Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Vikings get their guy

Of the seven head coaching vacancies going into the NFL offseason, my Minnesota Vikings became the sixth team to fill their opening.

The Minnesota Vikings will hire Mike Zimmer as coach, a league source told ESPN.

The Vikings and Zimmer, who spent the past five seasons as the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive coordinator, had been in negotiations in an effort to complete a deal Wednesday, according to league sources.

Zimmer remained overnight after his second interview Tuesday was finished, with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf more centrally involved in the session, sources told ESPN.

Wilf made calls to selective references on Zimmer and came away satisfied to give a green light on hiring him to succeed Leslie Frazier as Minnesota's coach.

Zimmer was a solid coach with the Bengals, as his defenses finished no worse than seventh in the NFL in four of the past five seasons.

Having never been a head coach, there's no way to gauge how effective Zimmer will be. There have been brilliant defensive coordinators who have moved on to be head coaches (e.g. Buddy Ryan, Dick LeBeau and Steve Spagnuolo come to mind) but did not have the same success. On the flip side, some guys named Tom Landry and Bill Belichick flourished when making that same leap.

But if the reactions of some of Zimmer's former players are any indication, the coach has a chance to be something special.

Zimmer is not known for the soft-spoken, easy going approach utilized by the Vikings' previous coach Leslie Frazier. He has a reputation of being the proverbial "rip a player's head off and spit down his neck" type of coach. Nevertheless, some of the tweets I referenced above show how Zimmer's former players had nothing but admiration and respect for the coach. You'll notice how CB Terence Newman (who played under Zimmer in both Dallas and Cincinnati) compared him to the legendary Bill Parcells. Zimmer was promoted to Cowboys' D-coordinator in 2000 by then newly hired Cowboys coach Dave Campo. When Campo was fired after the 2002 season, Parcells was hired in 2003 and thought enough of Zimmer to retain him for that same role. In fact, Parcells weighed in on the Vikings' hire of their new head coach.

"I have a lot of first hand experience with him," Parcells told KFAN's Dan Barreiro in an interview Wednesday night. "I think you get a very good sense of a guy when you're working with him everyday."

Parcells has not been shy about endorsing Zimmer for head coaching positions in recent weeks and he continued his support this evening.

"I know he's capable," Parcells explained. "I can tell all the fans of the Vikings, you couldn't possibly get a more diligent, energetic determined guy. He's a terrific worker. These jobs we know that entails a lot of hard work but he's especially that way. He won't leave a stone unturned."

Another takeaway from this hire is that the Vikings did their due diligence. There was never any point in rushing to a decision, a lesson I'm sure Wilf et al learned all too well in hiring Brad Childress, who was brought on less than a week after the 2005 season ended. Chilly had the team convinced that if he left Minnesota without a contract, he would not be returning as he would certainly get the Green Bay Packers coaching gig after talking to GM Ted Thompson (looking back now, it's quite obvious Chilly hoodwinked the Wilfs).

One drawback of all this is Zimmer's age. I'm not saying that 57-years old is over the hill in terms of being an NFL head coach. Not at all. But since Zimmer has been a proven commodity as an assistant for more than a decade, why did it take so long for him to land his first head coaching position? Another aspect to this is how will he interact with Vikings GM Rick Spielman? Zimmer is clearly not a "yes" man, so the notion that a cool-headed Spielman can effectively deal with the new coach remains to be seen.

Given the ringing endorsements handed down by those who played for and worked with Zimmer, I as a Vikings fan am thrilled with the hire. It gives the Vikings franchise an opportunity to have a solid foundation when the new stadium (supposedly) opens in 2016.

Welcome to Minnesota, coach Zimmer.


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