Sunday slant: Zimmer focused but flexible

Mike Zimmer came with a reputation as being blunt, with video clips of him yelling at players on the sideline. That's only one side of the new Vikings coach who has proven to be focused but adaptable.

Mike Zimmer gained a reputation for being blunt, but is that a fair assessment?

It will take time for Minnesota media and Minnesota Vikings players to draw a solid conclusion on that assumption, but so far the impression here is a man who knows what he wants, knows how he wants to get there and might not have a lot of time to waste on things that don't line up in that vision. Blunt? Maybe. But the first impression is that he's not in the mold of coach that pretends to be militaristic, and that's a good thing.

Coaches like that don't last in today's NFL. Zimmer has. He has been in the NFL for 20 years, 14 of those as a coordinator. Inflexible NFL coaches don't last that long. Inflexible head coaches are eventually rejected by players. Inflexible coordinators are eventually figured out and overrun by opposing coordinators that adapt.

Zimmer has proven to adapt. He has run a 3-4 defense and a 4-3 defense. He has worked for different styles of head coaches, from Barry Switzer to Bill Parcells to Bobby Petrino to Marvin Lewis. That's a wide variety of characters and Zimmer said he knows the line of command, whether that's as a position coach starting out or a coordinator under a head coach or, now, a head coach just starting to work in unison with general manager Rick Spielman.

Parcells appears to have had the biggest influence on him, and the two talked immediately after Zimmer was hired as a head coach for the first time in his career. Their four years together with the Dallas Cowboys forged a strong relationship.

"It seemed like every day he would come in and talk to me about what was going on. I felt like at the time he was always grooming me for this day," Zimmer said. "I felt like, and I never worked with him and never met him before, this guy's got a lot of skins on the wall. But he kind of took me under his wing and mentored me, I guess. He lets his coaches coach and do their deal, but he tries to make everybody better that's around him."

When it comes to schemes, Zimmer is waiting to evaluate the personnel he has with the Vikings, something he hasn't had a chance to do yet beyond scouting their offense for a December matchup between the Vikings and Bengals.

When it comes to working with Spielman, both he and the general manager said they hit it off. Some figured Spielman would hire a "yes man." Instead, he hired a "yes I know what I want" man. There will be disagreements and there should be. How those are resolved is the key.

"We will be fine. I can get mad at people. I'm sure he can get mad at people, but we understand that both of our butts are responsible for each other, so the first time we say the heck with you and we go in the other room and we don't come back out, it's over," Zimmer said. "Collectively, it's going to get (done) because we are going to do whatever we need to get fixed. I think I'm a fairly smart guy and I know he is a smart guy, so I think we are going to try to be smarter than that."

Spielman will continue to have control over the personnel and Zimmer will have control over how he implements the personnel, along with full control of his coaching staff. The early guesstimates have the Vikings sticking mainly with a 4-3 defense but becoming much more multiple with their fronts and especially their blitz packages.

In other words, the schemes will be flexible, catered to the occasion.

But will Zimmer be flexible with his players? To a point. With them, it goes back to the point about knowing what he wants and to take his team there.

"I think they know that all I'm trying to do is make them better," he said. "Have I had discussions with players that they didn't agree with and things? Sure. But in the end you've got to prove to them that you really care, that, listen, all we're trying to do is get better. Nothing's personal. It's just about making the team better."

The clips of him screaming and cursing at his Bengals defense on the sideline are all over the Internet. It happens. Coaches yell. Sometimes they even curse. But everyone in the scene is a big boy trying to earn wins and keep paychecks flowing.

"Most of the time, it's very even-keel," Adam Zimmer said of his father's disposition. "It's to the point. He wants things done a certain and he's going to tell them how he wants it done. If they're not doing it or they're consistently not doing it, sometimes some emotions will come out, just like the best coaches. I don't think Bill Parcells was ever stoic all the time or any of the great coaches. Sean Payton is a great example. He's like the nicest guy during the week and then on game day he's crazy. Everybody has something like that."

Mike Zimmer has something like that, and the combination of being a flexible fixer and a stern visionary might be just what the Vikings need.

One of Parcells' biggest fans believes that, and he's the one writing the paycheck for Zimmer.

"(Zimmer) is sincere, down to Earth, no-nonsense and direct," said Mark Wilf, Vikings owner and president. "He's intense on the football field, but he's respectful. And he will represent the Vikings organization very well."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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