Vikings general manager Rick Spielman seems genuinely impressed with, and even admits to getting a bit of an education from, new head coach Mike Zimmer.
Zimmer and Spielman appear to be in lock step with each, complimenting each other's work ethic and repeatedly claiming that their common upbringing as sons of coaches is benefitting the commonality of their thinking.
"Getting an opportunity to work with Mike Zimmer over the last month has been incredible," Spielman said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "Not only is his reputation as a good football coach but working with him side-by-side over the last month – how he operates in the office, what he does in the film room – has been very educational for myself, and I've learned a lot about him."
Zimmer came to the Vikings with a reputation as being blunt – with his players and with others. It wasn't a description he embraced, but it doesn't have to have a negative connotation, either.
Some believed Zimmer's propensity for stark honestly may have rubbed owners and general managers the wrong way during his interviews for previous openings as a head coach. Spielman and the Vikings ownership seemed to embrace it.
"We went through seven coaching candidates in eight days, and there were a lot of guys we talked about that I have a lot of respect for, that I know will be head coaches. A lot of it comes down to, when we went through that, what's the chemistry between you guys?" Spielman said. "No doubt all of them are qualified. But when I sat there, and I was with our ownership group, and we went through and talked to Mike, it was like, there are a lot of the same things I believe a football team should do, and he was on the same philosophy."
When Zimmer was hired and before he had a chance to talk to some of the veteran players on the team, Brian Robison said if the scouting report on Zimmer's honestly with players was true, it was something the Vikings may need.
Getting into semantics on the reputation might be overplaying the descriptors. The general consensus is that Zimmer will call it like he sees it. For some players, that may not be what they want. Many, however, respect that in a coach.
"The gruffness, that's not true. He may be gruff between those lines, but if you ask – and I called agents with players who played for Mike Zimmer – as demanding as he is, I've never heard so much respect for a coach, that guys love to play for this guy," Spielman said. "He has that ‘it' factor, on being able to hold guys accountable, and get them to play to their utmost ability. The players love him for that. That's one thing that really stuck out."
Zimmer is in his first go-round as a head coach after spending 20 years as an assistant or coordinator in the NFL. Before that, he spent 15 years in the college ranks, but never as a head coach.
That's why having Norv Turner, with his 40 years of coaching experience, including 15 years as an NFL head coach, is an important move for Zimmer.
"I think it's nice to have someone there to run things by. I know what my job is. My job is to coordinate the offense," Turner said. "I'm really pleased with the staff Mike put together offensively. We've got a good mix of young coaches and very experienced coaches. I think that will really help us. My number one job is to make sure we're good on offense and if there's something I can do to assist Mike obviously I will."
Zimmer also kept two of the team's most respected positions coaches on offense – longtime receivers coach George Stewart and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson.
"I had input in the decision. Coach Zimmer spent time with those guys," Turner said. "Some of it's based on the recommendations that you get. But I think watching the way this offensive line played, watching the way the receivers compete, knowing about them, that I think it was a natural fit for us."
Despite his background as a defensive coach, Zimmer admits he will have his hands in the offense at times. But his biggest contribution to the offense might be in getting the most out of his players on that side of the ball, too. He comes to Minnesota with a reputation for maximizing talent on the defensive side of the ball.
But Spielman insists that Zimmer isn't "gruff," even if the word often used to describe him in Cincinnati was "blunt."
"When he's in the office, and you talk to people around him, he's the nicest person in the world – very smart, very football-minded person," Spielman said. "But the gruffness part, and him not being polished and things like that, I don't know why other teams passed on him having an opportunity to be a head coach, but I'm sure glad they did. It was the right timing and, I think, the right fit for us."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Spielman: Working with Zimmer ‘incredible'
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