Think about it for a minute.
Had the San Diego Chargers moved beyond idle curiosity or the Cleveland Browns not hired Rob Chudzinski, the Cincinnati Bengals may have lost Mike Zimmer during the offseason. Thankfully coaching a top-ten defense in a world obsessed with offense has kept Zimmer stationary, unable to track down a courageous owner willing to give him the crown jewel in the coaching world. Cincinnati remains grateful.
The resumption of old school no-nonsense coaching with a general's presence that's earned infinite respect from his soldiers, Zimmer has clearly establishing himself as the team's best defensive coordinator since the primordial days of Chuck Weber and Howard Brinker.
Hired after Chuck Bresnahan's three-year stint that averaged a No. 28 ranking from 2005-07, the Bengals struck gold. A rough one-year experience in Atlanta, filled with controversy surrounding the sudden departure of his head coach, led Zimmer to sign with Cincinnati in 2008. Zimmer vastly improved Cincinnati's defense, going from No. 27 in 2007 to No. 12 during his first season while sustaining a top-seven defense in three of five years -- no worse than No. 15 (2010).
He may be the best defensive coordinator in Bengals history, and thanks to Bobby Petrino for knocking down the first domino that made it all happen.
Chuck Weber's defense from the early 70s featured many of Cincinnati's best defenses in organization history, highlighting a hall-of-fame worthy secondary with Ken Riley and Lemar Parrish and the legendary Tommy Casanova. Cincinnati qualified for the postseason three times ('70, '73, '75) during a six-year stretch ('70-'75) with an average scoring and total defense that ranked 8.8 and 10.2 respectively.
Dude. Dick LeBeau was a defensive coordinator too! True. LeBeau's first five seasons as the team's defensive coordinator (starting '84), the Bengals defense held a scoring and total defense average ranking of No. 21 and 15.6 respectively. His best defense ranked No. 8 in 1987. Zimmer has ranked seventh or better three times.
During his five-year run, Zimmer's scoring and total defense has ranked 13.2 and 8.8 during his five-year run, which also includes three entries into the postseason. Better than LeBeau and relative to Weber, who coached in a league with only 26 teams.
Whether or not Zimmer is the best defensive coordinator in Bengals history isn't debatable -- the eras of how the game was played and the players that played is vastly different. What we do know is that Zimmer has redefined a culture. Cornerback Terence Newman cited Zimmer as big reason for his return.
"I came in with Mike Zimmer and feel its only right that I leave as him coaching me," Newman said in a tweet announcing his decision to return.
Zimmer was the orchestrator that convinced Marvin Lewis and the Bengals brass to bring controversial cornerback Adam Jones.
"I respect Zim; he's a father figure," Jones said. Zimmer put himself on the line with Jones, but made it clear to him that stepping out of line will immediately end the experience.
"We’ve got a bunch of strong character guys on defense," Zimmer said. "I’m not going to let this kid screw up our chemistry."
"I told him that you'll live here all right. Not in the city, the stadium. You have to prove to everybody in the United States that this is what you want to do with your life. He said all the right things. Will we get bit in the rear end for it? I don't know. I was up front with him with the things we have here as far as the chemistry and players on defense. He seems, to me, like he was very, very humbled. Whether it happens, we'll see."
"If he steps one inch out of line, we'll cut him," Zimmer said. "Other than taking the media hits that we're taking, it's a low-risk deal. You can hit a home run. It's not like he'll make a ton of money. What I'm talking about here isn't just the off-field stuff. We have guys here. We don't necessarily need him, but if he's here, he needs to be more disciplined with how he plays and how we want it done."
After playing three seasons for the Bengals and becoming a significant contributor in the secondary, Jones re-upped with Cincinnati on a three-year deal last week.
When you sit back sometimes you day-dream and wonder, what if the Bengals lost Zimmer during the offseason to a head coaching job? It's not something we want to think about.