Zimmer in Cincinnati and spoke very highly of him at the time, obviously the feeling remains after signing on with him again in Minnesota. Newman, interestingly enough, has had two separate stints with Zimmer already in his career. From 2004-2006 Newman worked closely with Zimmer who was the defensive coordinator in Dallas at the time and when free agency came knocking in 2012, Newman followed Zimmer up to Cincinnati for a handful of seasons before Zim signed on with the Vikings and now they are reunited once again.
Strangely enough, it was the one that got away who gave the most ringing and impressive endorsement for Zimmer during this free agency period.
Defensive end Michael Johnson flirted with the Minnesota Vikings a year ago in free agency before signing a massive deal with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Injuries and misuse led to a disappointing season for Johnson and after one year, Tampa cut him loose. Instantly back on the free agency market again, Johnson went towards what was familiar the Cincinnati Bengals and Mike Zimmer, but this time they had split so it became a race between Minnesota and Cincinnati to land Johnson’s services.
Johnson’s visit to Minnesota was no secret and reporters were able to catch up to him at the airport and at Manny’s after the team’s meeting, that’s when Johnson said some intriguing things about our head coach.
“No lie. Before it all started, I though, ‘OK, I’m probably going back to Cincinnati,’” Johnson said. “If [Zimmer] wasn’t up here, I wouldn’t have thought twice about coming [to Minnesota]. I mean, he’s got that type of pull. That’s what makes the whole situation so hard. They got a great coach up here.”
Asked to elaborate a little about what sort of draw Zimmer has for his players, Johnson said this.
“Coach Zimmer is the mad scientist. He can have me doing whatever and I’ll play my tail off.”
Not a bad endorsement from a guy who ultimately chose to go back to Cincinnati where all of his friends and some family were.
These thoughts from Zimmer’s former players echo some of the comments we’ve heard from Vikings players over the past season, only they know him even better.
It’s the results on the field that really count, but in most cases the results on the field cannot be achieved without results off the field and that is where Zimmer is most vying for his players attention. Creating a new full-size team film room was one of his first objectives so that the team could bond and learn together. That’s his mentality, we’re all in this together. From the coaches, to the players, to the equipment team, Zimmer expects the best from the entire group...and based off of previous results, he gets it.
It’s still a bit of a building project personnel wise, but be sure that no matter who the personnel is on the field for the Vikings, Zimmer will get the best out of them. And when that talent eventually develops and takes shape, look out cause we could be on the verge of something special.