MANKATO – Vikings coach Mike Zimmer choked up and fought back tears after practice Wednesday as he thought about the life of his father, Bill Zimmer, who passed away Tuesday night in Naples, Fla., at the age of 84.
“It’s been rough,” Zimmer said. “My dad was a heck of a mentor. I got some letters from some people saying what an influence he had on a lot of people’s lives. He had been sick, but we didn’t expect it.”
Zimmer will stay with the team through Saturday night’s preseason game against Tampa Bay at TCF Bank Stadium.
He’ll leave on Sunday, an off day for the team, and attend Monday’s funeral in Naples. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will run the team in Zimmer’s absence.
Bill was a longtime football and wrestling coach at Lockport (Ill.) High School. He coached his son on and off the field.
“He taught me so many things about the way to work, the way to get up in the morning, if you got a problem, you continue to work on it until you get it fixed,” Zimmer said. “He was driving around to [coaching] clinics his whole life.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, Bill Zimmer took over the Lockport football program in 1960 and coached its teams to a 164-143-5 record over 34 seasons.
“Maybe the biggest thing I take, and I’ve said this before about him, is he’d take a high school team that one year ran the wishbone and the next year they’re running the spread offense,” Zimmer said. “He wasn’t afraid to try things. He wasn’t afraid to change and learn new things. That was good.”
Zimmer said it helped being with the team on Wednesday. He and his son, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, left camp a week ago to spend time with Bill.
Zimmer’s two daughters, Corri and Marki, also came down for camp on Wednesday.
Several players talked about trying extra hard in practice out of respect for Zimmer and his father. The old-school coach appreciated it but showed his old-school side when asked about it.
“Honestly, I’d be disappointed if they didn’t bust their butts [all the time],” Zimmer said.
“That’s what we do here. We work. We grind and things like that. I don’t want them to get better for me. I want them to get better for themselves, for us, for our team.”
Players offer comfort
Running back Adrian Peterson said Zimmer didn’t address the team about his father’s death, but players found out early Wednesday and were walking up to Mike and Adam throughout the day.
“We’re sending all of our blessings and love and support,” Peterson said. “It’s a sad time any time you lose a family member.
“ I can only imagine losing your father. I’m just glad they had an opportunity to go see him before he passed.
“I’ve always found that [being with the team] is kind of like medication and treatment.”
Peterson: ‘I’ll be OK’
Peterson, who missed practice Wednesday because of a thigh injury, was asked if he would be practicing if it were the regular season.
The running back, who often is rested in between games to preserve his body, smiled.
“It’s safe to say I’d play on Sunday,” Peterson said.
Peterson left Tuesday’s practice early because of the injury and has no timetable for a return since he won’t play in the preseason and is four weeks away from the regular season. But he’s not worried.
“It’s doing pretty good,” he said. “I took a knee to the thigh. It’s a thigh bruise, but I’ll be OK.”
Turner said everybody who saw the injury held their breath when Peterson went down and stayed down for a while.
“I knew [it wasn’t serious] right away,” he said. “It was just so painful. That’s why I stayed down a little bit.”
Staying in Mankato
The Vikings announced Wednesday that they have reached a three-year extension with Minnesota State Mankato to continue holding training camp on campus. This is the 50th season that the Vikings have held camp in Mankato.