Thursday night’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals features two head coaches who had to wait to get their chances to lead an NFL team. Mike Zimmer was coaching in the NFL for 19 years (1994-2013) before being named the Vikings head coach in 2014, and Bruce Arians was coaching in the NFL for 24 years (1988-2012) before being named the Cardinals head coach in 2013.
No doubt it was difficult for both of these coaches to wait to get their chance and Zimmer almost didn’t go to his second interview with the Vikings because he was tired of falling short of the position he most desired. But Arians believes that all that time and patience has ultimately helped them become better coaches.
“I don’t think there’s anything more preparing than experience,” the Cardinals head coach said. “Not just good experiences but failures, you learn from failures. So many of these young guys have never failed and then when they do fail they don’t know how to handle it. I think at our age we’ve been through the ringer enough times to know how to handle it.”
Even though it is the first time these two will meet as head coaches in the regular season – they met in the preseason before the start of the 2014 season – it is not the first time they have had to prepare for one another. Before they were named head coaches to their respective teams there was a stint where both coaches were coordinators on opposing teams in the AFC North.
Arians worked as the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2007-11 (hired as their wide receivers coach in 2003). And Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2009-13. That means that they had to prepare for one another two times a year, not including playoff games, for three seasons.
Both coaches are known for being very good at scheming for their given sides of the ball, so it was always a good match when these two would go against one another.
“We always had great games,” Zimmer said. “He had (Ben) Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace, a lot of guys. He’s always been hard to defend. They have a great scheme, he’s unpredictable with his calls and like I said before, the big thing right now is Carson (Palmer) is playing unbelievable, MVP level. I’m not just saying that because we’re playing them this week. It’s not media talk, it’s true. He’s firing the ball like you wouldn’t believe. I wish he would’ve done that when I was with him in Cincinnati. I think that was the year he hurt his elbow my first year there.”
Through all their matchups going against each other, these coaches have developed a mutual respect for the other. They are both good at what they do, currently have teams atop the NFC, in prime position to make the playoffs and each had to pay their dues to get to where they are.
“I don’t respect anybody in this business anymore than I respect Zim,” Arians said. “Probably one of the most well-coached defensive football teams. And it’s been beyond Cincinnati. I mean, it’s all the way back to when he was at Dallas, just a great football coach. Took the double barrel, as we call it, blitz scheme of Jimmy Johnson and just made the product into his own schemes and is just a great coach.”
It is going to be an interesting game on Thursday as the defensive mind of Zimmer, with a short-handed defense due to injuries, and offensive mind of Arians get to go up against one another again.