Perhaps it''s the hope of a desperate man (me) recognizing that Cincinnati's defense has become the heart and soul of this organization. His demeanor, influence, profanity, and temperament embody everything that the Bengals have become in six years. No one, not head coach Marvin Lewis nor quarterback Andy Dalton, (two positions that typically personify the face of a team) grips us as much as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Concern for his eventual departure is warranted. Maybe not as much as one would think. Other factors may have revised human ambitions for a dream job and lessened the desire for a significant salary increase. Maybe, over time, it's become less about a promotion, and more about enjoying the sweet life you've already been given.
ROOTED IN CINCINNATI WITH FAMILY
One of the more heartbreaking seasons that we've experienced as fans was 2009. It had nothing to do with football, or the playoffs. It was the year that we lost Chris Henry; the troubled wide receiver who made a remarkable comeback, became a family man, and finally got his life together. It was also the year that Mike Zimmer lost his wife Vikki.
Family tragedy is devastating. Vikki was more than a wife and mother; she was a coach's wife that baked cookies for the players, hung around the team a lot and the players loved her as one of their own. When she passed in 2009, the team mourned. The league mourned. The entire city mourned. A year after, Zimmer said that the hardest part "is probably the loneliness, I guess."
The Bengals played for her and coach Zim in 2009 (as well as Chris Henry and his family). Cincinnati began to feel like home.
You may hate the ideology. The Cincinnati Bengals are deeply rooted in family. Mike Brown, part of the team's front office since the beginning, took over as president after his father stepped down. His daughter, Katie Blackburn, is being groomed as his eventual successor. Most of the team's front office positions are given to the Brown family. Family personifies this organization.
Family personifies a lot of people, especially Zimmer. The Bengals named his son, Adam, as the team's assistant defensive backs coach. Players that were coached by Adam in New Orleans and Kansas City, would find the Bengals defensive coordinator after playing Cincinnati and relayed their impression to Mike that Adam is a good coach.
"That's my proudest moment because players don't have to come up to you and say anything," Mike Zimmer said when Adam was hired last year. "You never know if coaches are saying it because I'm his dad. But when players say it, that means something to me and a lot of them have told me the same thing and that makes me proud."
Not too long ago, one of his daughters moved into the area and papa Zimmer recently acquired 43 acres of land in Northern Kentucky, "that is waiting for him to plop a house atop it," writes ESPN's Coley Harvey. "All he needs is for it to be built."
Cincinnati is home.
LOVE OF HIS PLAYERS AND UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Mike Zimmer loves his boys, like a commanding officer of a special forces unit. Tight. Close. They rip each other, push each other, but have each other's backs. It's a brutal concussion-causing, arrow-throwing, tackle-making, quarterback-pressuring festival of love. Michael Johnson, who may leave for free agency in March, received a glowing review from his defensive coordinator.
"I have a ton of respect for him," Zimmer said. "I remember when he came here he had a lot of things said about him when he came out of college; he wouldn’t finish, he didn’t do this or didn’t do that, but Michael has become a good football player. He’s very conscientious, he plays extremely hard. He’s one of these guys that we’ve build up into what we’re looking for here, the kind of guys that we want, the kind of personalities, the kind of caring about one another in the locker room. I can’t say enough good things about him … hopefully, we’ll get him back. If not, I know that Michael will be successful wherever he goes."
What came of Zimmer's relationships was a cohesive unit, a core that defined team, led by the man that they respect above all. A man that might be more responsible for Cincinnati's three consecutive playoff appearances than anyone.
"If you just get a group of guys to buy into his system and execute it, you can be a hell of a defense, man," nose tackle Domata Peko said via USA TODAY. "One thing I love about our defense is that Coach Zim holds us accountable. If you're messing up, he's not going to have your ass in there."
"Beyond this game, we consider each other friends,'' Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. "It’s just one of those things where you know that he’s very, very brute and brash and can be harsh, but at the end of the day he really does care about his players. I think that’s the reason why guys will run through a wall for him. It’s easy to respect a guy who will tell you the hard truth. We hope for nothing but the best for him. Hopefully one day he will become a head coach in this league."
Zimmer doesn't sound like a man that's finished in Cincinnati.
"This team, this defensive team with the pieces we have, if we can keep them going, has a chance to be something really special," Zimmer said on Monday, via ESPN. "I know we were good this year, but we have a chance to be something really special."
MORE THAN A GAME
If a team searching for a head coach asked Zimmer for an interview, he'll go. Head coaching in the NFL is the top job. There's nothing more to it than that. It's where coaches become legends, earn their spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Only 32 positions exist and several organizations have coaches that are firmly seated with their respective teams. Maybe 5-8 positions open annually but the candidates are becoming younger, more offensive-minded. With so many coaches in the NFL and college football, and now the Canadian Football League, when those opportunities present themselves, you have to jump.
So he'll go. Explain to them his vision, what he'll do as a head coach. But make no mistake about it. He's also there to listen to what they can offer him. Unless the offer is something that can't be refused, being Cincinnati's defensive coordinator, with his children close and the city adopting him, is a pretty sweet gig. Maybe the dream becomes less of a big deal. Maybe the dream has become the life he already has here. The dream of winning a superbowl with the Cincinnati Bengals.