LOS ANGELES, May 4, 2014 — Minnesota Vikings rookie head coach. Mike Zimmer, had only been on the job for a few weeks in his first NFL head coaching job when this interview took place. The longtime Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator is a widely respected guy around the league, but kept getting passed over for the top job.
Like many people, Zimmer conducted himself with dignity and class in the face of personal heartbreak. A couple of years ago, his beloved wife died suddenly of natural causes at age 50. She used to come into the locker room and bring the players cookies. To understand Zimmer is to first and foremost see a loving husband and recent widower. In the weeks after his wife’s death, his players put on an inspired set of defensive stands that helped lift the Bengals to the playoffs.
When asked who his football heroes were, he started with his dad. As the Vikings coach, it is fitting that one of his football heroes was the legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant. Although fans of the Purple People Eaters might not like it, football fans everywhere can understand why Zimmer holds a player from a division rival in such high esteem. Like Zimmer’s wife, Walter Payton left the world far too soon. He conducted himself with dignity and class, which is why the award in his name is given to the player who best exhibits good sportsmanship. Zimmer teams have always done it the right way.
When asked who his non-football heroes were, Zimmer initially stayed in the sports world by citing the great golfer Arnold Palmer. Zimmer then grew reflective, paused, and offered up his next hero as “my wife.” He paused again, and showed a ton of class by rounding out his list of non-football heroes with “anybody who has ever served in the U.S. military.”
As for how Zimmer would like to be remembered, he genuinely hoped he would be seen as “a great coach and a better person.” One can look in Zimmer’s eyes and see a deep sincerity because the guy means it.
He had simple, but important advice for people entering the football world for the very first time. People should “be honest.” They should “work hard.” As cliché as it sounds, a person should “Do your best that you can.”
After years of being passed over, Zimmer now has his chance to show he is up to the task of rebuilding a team with Adrian Peterson, one of the few running backs who deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Walter Payton. Peterson is a Zimmer type of guy, a hard worker, phenomenally tough runner, and good citizen.
Whatever record the Vikings have in 2014, Zimmer will have one of his heroes smiling her smile from above on him. With that never-ending love and his personal discipline, Zimmer will get the job done.