Mike Zimmer was 44 when he became an NFL defensive coordinator for the first time in 2000. Tracy Claeys was 42 when he became a defensive coordinator in the Big Ten for the first time in 2011.

Zimmer was creative, motivational and successful in his role for the Dallas Cowboys. There is a story that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was prepared to hire Zimmer as his head coach in 2003, if he had not been able to convince Bill Parcells to take the job.

That would have put Zimmer in charge of an NFL game as a head coach at 47. Instead, Parcells took Jones' money and Zimmer stayed as defensive coordinator. When Parcells left after the 2006 season, Jones went for Wade Phillips rather than Zimmer.

It would take Zimmer another eight years, and he was 58 when he coached his first NFL game for the Vikings in 2014.

Claeys was the Gophers head coach on an interim basis in 2013 when his boss, Jerry Kill, was having serious problems managing his epilepsy. Claeys' tenure included the Gophers' first four-game winning streak in the Big Ten in 40 years.

Kill was honored as the Big Ten's Coach of the Year in 2014 when the Gophers went 5-3 in the conference. The best part of that team was the toughness, creativity and motivation with which the defense played.

Vikings followers took kindly to Zimmer from the get-go, mostly because of his straight-talking, unsophisticated style. And his popularity has never been greater than at this moment, with his blowoff and then calling out of Rams coach Jeff Fisher after Sunday's overtime victory at TCF Bank Stadium.

On Wednesday, Claeys officially became the Gophers' head coach at age 46, the ninth man to hold that position in the 48 years since Minnesota last shared a Big Ten title (1967).

Claeys is a straight talker and unsophisticated, even more of a Kansas country boy than his mentor and predecessor, Kill, who retired because of complications with his epilepsy two weeks ago.

There is support for Claeys among a sizable percentage of the Gophers football hard-cores, but there certainly is not the outpouring of support initially received by Zimmer.

Maybe all it took were those final 30 seconds against Michigan for the sports-bar football geniuses to decide Claeys was ill-equipped to run a Big Ten program.

Maybe they don't think arriving at Minnesota, a place with an established tradition of defensive incompetence and turning it into a stout group over a five-year period, compares favorably with Zimmer building a solid reputation as a defensive coordinator in the NFL.

And maybe it's because Claeys is substantially overweight and Zimmer is not.

I'm not sure if the startribune.com moderators got around to editing the pathetic comments on Wednesday's first article announcing Claeys' hiring, but it is more evidence that there's no ridicule easier to get away with in a public forum than taking a shot at a fat guy.

I can tell you this from many decades of experience — and believe me, I'm not wounded. Bring it on.

Note: In the name of full disclosure, I did slip out a tweet Saturday night asking if the Gophers were aware they would be required to hoist the coach on their shoulders if they upset Ohio State.

Nothing mean there. Subtle one-liners — toward any of us afflicted with fatness — are worth a smile, in my opinion.

What's bothersome about the shots aimed at Claeys is that somehow being overweight is going to limit his energy to coach, his ability to attract recruits, maybe even his ability to motivate players.

Charlie Weis failed as a coach at Notre Dame and Kansas because he was an arrogant guy known for treating players poorly, not because he was fat.

Tracy Claeys is neither arrogant nor does he treat players poorly. He is a smart man in life beyond football.

The halftime defensive adjustments made by Claeys in Big Ten games often have been as impressive as were Zimmer's against the Rams on Sunday. I think he's better with X's and O's than Kill — and Claeys will get busy on offense and help the Gophers improve there.

Yes, there would have been a search for Kill's replacement, if the Gophers had a full-time athletic director in place. Considering the predicament, the Minnesota football crowd should look at having a bright, experienced, successful 46-year-old defensive maven to step in as a benefit, not as a liability.

Tracy Claeys seems to have many of Mike Zimmer's traits, and that's a good thing.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. preusse@startribune.com