Andre Patterson was 27 and fresh out of the high school coaching ranks when he met 31-year-old Mike Zimmer at Weber State in Ogden, Utah, in 1988.
The Wildcats were coming off a 10-win season and a trip to the Division I-AA quarterfinals. Zimmer was heading into his fourth season as Mike Price’s defensive backs coach. Patterson had just been hired to coach the defensive line.
Similar in thought yet different in approach, they hit it off immediately.
“We have a common bond that we both strive every day to be great, and we both strive every day to try and overturn every rock that we can to put our players in a better position so they can succeed,” Patterson said earlier this week when he spoke to reporters for the first time since having co-defensive coordinator added to his duties as Vikings defensive line coach.
“From the first day we got together at Weber State, I think that’s the thing that we both looked at each other and said we’re pretty similar.”
And yet they can be oh so different. So different that Patterson was asked to explain how they manage to work well together?
“You’ve heard of good cop, bad cop, right?” said Patterson, who joined Zimmer with the Vikings in 2014. “You know, I think it’s like that. There’s no gray with Mike Zimmer. There’s no gray. You know where you fit. He’s going to tell you, whether you want to hear it or not, he’s going to tell you the truth of what you’re doing good, what you’re doing bad and what you need to improve on.
“I’m more of the motherly type. I’m going to put my arm around you and teach you just like I did when I was a teacher. So I always use the analogy of if I was a math teacher and you were having problems with something, I wouldn’t stand by you and hit you in the back of the head and cuss you out. I’d pull up a chair and sit down and show you how to figure out the problem. That’s my philosophy as a coach.”
Patterson has coached football basically since the day his knees told him his playing days were over back in 1981. A defensive lineman, he transferred from Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., to Montana, where he got his first coaching job as a graduate assistant in 1982.
Patterson is heading into his 39th season as a coach. He has made 18 stops — including two stints with the Vikings — in 13 states from SoCal to New England, Florida to Washington and Texas to the Twin Cities.
Other than his current seven-year run with the Vikings, Patterson hasn’t worked anywhere longer than the four years he spent in his first paid job at Renton High School in Washington. From there, he had one year as head football coach and dean of students at St. Monica Catholic High School in Santa Monica, Calif., before going to Weber State.
Patterson and Zimmer worked together for one year at Weber State and three with the Dallas Cowboys (2000-02), and they are now going on seven years with the Vikings. In 17 NFL seasons, this is Patterson’s first promotion to coordinator, although he said the Browns and the Broncos blocked him from taking promotions with other teams in the mid-2000s.
“When you’re under contract, the team has to let you out,” Patterson said. “So people always tell me my problem is that I do too good of a job, so they don’t let me out. So, fortunately, Zim gave me the opportunity, and I’m very thankful for that and I’ll give him everything I got.”
Actually, it’s a co-opportunity. Faced with picking between his 32-year coaching confidant and his 36-year-old son, Adam, the team’s linebackers coach, Zimmer chose all of the above as eyebrows were raised and critics snickered with charges of nepotism.
Patterson had questions of his own. So before he accepted the offer, he said, he and Adam “got together and talked a lot of things through.”
“For me, No. 1, it was to make sure that we both wanted to do it,” Patterson said. “That we both were comfortable with doing that. And then, No. 2, defining our roles.
“What part of the defense did Adam feel was his strength? What part of the defense did I feel was my strength? And then how we can bring that together to where we become one strong fist. So, we had several conversations about it, and I feel very strongly that we’re in a great situation.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org