Gil LeBreton

January 16, 2014

Zimmer’s time has deservedly come with Vikings

Mike Zimmer’s crusty edge might be just what Minnesota needs.

The praise rained down Wednesday from every direction — from players and fellow coaches and ex-Cowboys.

“This is one of the happiest and yet saddest days for me,” wrote one of those ex-Dallas Cowboys, Terence Newman.

“I love that guy.”

That guy is Mike Zimmer, whose hiring as head coach by the Minnesota Vikings touched off Wednesday’s Internet shower of applause.

His promotion was abundantly overdue. Zimmer has been an NFL assistant coach for 20 seasons, since first being hired by Barry Switzer and the Cowboys in 1994. He spent 13 seasons here, including seven as the team’s defensive coordinator.

But owner Jerry Jones, for whatever reason, passed over Zimmer repeatedly as the head coaching position changed hands, from Chan Gailey to Dave Campo to Bill Parcells and, at the end, to Wade Phillips.

It takes all manners of men to be a successful NFL head coach, history has taught us. Legendary men (Vince Lombardi), great men with hats (Tom Landry), thinking men in hooded sweatshirts (Bill Belichick), etc., etc.

“Great move,” the Vikings’ Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton tweeted Wednesday. “Long overdue for him.”

Zimmer’s defensive players on the Cincinnati Bengals, such as 12-year veteran Newman, loved him. The Bengals had the NFL’s third-ranked defense this season. At every step of Zimmer’s career, players have performed fiercely for him.

Yet, the book on Zimmer, as documented in colorfully unedited fashion by the HBO series Hard Knocks, is that he can be a little rough around the edges. He tells people what they need to be told, not necessarily what they want to hear.

The most notorious example of Zimmer’s blunt-edged style came early in his Cincinnati career when the media asked him about his 2007 season in Atlanta, where head coach Bobby Petrino weaselly bolted the Falcons for Arkansas with three games still to play.

“When a coach quits in the middle of the year and ruins a bunch of people’s families and doesn’t have enough guts to finish out the year, I’m not a part of it,” Zimmer said. “And you can put that in the Arkansas News Gazette. I don’t really give a [bleep].

“He’s a gutless [bleep]. Quote that. I don’t give a [bleep].”

When the gathered media pointed out that his exact words may not make it past the editors, Zimmer responded, “OK, how about this? Gutless [bleep]. You can use that.”

If you saw Zimmer’s jaunty repartee on Hard Knocks, you can probably fill in the bleeps.

But so what? The Minnesota franchise desperately needs to halt the losing. The city is trying to build a new football stadium. Zimmer’s hard-nosed style may well be the right thing for the Vikings at the right time.

Maybe, as some have suggested, Zimmer was viewed as too blunt whenever his name came up for previous head coaching vacancies. More likely, however, he was simply the victim of the current NFL trend of elevating some other team’s offensive coordinator.

Just look at the recent hires — Jim Caldwell, Ken Whisenhunt, Jay Gruden and Bill O’Brien. All made their marks on the offensive side of the ball.

Owner Jones, of course, followed that same path after Phillips was fired. Zimmer and ex-quarterback Jason Garrett appear to be polar opposites in their coaching styles.

Hmm. Wonder which one will get back to the playoffs first?

Mike Zimmer, who lived in northeast Tarrant County for 13 football seasons, was long overdue to be an NFL head coach.

Vikings fans are going to enjoy him. Just watch your ears.

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