Mike Zimmer’s daughter revealed this week that the stress of coaching a faltering team has caused her father to lose 16 pounds.
Zimmer denied this. He said he’s lost 17.
If being Mike Zimmer is that difficult, imagine what it’s like to be Mike Zimmer’s offensive coordinator, or kicker.
Zimmer has experienced midseason breakups with two offensive coordinators in three years, with Norv Turner leaving in anger in 2016 and John DeFilippo being fired this week.
By early December of DeFilippo’s first season with the Vikings, Zimmer was publicly critiquing him. Zimmer has cut two kickers who were drafted by the Vikings in his five seasons as head coach.
After firing DeFilippo, Zimmer elevated longtime Vikings assistant Kevin Stefanski to the offensive coordinator job. When former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur left to become head coach of the New York Giants after last season, Zimmer and Spielman hired DeFilippo and blocked Stefanski from leaving to become Shurmur’s offensive coordinator.
Publicly critiquing subordinates. Firing coaches. Cutting kickers. Blocking departures. Zimmer has the prerogative to make all of these decisions, and the responsibility to do what he believes is best for his team.
Is this approach what is best for his team?
Jeff Diamond, the former Vikings general manager and NFL executive of the year, sees Zimmer mimicking one of his mentors, legendary Giants coach Bill Parcells.
“I think it’s his upbringing in the coaching profession that influences that personality,’’ Diamond said. “He’s a Parcells disciple. That’s the way Parcells was. There would be players he would love and embrace. Lawrence Taylor, for example, even though Lawrence had his issues off the field. Parcells loved him, but he would butt heads with [quarterback] Phil Simms from time to time.’’
Diamond noted that Parcells and Zimmer were more likely to criticize offensive players, coaches and kickers than anyone involved with the defense. “You never hear him talking about his defensive coaches, just his offensive coaches,’’ Diamond said. “That’s the way it rolls here.’’
Diamond also said he thinks Zimmer is a quality coach who is likely to make the playoffs again this season.
Zimmer’s record with the Vikings is an impressive 45-31-1. He has made the playoffs twice in his first four seasons.
He won 13 games last year with a backup quarterback and a backup running back. He is a renowned defensive teacher and strategist, and was popular with fans and reporters as a coordinator in his three previous NFL stops.
He also seemed to tighten up during the second half of the playoff game against the Saints in January, allowing New Orleans to stage a dramatic comeback that was erased by the Minneapolis Miracle. The next week, his defense was shredded by the Philadelphia Eagles.
I’ve been interviewing people about Zimmer for five years, and this week I spoke with a few who have worked with him. Even off the record, they say little more than what we’ve heard frequently on the record.
When the Vikings acquired former Bengals safety George Iloka this summer, Iloka said: “Zim is Zim. You will always know where you stand, because he will always let you know.’’
Zimmer has been tough on offensive coordinators and kickers. He was reserved in his praise of Case Keenum last season. He has been notably loyal to special teams coach Mike Priefer, despite the failures of multiple kickers and punters.
Zimmer is entitled to that approach but should beware of the perils of modern coaching. Even good coaches get fired if they don’t win big, or if they are not deemed the right person to lead a franchise to a championship.
Zimmer can salvage this season and perhaps calm his stomach with a playoff berth and a playoff victory. Anything less, and the Wilfs may wonder how such a well-funded and talented team has earned just one playoff victory since 2009.
Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org