Anyone who cares about Mike Zimmer should tell him to get lost.
Anyone who cares about the Vikings should tell him to take a hike or a hundred.
The obsessiveness that has caused Zimmer to endanger the health of his eye last season is rooted in the workaholism of the modern NFL. Modern sports teams like to brag about their “culture,’’ but the NFL culture is often unhealthy and counterproductive.
Zimmer stands as proof that not only do 100-hour weeks and 12-month years reach a point of diminishing returns, but that they also can damage health.
On Monday, the Vikings announced that Zimmer would spend a few weeks away from the organization to recover from the eighth surgery on his right eye. He’ll head to his Kentucky spread. Whether he spends his time eradicating Wild Turkey or wild turkeys he should stay there until July, or until he’s completely healed, whichever comes last.
There is a logical reason for NFL head coaches working around the clock and around the calendar. They are leaders of large and complex organizations. They demand hard work from everyone below them on the organizational chart. They know it behooves them to set an example.
What NFL leaders should recognize is that the NFL’s worst franchises work just as hard as the best. Working excessive hours isn’t the key to winning; it’s a habit shared by winners and losers alike.
What did workaholism do for Zimmer and the Vikings last year? He soldiered through surgeries, rushed back to the office and field, and his team lost eight of 10 games and missed the playoffs. Maybe his gumption helped the Vikings win at Jacksonville; maybe the Vikings won because they were playing Jacksonville.
Joe Gibbs is the patron saint of coaches who sleep on office couches. I spent time around him before Washington won the Metrodome Super Bowl. At the Washington football complex a few weeks earlier, he ducked questions about his sleeping arrangements. Someone noted his car was covered in snow from the previous week. He shook his head, then assigned an aide to wipe the snow off his car.
Gibbs didn’t win because he slept on his couch. He won because he was an offensive genius.
For every Gibbs, there is a Jimmy Johnson, who loved ocean vacations; or Bud Grant, who loved long hunting trips; or Bill Belichick, who has followed Bon Jovi on tour.
Nobody would accuse Johnson, Grant or Belichick of working too few hours. They just didn’t see any point in working to prove a point.
What we see in the modern NFL often is complexity for complexity’s sake. The league never has featured more intricate offensive and defensive schemes and more offseason hours of preparation, and yet head coaches still frequently err when making crucial decisions during games.
Brad Childress prepared like a maniac, yet it was a sideline miscommunication that led to the penalty that led to Brett Favre’s interception in the Superdome.
In college, a head coach working an extra dozen hours might land an extra recruit or donation. In the NFL, the best coaches are those who teach in a way that players understand and think on their feet during games. The office couch can’t help with either.
Zimmer can best help his team by helping himself. He has grown caustic since his eye became a problem, and while a bad mood isn’t the cause of his team’s collapse, it probably didn’t help.
Summer NFL practices are as overrated as working 100-hour weeks. It’s important for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to work with his returning quarterback, his new offensive line and his new skill-position toys. Zimmer can wait until training camp to reintroduce his philosophies to a defense that is returning close to intact.
What’s most important for Zimmer and the Vikings is for him to make it through the 2017 season with good health and a healthy attitude. He should ask Jimmy Johnson for a beach recommendation, then take it.