Mike Zimmer followed the career path of one of his mentor’s, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, to become head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
A bridesmaid many times over as a finalist-turned-runner up for his first job as an NFL head coach, Zimmer found a suitable marriage with general manager Rick Spielman in Minnesota. It was Zimmer’s sixth interview to be an NFL head coach.
“When we talked to Mike Zimmer, there was something different about it,” Spielman said. “the thing that stuck out to us the most was not only the passion, but the football intelligence and the leadership. He has a great history of developing young talent, of taking veterans and having them play beyond their ability.”
Zimmer said the team had not yet finalized contracts for his top assistants, but Miami Dolphins linebackers coach George Edwards is expected to be named defensive coordinator and Norv Turner the offensive coordinator. He held the same position with the Cleveland Browns last season.
Like Lewis, a defensive coordinator for seven seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins, Zimmer embarked on the annual January interview circuit but constantly watched others be handed head coaching jobs.
“Sometimes you wonder,” Zimmer said of doubting he would be a head coach. “I have a lot of confidence in myself. I feel like I was destined to do this.
“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. I want to make sure 31 other teams know I’m here.”
Spielman said the Vikings talked to former players, agents and bosses and heard zero negative comments.
Zimmer spent the past six seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Bengals.
“Every person, to a man, loved playing for coach Zimmer,” Spielman said.
Prior to joining Cincinnati, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 after spending the previous 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, including seven as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.
“I’m a Midwest guy, great up in an area very similar to this watching the Black and Blue division,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said he will be fiery on the field, isn’t afraid to call players in his office but believes players appreciate his honesty, passion and direct approach.
“I want Vikings football to be tough, smart,” Zimmer said. “I want our fans to be proud of the way we play — tough, resilient, physical football. I’m determined to bring a championship to Minnesota. I can’t wait to get to work.”
Zimmer will replace Leslie Frazier, who was fired after the 2013 season. He said the franchise has the pieces in place to contend immediately, and he already has allowed himself to envision standing on the podium as commissioner Roger Goodell handed the Wilf Family the Lombardi Trophy.
Zimmer, 57, who has never been a head coach at any level, becomes the third head coach hired since current owners Zygi and Mark Wilf bought the team in 2005.
The Vikings were 31st in total defense last season, and Zimmer’s Bengals defense was third overall.
Lewis said Zimmer has what it takes to be a head coach.
“Zim does a great job of identifying who to push and when,” Lewis was quoted on the Bengals website. “He helps me by being the guy who puts his foot up their butt, getting them moving in the right direction so I don’t have to be the one to do it all the time.”