This is the age when the sporting public can see most everything for itself and absorb information from endless sources. An opinion is formed rapidly, and then comes the mystery:
A) Some of those opinions are tightly held even when there’s evidence to the contrary; and B) some will change in a blink of the calendar.
Mike Zimmer remains the beneficiary of Opinion A. Forty months ago, the sporting public embraced the notion that Zimmer was going to be a well-seasoned wonder as Vikings coach, and it seems to have maintained the pro-Zim stance even after the disastrous turn taken by his team last season.
Zimmer was 57 when hired by the Vikings in January 2014. I’m trying to recall what caused the immediate accolades aimed toward Zimmer by the media and the Purple loyalists.
We had heard him cussing as Bengals defensive coordinator on “Hard Knocks.” I guess that and then his first few interviews convinced us Zim was going to bring the hard edge to the Vikings that we imagined was missing with the low-key Leslie Frazier.
Straight shooter, no-nonsense, thick-skinned — that was the perception, that Zimmer was equipped with all those traits football fans think they love.
The Vikings had played the 2013 season with no solution at quarterback and Frazier was fired after a 5-10-1 finish. Zimmer was able to move that to 7-9, with Teddy Bridgewater taking over and producing little as a rookie quarterback, and with Adrian Peterson suspended for 15 games due to the child abuse case.
That only increased Zimmer’s lofty status with Vikings fans, and the division-winning season of 11-5 in 2015 was a triumph for his defensive acumen and leadership. Again, Bridgewater produced little as the quarterback, but Peterson led the NFL in rushing and Zimmer’s defense was ferocious.
The Vikings entered 2016 with big expectations, and those were an obstacle that Zimmer was facing for the first time. When all a person has dealt with as a head coach are hoorays, and now he is “supposed” to win … weird things can happen.
Jerry Kill was entering his fifth Gophers season and facing big expectations for the first time as a Power Five coach in 2015. When the season started going off the rails, Kill had odd public reactions, and then the stress took over and he had to step aside because of renewed complications with epilepsy.
Zimmer’s reaction to expectations was off kilter from the start in Mankato. Any forecast you looked at had the Vikings in a two-team race with Green Bay in NFC North, and a good share had the Vikings finishing first.
Yet, Zimmer’s offering to the media at training camp was a feeble claim that very few people were giving his team a chance to return to the playoffs.
As a ploy, it was sophomoric, and his players had to know that.
Then came the second exhibition in Seattle, where Bridgewater warmed up and did not play. Asked postgame why he sat Bridgewater, Zimmer said, “Because I wanted to.”
Tom Powers, long a truth-telling sports columnist at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, lit up the coach a couple of days later, expressing fear that Zimmer suddenly was a candidate for the same “God Syndrome” that had affected former coaches Dennis Green and Brad Childress (as well as Caligula).
The column was both funny and accurate with the shots taken. Zimmer was angry when he saw it. Act like a jerk, and then get upset when you’re called out for acting like a jerk — this was not the thick-skinned Zim imagined.
Soon, Bridgewater suffered the cataclysmic knee injury in noncontact at practice, and Sam Bradford came in, and the defense was magnificent in a 5-0 start before bye week.
Another sophomoric Zimmer ploy took place in the locker room — scattered stuffed cats reminding the players not to become “fat cats” — and they wound up being mutilated.
I’m sticking with my theory the mutilation was done by a player trying to show the coach how silly his stuffed cats were in the first place.
The Vikings went 3-8 after the break. Zimmer overreacted to the first loss in Philadelphia and received an abominable effort in Chicago. He put his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, in a position to quit, and then allowed Turner’s resignation to be used as an excuse.
The dastardly problem with a detached retina made Zimmer a sadder figure during the collapse of a promising season.
A year ago as the Vikings put rookies through drills at Winter Park, Zimmer was the heroic coach who had raised the team to contending status in the NFC. Now, Zimmer’s leadership as a coach is one of the uncertainties for the 2017 Vikings.