Zimmer had emergency eye surgery on Wednesday evening after his vision became “significantly worse” following the team’s Wednesday afternoon practice, according to general manager Rick Spielman. This was the third surgery Zimmer has had for a detached retina in his right eye since Nov. 1.
“It was always the intent on the two previous surgeries that it would be taken care of. We have monitored that on a weekly basis, but it’s unpredictable,” Spielman said.
“When the signs started showing up yesterday afternoon that his vision was becoming significantly worse that it raised red flags across the board. Our medical staff did a great job reacting right away. We got the surgeons in place last night and got him seen first and they made the determination that he needed the surgery last night and couldn’t put it off any longer. But I wouldn’t say there was an indicator to say you saw this coming. You can’t predict any of that because he was fine during the week. He was doing his normal routine.”
After talking with Zimmer, doctors, coaches and ownership on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Spielman made the determination that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will take over head-coaching duties on Thursday night to allow Pat Shurmur to continue coordinating the offense and have George Edwards make the defensive calls. While Edwards is the defensive coordinator, Zimmer has always made those calls since becoming the head coach in 2014.
Shurmer and offensive line coach Tony Sparano each have experience as head coaches in the NFL, but the Vikings believe that Priefer’s experience working with offensive and defensive players as the special teams coordinator should help.
“He’s done an outstanding job on special teams. I think the one thing that’s significant about special teams coaches is they’re always thinking about game-management situations – whether to kick a field goal, do you take a safety or punt out of the end zone? There’s a lot of different scenarios that those special teams coaches have to go through,” Spielman said. “… I know Priefer’s leadership. Usually special teams coaches are the ones that are speaking to the whole team during special teams meetings because it’s not divided into offense and defense – it’s the whole team – and I don’t have any doubt that Mike Priefer will do a good job tonight.”
Although Zimmer said weeks ago that doctors told him blindness was a possibility if he didn’t get surgery soon, convincing him to take at least one game off wasn’t so simple.
“As hard-headed as he is and as tough-minded as he is, we had some pretty significant talks one-on-one, heart-to-heart on what is important in life and what isn’t,” Spielman said. “I think after we met, I expressed specifically that potentially going blind in one eye is not worth one game in the NFL. We have to look out for your long-term health. We have to look out for what’s best for you. That’s the No. 1 concern that everyone’s worried about. I think he began to realize that today, but it’s very difficult for him to handle because of his personality, because of his perseverance, because of him wanting to be out there and lead the team tonight. It’s very difficult on him.
“This morning I think Coach Zimmer finally realized how significant an injury this is.”
Spielman couldn’t say at this point whether Zimmer’s surgery would affect his ability to coach in future games. They will have to wait and see how his right eye responds to the latest surgery and rest. After Thursday night, the Vikings don’t play again until a Dec. 11 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the team doesn’t return to practice until Tuesday.
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“Coach Zimmer, he’s never missed a game and I know how hard this is on him. If you go back even when he had to go through the tragedy of his wife passing away (Vicky died on Oct. 8, 2009), he did coach. I can’t express how hard this is on him to not coach tonight.”
Zimmer will spend the Thursday night’s game resting at home. By NFL rules he can’t communicate with coaches and players during the game.