Vikings fullback Jerome Felton said he never heard a curse word come out of former coach Leslie Frazier’s mouth.
You might need to cover your ears when Felton’s next coach speaks.
Mike Zimmer, who will be the ninth head coach in Vikings history, has been on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” three times, including this past season when he was defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. It didn’t take long for Felton and other players who watched the no-holds-barred look at a training camp to gain an old-school appreciation for Zimmer’s relentless coaching style.
“I heard more curse words and yelling from one episode of ‘Hard Knocks’ than I heard in my whole time here with Leslie,” Felton said. “So it’s going to be different, and it’s going to be an adjustment for some guys.”
Yelling alone sounds like a drastic change from Frazier, who carried a more laid-back mentality during his tenure. The players will have to learn to adapt, because the 57-year-old Zimmer’s approach has been successful in the past and likely won’t change in his first head coaching position.
“The way he communicates with the players on the sidelines, he’ll get in your face and he’s aggressive,” Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford said. “I love that as a defensive player. That’s what every defensive player wants.”
Zimmer flew to Minnesota on Tuesday as the leading candidate for the Vikings job. He initially interviewed last week with General Manager Rick Spielman, but the second interview at Winter Park was considered key.
Zimmer said there had been no job offer when he returned to his hotel on Tuesday night, but he returned to Winter Park early Wednesday and by 9:30 a.m. had accepted the team’s job offer.
The Vikings issue a statement Wednesday night confirming Zimmer’s hiring. They will introduce him at a news conference at 11 a.m. Friday at Winter Park.
Earlier Wednesday, one of Zimmer’s daughters, Corri, excitedly broke the news on Facebook, and Twitter was alive with reaction from Vikings and Bengals players at the same time.
Zimmer was believed to be one of three finalists, but the only one who got a second interview. The others were Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
NFL.com reported the Vikings have received permission from Cleveland to interview offensive coordinator Norv Turner, a veteran NFL coach, for the same position under Zimmer. Most of Frazier’s staff, including offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Alan Williams, remain under contract for one more season; most of the coaches, however, are likely to be dismissed once Zimmer takes over.
Zimmer’s energy and intensity on the sideline established a top-10 defense in Cincinnati during the final three seasons of his six-year span. The Bengals were 27th in total defense before Zimmer joined coach Marvin Lewis’ staff.
“I believe in a disciplined and physical brand of football and I look forward to getting to work on leading a team capable of long-term success,” Zimmer said in a statement released by the Vikings on Wednesday night.
The Vikings finished the 2013 season with a 5-10-1 record and ranked 31st in the NFL in team defense.
“You see the things he did in Cincinnati; they were playing great defense out there,” Sanford said. “We’re looking forward to it. … That’s the last thing you want to be is almost dead last in the league in defense. That don’t sit well with me, so just looking forward to grinding this offseason and getting ready to approach this 2014 season with Coach Zimmer.”
During his 35-year coaching career, Zimmer has employed many defensive variations. The Vikings, under Frazier, were a Cover 2 team, a system that depends on a strong pass rush from a four-man front and uses little blitzing.
The Bengals, who finished fifth in overall defense in 2013, preferred a more aggressive style.
And Zimmer, in Cincinnati, helped keep “character issue” players, such as linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, in check.
In the final season of Frazier’s tenure, the Vikings had three player arrests in a three-week span and had one player, linebacker Erin Henderson, arrested twice in six weeks.
“He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, so I’m assuming it’s going to be an interesting training camp,” Felton said.
Lauded by players
Zimmer had coached in the NFL for 20 seasons without getting a head coaching job, and given the amount of praise he received on social media, many seemed to think the big promotion was overdue.
Ranging from Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who tweeted Zimmer was one of the best coaches he ever had during their time with the Cowboys, to Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga, there was an outpouring of joy for Zimmer about the Vikings’ hiring.
“He can coach any position on the defense and demands the attention of the room,” said Zimmer’s son Adam, an assistant defensive backs coach for the Bengals. “The players love him and respect him.
“You only see little snippets of when he’s getting angry on ‘Hard Knocks’ and stuff like that. Most of the time he’s really even-keeled; tremendously hard worker. He gets in the office earlier than anybody. He’s passionate about what he does and wants to do the best at what he does. Sometimes the emotions come out but that’s not all the time by far.”
Change of pace
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison contacted one of Zimmer’s former players, Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who gave a scouting report on Zimmer.
“He’s going to yell at you and try to get the best out of you,” Robison said. “But at the same time if you deserve praise, he’s going to praise you up. It’s just a different change of pace I guess from Coach Frazier that we’ve had.”
Zimmer will bring a different attitude from the old regime. Time will tell if this change in style will work.
But keep the “dump” button handy in the meantime.