You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more hard-nosed, old-school coach than Mike Zimmer. The man tasked with leading the Minnesota Vikings kickstarted his NFL coaching career in Dallas before taking his talents to the Cincinnati Bengals.
As one of the most brilliant defensive minds in the NFL, Zimmer turned himself into a hot head coaching candidate. Unfortunately, his time in Cincinnati included a tragic loss when his wife, Vikki, died unexpectedly in the middle of the 2009 season.
More than a decade later, the 64-year-old head coach has the Vikings positioned to make a legitimate run at the Lombardi Trophy. It certainly has been a long journey for Mike Zimmer—a man with impeccable character and a deep desire to achieve championship glory.
Mike Zimmer enjoyed tremendous success with the Cincinnati Bengals
A true football lifer, Mike Zimmer started his coaching career at the University of Missouri back in 1979. He landed his first NFL gig with the Cowboys, where he quickly earned a reputation as a no-nonsense, highly-demanding defensive coach. He eventually ascended to defensive coordinator. Dallas showed tremendous improvement under his watch.
After spending one year in Atlanta during the ugly Bobby Petrino era, the Bengals hired Zimmer to serve as the Marvin Lewis’s defensive coordinator. During his six-year tenure as DC, the Illinois native transformed Cincinnati’s defense into one of the top units in the NFL.
The Bengals finished in the top-10 in points allowed in four of those six seasons. In particular, the 2009 season represented one of Zimmer’s best coaching jobs. After dropping the season-opener, the Bengals ripped off three consecutive wins, including impressive victories over the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Following an overtime win against the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals prepared to travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. Only in the middle of that week, Mike Zimmer experienced the most devastating loss of his life. And it had nothing to do with football.
Zimmer suffered a tragic loss with the unexpected death of his wife
Just days after taking down the Browns by a final score of 23-20, the Zimmer family experienced a tragic loss. Vikki Zimmer died unexpectedly at the family’s home on Oct. 8. The Hamilton County Coroner determined that the 50-year-old mother of three died of natural causes, according to FOX19.
Mike Zimmer had been married to his wife for 27 years. And while many coaches have to sacrifice their familial relationships in order to keep up with the responsibilities and grind of working in the NFL, that wasn’t the case.
In fact, Vikki Zimmer became an integral part of a winning tradition in Cincinnati. She baked treats for the Bengals’ defensive players on Mondays following a victory. She even sent encouraging notes to players, which spoke highly of her character and support for her husband’s career.
Her unexpected death inspired the Bengals to come together for their defensive coordinator. Cincinnati defeated Baltimore in a narrow three-point victory. The gravity of the situation wasn’t lost on Zimmer’s players.
“I remember we were in the huddle and a lot of the guys were reminding each other: Remember, let’s do this for Zimmer,” defensive lineman Domata Peko said. “He’s going through a tough time now, and let’s do it for him. That helped us push ourselves even more to get this victory.”
From Cincinnati to Minnesota
Ultimately, the Bengals finished that tragedy-stricken season with a 10-6 record and just their second AFC North title since 1990. Mike Zimmer became a coveted head-coaching candidate and finally achieved his dream by becoming the ninth head coach in Vikings history.
Since taking over in 2014, Zimmer has led Minnesota to the playoffs three times. In 2015 and 2017, the Vikings won the NFC North. However, the team has come up short in its Super Bowl quest.
Still, that didn’t stop the Vikings from investing in one of the top head coaches in football once again. Zimmer signed a multi-year extension on Wednesday—a move that should have happened well before the middle of the summer.
Minnesota boasts a complete roster and absolutely has a chance to make a legitimate Super Bowl run. Of course, a lot of that will depend on if Kirk Cousins lives up to his ridiculously expensive contract.
But at the end of the day, the Vikings are Mike Zimmer’s team. And if he can continue to coach up a defense that will feature a few new faces, don’t sleep on the 64-year-old coach finally achieving his Super Bowl dream within the next few years.