The head coach has essentially been forced to spend the last two weeks away from the team in order to allow his surgically repaired right eye – eight times surgically repaired – proper time to heal. The idea was that sending Zimmer to his ranch in Kentucky would keep him far enough away so he couldn’t override the best advice his doctors, colleagues and friends on the team had for him.
The message was simple: rest.
Zimmer’s son, Adam, was given charge of the logistics of practices and Zimmer’s longtime colleague, defensive line coach Andre Patterson, was put in charge of relaying the head coach’s messages from Kentucky after Zimmer had reviewed the film.
That confidence in Patterson has been a long time in the making.
“From the first day we started working together there seemed to be that connection between the two of us,” Patterson said. “I respect him so much for his knowledge of the game and his ability to be able to affect players – to get players to run through a brick wall for him. He’s a great teacher and motivator and over the years that developed into a very close friendship.”
When Zimmer was hired to coach the Vikings in 2014, he quickly called on Patterson as his defensive line coach. The two had coached together at Weber State in 1988, at Washington State in 1992 and 1993, and with the Dallas Cowboys from 2000-02. Where Zimmer has been the defensive coordinator, Patterson has often been his trusted defensive line coach.
“Andre knows me probably better than anyone there, including Adam,” Zimmer said last week. “We were together at Weber State a long time ago, Washington State and Dallas. I know we sat in meetings forever and ever. Not that there’s anything different about the other coaches, but when I tell Andre to do something with the team or to relay a message, I know it will get done and it will get done in the right way.”
The mutual respect between the two is obvious. Patterson speaks respectfully and glowingly about his boss, but the respect goes beyond the office. They consider each other close friends.
“He’s my boss and I will do whatever he asks me to do, but more importantly to me, he’s one of my best friends and I would do the same for him,” Patterson said. “When I had a chance to come back and work for him, I was going to do that in a heartbeat, so I think he knows that I know what he wants and how he expects for it to look. And I think he knows I’m going to do everything in my power to get that to happen.”
But sometimes a friendship requires brutal honesty.
It’s become clear since Zimmer was sent to Kentucky that he wasn’t always completely on board with that approach to his recovery. He preaches toughness in his players and wanted to continue to be an example of that.
Last week, Zimmer said he will be coaching the Vikings with one eye or two, but his best chance to fully regain vision in his right eye was to give it a rest after his latest surgery. He may have clouded vision, but those around him were trying to clear up what many considered clouded judgement.
“Him being home hurts him way more than the eye hurts him. But in the long run, this was the best thing for him and that’s what we needed him to understand. Not only the best thing for him, but the best thing for our football team and the best thing for our coaching staff, the best thing for our front office, the best thing for our fans because we need him to be here and be healthy for us to be successful. That was the thing we had to get across to him,” Patterson said.
“I would say the hard part for him was knowing that he wanted to be here with these players and he wants to coach football and he can fight through the pain,” Patterson said. “He was going to fight through the pain and the pain was annoying. It’s way more stressful for him not to be here than to deal with the eye issue. Most people out there might say the opposite, but for him being back at his ranch is way more stressful than if he was still here fighting with that thing hurting him. He could deal with that.”