When the Minnesota Vikings take on the Cincinnati Bengals this Friday for their first game action of the 2016 season, they will be bringing a few familiar faces. In addition to right tackle Andre Smith and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, the Vikings will be bringing former Bengals’ defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, who couldn’t be happier about getting his first chance to return to the city where he really learned how to be a great head coach.
“It brings back a lot of good memories. We had good run when I was here,” Zimmer told the media. “A lot of great people in the administration. Mike Brown was always really good to me, obviously Marvin, a lot of players that I coached. It will be fun. It will be fun bringing my team in here and trying to compete with them.”
Zimmer got his NFL start as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys before briefly working for Bobby Petrino’s Atlanta Falcons. But, it was his six year stint as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator that really allowed him to learn how to be a great head coach under Marvin Lewis, the second longest tenured head coach in the NFL.
“I got a chance to see how Marvin does things, how he treats people, the way he earns respect,” Zimmer said. “When I left Atlanta, I was there for three quarters of a year. Coming here and being able to resurrect my career a little bit helped a lot.”
Since becoming the Vikings’ head coach, Zimmer’s success has looked pretty similar to the success that Lewis enjoyed early in his career with the Bengals. When he arrived, the Vikings were coming off of a terrible 5-10-1 season in which they finished in last place in their division. His presence helped them improve to 7-9 and place third in the NFC North in 2014. It wasn’t great, but it provided enough momentum to allow the Vikings to post a division-winning record in 2015 (11-5). Like the Bengals, his team failed to win in the playoffs and seemed to have the game all but locked up until a missed chip shot field goal occurred at the last second. But, Vikings fans have to be more excited for the future with Zimmer than they have been in years.
In 2016, the Vikings and Bengals both look like good teams with a lot of potential. Given the amount of talent on each roster, it only seemed natural that the two teams would work together, holding joint practices in the offseason before facing off in the first game of the preseason. When presented with the opportunity, Zimmer relished the idea.
“Marvin and I are like family. All of those coaches there,” Zimmer told Geoff Hobson in an article on Bengals.com. “That’s the good part about getting back there. I would never have done it if it was a different team.”
Zimmer still thinks highly of the team that employed him for six seasons, just as he does the coaches. He actually invited the Bengals’ staff over to his ranch for barbecue dinner tonight.
“Obviously, they’re a good football team,” Zimmer said of the Bengals. “I have a great relationship with Marvin and the Browns. So, I knew the respect factor for both teams would be here. I anticipated there would be a lot of good work. Usually, the day before a preseason game you don’t get any work done. So, it was good to get some extra work that way.”
During his time in Cincinnati, Zimmer established himself as one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, as well as one of the best in Bengals history. His defenses were regularly ranked in the top 10 in various categories. He was named NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in 2009 and his defenses finished among the top seven for three years straight from 2011-2013.
It was at that point that his name started to be mentioned annually as one of the biggest candidates to replace ousted head coaches, but it took until the 2014 offseason for him to get hired as a head coach. Bengals fans loved him while he was here but, unfortunately, the Bengals couldn’t hold onto Zimmer forever. Still, he will always be remembered fondly in the Queen City.
“The fans were always great to me here. I think it’s a tremendous city,” Zimmer told the media. “I’m building a house over there in Kentucky. There’s a lot of memories and things like that.”
Zimmer says he’s not really a nostalgic guy, but you can tell he really appreciates the time he spent as a member of the Bengals’ organization. Every time he comes back in the future, he knows that he will be well received and have a lot of friendly faces to look forward to.
“It’s pretty much home,” Zimmer said.