Mac Engel

Mike Zimmer another coach Jerry whiffed on

A triumphant Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer waves at fans after Sunday’s 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs.
A triumphant Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer waves at fans after Sunday’s 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs. AP

Of the many screw-ups committed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager and president of the Dallas Cowboys over the past two decades, not giving his defensive coordinator even a cursory interview in 2007 will forever remain one of his most perplexing decisions.

In August of 2006, Jerry Jones said of his defensive coordinator, “Mike (Zimmer) should have an opportunity to be a head coach. In talking with people that have coached with him and players that played for him that I’ve known, he’s in the league of head coaching material in the NFL.”

Just not for the Cowboys.

Because in January of 2007, Jerry Jones interviewed nearly every human being who ever blew a whistle to be the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, just not Mike Zimmer.

Jerry had a good candidate to replace Bill Parcells down the hall, but Jerry fell victim to buying into labels, perceptions, and losing sight that while Zimmer might not have been a good PR move he was/is a good football coach.

Few coaches in the NFL deserve their success any more than Zim’, who has the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game after the Minny Miracle on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys prepare for another year of Jason Garrett. Draw your own conclusions here ...

Don’t ever blast Jerry over losing current Saints head coach Sean Payton in January of ’06, when Parcells was still the head coach and going nowhere.

Feel free to blast Jerry for not even considering Parcells’ other coordinator the following year, but know a lot of other teams blew it on Zimmer, too.

Go back to January of 2007, when Jerry hatched his super plan to return to the Super Bowl. A super plan that was built around Garrett.

You might remember in January of ’07 a certain Cowboys quarterback bobbled away a field goal snap in a wild-card playoff loss at Seattle, and a few weeks later Parcells retired.

At the time, Bill’s defensive coordinator was Zimmer. When Jerry hired Bill in ’03, he retained Zimmer to be his DC even though Zimmer preferred to run a 4-3 scheme; Bill was a 3-4 guy.

Zimmer had been with the team since 1994 when he started as a defensive backs coach and survived every head coaching change thereafter for one reason — he was good.

In ’03, Zimmer interviewed to be the head coach at the University of Nebraska, but he passed because he wanted to remain in the NFL. He also interviewed to be the head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams went with Scott Linehan, the current offensive coordinator with the Cowboys.

When Parcells quit, Jerry’s first move was to hire the then-Miami Dolphins quarterbacks coach, who was working under head coach Nick Saban.

Jerry had his offensive coach, Garrett.

Then Jerry went looking for his head coach, with the preference that the man in charge would run a 3-4 scheme and oversee the defense.

Among those interviewed were Norv Turner, Ron Rivera, Gary Gibbs, Jim Caldwell and Mike Singletary. Jerry interviewed three men on that current staff: Tony Sporano, Todd Bowles and Todd Haley.

Not Mike Zimmer.

Jerry settled on Uncle Wade Phillips, because, as Jerry said during the introductory press conference, “I wanted to get this one right.”

Zimmer left and accepted a job as the defensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons. After one year in Atlanta, he deliberately accepted a hard job with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Going to Cincy would be a career-defining move. Coaches often disappear when they go to the Bengals.

When we spoke about that job, he took it knowing that if he could develop a good defense in a place like Cincy it would enhance his résumé. To win in Cincy would lead to the head coaching job he wanted.

The Bengals started to win, and Zimmer would eventually interview for the head coaching jobs in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Miami, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. He just never received an offer.

Zimmer would routinely lose interviews not because of his résumé or intellect, but mostly because of his tact. He could be brusque. Cocky. Four-letter words are not foreign to Zimmer. There is zero pretense to him. He doesn’t screw around.

He wasn’t a good PR hit.

As a result, Zimmer was one of those guys who was labeled as “just a ball coach,” incapable of handling the politics and nuances of running a whole team.

Zimmer, then 57, had just about given up on being an NFL head coach, and was nearly resigned to his status as a lifer assistant when the Vikings called. He was given a second interview, and seven years after the Cowboys would not even consider him a token candidate he was at last made an NFL head coach.

Since then the Vikings have had their share of issues to deal with, but they have twice won the NFC North, and are now in the NFC title game. A good run for a deserving coach who couldn’t even land a cursory interview with the Cowboys when everyone else was getting one.

Jerry always liked Mike Zimmer, he just was never a part of his super plan after Parcells quit.

Garrett was. Draw your own conclusions here ...

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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