Few people know Vikings coach Mike Zimmer better than defensive line coach Andre Patterson.
He has been coaching with Zimmer on and off for 29 years since they first coached together at Weber State in 1988, when Patterson coached the defensive line and Zimmer was defensive coordinator. The following season Zimmer left for Washington State, and four years later Patterson joined him. They worked together there for two seasons, in 1992and ’93.
The next time they worked together, Zimmer hired Patterson away from his first stint with the Vikings. Patterson coached the line here in 1998 and ’99 but then joined Zimmer, who was defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys. Patterson remained there for three seasons.
When Zimmer was hired as Vikings head coach in 2014, he made Patterson one of his first hires. Since then they have developed not only one of the best defenses in the NFL but a dynamic defensive line that finished tied for ninth in sacks (41) in 2014, tied for seventh (43) in 2015 and fifth (41) in 2016.
Patterson said having a long professional relationship with Zimmer has been important, but not as important as their long friendship.
“Even during the years when we were not coaching together, we were in constant contact with each other,” Patterson said. “I don’t think we ever went longer than a week without talking to each other. Even during the football season. You know, he’s my boss as the head football coach and I respect him in that role. But most importantly he’s a close friend of mine and I know that he knows I’m going to do whatever he asks me to, to the best of my abilities.”
Patterson said one of the things he has always liked about Zimmer, and one of the things he believes players like about him, is his direct approach.
“I always say he is a old-school football coach. He reminds me of my first high school football coach,” Patterson said. “They’re tough, but they’re fair. They want their players to be tough. They want football to be played the right way and not break the rules and play within the rules, but play hard and play physical.
“He is going to do everything in his power to make sure his players improve. He’s never a guy to sit around and talk about what he doesn’t have. He wants to take what he has and make it better. That is always good enough to win.”
Always wanted to coach
Patterson has coached at nearly every level of football. After starting as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Montana, in 1982, he coached at high schools in Washington and California from 1983-87. He made college coaching stops from 1988-96 at Weber State, Western Washington, Cornell, Washington State and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, where he was head coach for the only time in the college ranks from 1994-96.
He got his first NFL job in 1997 for one season as a defensive assistant under Pete Carroll with the New England Patriots, then held mostly defensive line coaching jobs with the Vikings, Cowboys, Browns and Broncos from 1998-2006. Then he went to Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., in 2007 to coach his son and the offensive line. After that, he spent six seasons coaching in college, from UNLV (2008-09) to UTEP (2010-2012) to Florida International (2013), before rejoining the Vikings.
Patterson said that while playing community college football in California and then at Montana, he suffered serious knee injuries that ended his playing days but not his desire for football.
“I always knew I wanted to coach,” he said. “The head coach [at Montana] felt that I was a smart guy and knew that I wanted to coach and asked me to help. That is how it all started. I’ve been fortunate enough to continue to coach football for a long time.”
When asked about what years have really stood out in his career, he said the 1998 season in Minnesota was one of his best experiences.
“That ’98 team is something that still is very dear to my heart,” Patterson said. “It was a great group of guys, great coaching staff. [I] learned a lot of football from coach [Dennis] Green and still to this day, I still can’t watch that Atlanta playoff game [a 30-27 overtime loss to the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game].
“I still think it was the best football team I have been blessed enough to be around. We won a lot of games. But more importantly it was a great football team with players and coaches, and it was a fun playoff run that didn’t end the way we hoped it was going to end.”
When asked how he could leave the Vikings only a year later to join the Cowboys, Patterson once again went back to his relationship with Zimmer.
“When Dave Campo became the head coach of the Cowboys and Zim became the defensive coordinator [in 2000], they called and wanted me to come to Dallas,” he recalled. “I had a good thing going here in Minnesota, a good defensive line and coaching John Randle and Chris Doleman, and I enjoyed working with Denny. But Zim was a close, close friend of mine, and was like ‘Dre, I need ya,’ so I had to go.”
Being in coaching for 35 years means you’re going to build a lot of relationships, but there can’t be many NFL tandems with the intertwined history of Patterson and Zimmer.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said the new December early signing period won’t make a huge difference in the U’s recruiting, but he does think having April visits will be of great importance to the Gophers. “On the official visits they can really experience not just the fall but the spring as well, with an official visit,” he said. “We have to be very creative with how we do that in terms of timing because once they have their official visit, they’re done. You want to place that in time with the signing to make sure it’s not too far out.”
• NFL Network analyst and former NFL coach Steve Mariucci talked about what it’s like to face a defense led by Mike Zimmer: “He has grown this defense every year that he has been here. When you play against a Mike Zimmer defense, you know it’s not always exotic. It’s not 8,000 blitzes, but it can be.”
• Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player and journalist with NFL Media, talked about Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook: “He was one of my favorite running backs in the draft. I think he’s one of these unique guys in terms of being a three-down back. A guy that is one of those hybrids like Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson.”
• Albert Breer, writing for Peter King’s “Monday Morning Quarterback” page on si.com, said he believes the Vikings are the most balanced team in the NFC North: “The Packers are going to be really good offensively, they have questions defensively. I think if you look at the division, and there’s depth there like there has been the last few years, but I think where the Vikings’ strength is is in their balance.”
• Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire said the Loons didn’t get any big financial help with their new soccer stadium: “We didn’t get any direct financial aid from the state. What we got was the agreement that the tax status of that land, which has not been taxed for 50 years in terms of property tax, would continue. The stadium, which will be donated once it’s finished to the city of St. Paul, will remain tax exempt relative to the land that it’s on.”