Mike Zimmer is becoming so popular that someday he may be able to charge Vikings fans to clean out his garage.
It’s worked for Bud Grant. He holds an annual “garage sale” that is the modern-day equivalent of (Warning: Old-guy reference coming up) Tom Sawyer tricking kids into paying him to paint a fence for him.
Grant and Zimmer are of a like mind, and a like kind. Grant is a Minnesota hero because he wore short sleeves in freezing temps and used a subzero glare as his primary form of communication. Zimmer’s personality is a hybrid of Grant’s bluntness and Jerry Burns’ creative use of blue language.
Ask a Minnesota sports fan what they care about, and they’ll say “championships.” Yet Grant’s image survived four Super Bowl losses, and Zimmer seems to be the most popular Vikings coach since Grant even though he has yet to win a playoff game.
Grant and Zimmer are proof that when it comes to Minnesota sports fans, bluntness is revered above all else.
Zimmer is not a Minnesota native and did not attend a Minnesota college. He had no ties to the state until he took a job here. Anecdotal evidence suggests he’s wildly popular, and yet he has not established that he is one of us.
In our highly-provincial state, where being local is prized above all else, where natives spend most of their time with their former high school or college classmates, how did an outsider who cusses a lot and has yet to win big become so well-liked?
The answer: By not trying.
Minnesotans are highly suspicious of slickness, and salespeople. They mistrusted Norwood Teague long before they had evidence he was evil, because he always sounded as if he was telling people what they wanted to hear.
Minnesotans don’t want to be told what they want to hear. In our state, the best public relations tactic is not sounding as if you’re engaging in public relations.
Zimmer has become popular with Zen PR. By not telling people what they want to hear, he has given them what they want to hear.
“I think he’s very popular,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “A lot of guys want to know, ‘Is he the real deal, or not?’ The reality is he’s a great football coach, and we love playing for him.”
Where does he rank on Greenway’s all-time list of creative cussers? “He’s behind my Mom and Dad,” Greenway said. “But he’s pretty good.”
Zimmer’s blue tongue was on display Wednesday morning as the Vikings practiced. He lit into a young cornerback who made a tackle during a noncontact session, and called the entire team together to cuss a little more.
“I feel like we have a real good relationship,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “We’re truthful with one another, open. He can tell me what’s on his mind without holding anything back, and I do the same as well. When you have that type of relationship, it’s easy to be on the same page and to not take things personal, even if it comes across maybe in the wrong light or you don’t like what that person has to say.
“You can take it as truth, because you have a feeling and understanding that that person has your best interests.”
Zimmer attended a Wild game this winter. When his picture appeared on the scoreboard, the resulting ovation was loud.
“I don’t go out much,” he said. “I’ll go out to dinner and stuff like that. The reaction is always really good, really nice. Right now. I know that can change.
“I just try to be myself. People come up and take pictures and say ‘Hi,’ and I always do it. But I don’t go out of my way to be a celebrity.”
I asked him if he had to change his personality to be a head coach.
“I don’t think so, if you ask the guys from Cincinnati or those who were around me before,” he said. “I don’t want to change. I want to be myself.”
Works, for him.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com