MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Zimmer is finally a head coach in the NFL. The Minnesota Vikings think now is the time for the veteran defensive coordinator.
The Vikings announced on Twitter on Wednesday night that they had hired Zimmer for their top coaching job.
“I’m extremely excited to bring a championship to the state of Minnesota and to the great fan base of the Vikings,” Zimmer said in a video posted on the team’s Twitter account. “I can’t wait to get to work.”
Long after reports first surfaced about the hire, the Vikings remained quiet. Their silence was strange, considering a report by ESPN that they had already requested and received permission from Cleveland to interview offensive coordinator Norv Turner for the same position in Minnesota. The top headline on the team website touted an area winner in the annual NFL Punt, Pass &Kick contest.
That doesn’t mean the Vikings weren’t delighted about the ninth head coach in their 54-year history. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, center John Sullivan and defensive end Brian Robison were among the players who expressed excitement about the former Bengals assistant via their Twitter accounts.
“Fired up about Coach Zimmer! As a Cincy kid he’s been fun to watch there and can’t wait to work with him!” Rudolph tweeted.
For the Bengals, the news was bittersweet. Zimmer, who has been an NFL defensive coordinator for the last 14 seasons, spent six of those with Cincinnati.
“Today is one of the happiest and yet saddest days for me. Happy Coach Zimm finally gets to be a head coach and spread all of his knowledge,” cornerback Terence Newman tweeted.
The Bengals were third in the league in yards allowed and fifth in points against this season, though they lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.
“Gonna miss you coach Zimmer! Wish you nothing but the best in Minnesota. You brought out the best in each of your players! So honored to have been coached by you!” tweeted linebacker Rey Maualuga.
Zimmer replaces Leslie Frazier, another former Bengals defensive coordinator who was fired Dec. 30 after the team finished 5-10-1 this season.
General manager Rick Spielman interviewed at least seven candidates. He and Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf settled on the one who was widely considered around the league to be the most overdue for a head coaching job. Zimmer has interviewed for several vacancies in recent years, including this month with Tennessee.
The 57-year-old Zimmer played at Illinois State and spent 14 seasons coaching in the college ranks before being hired in 1994 as an assistant with Dallas. He got a Super Bowl ring the following season as defensive backs coach.
Then he became defensive coordinator of the Cowboys in 2000 and spent seven seasons at that post, the last four under coach Bill Parcells. Zimmer led defenses in Dallas that operated in both the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments, including the 2003 group that surrendered the fewest yards in the league.
The Wilfs, natives of New Jersey, grew up as New York Giants fans and are admirers of Parcells from his days coaching that team.
After one tumultuous year as the defensive coordinator for Atlanta, when Falcons coach Bobby Petrino quit midseason in 2007, Zimmer went to Cincinnati to work for coach Marvin Lewis. In 2009, when his wife, Vikki, unexpectedly died, Zimmer was named the winner of several NFL assistant coach of the year awards.
Zimmer has a fiery personality, as evidenced by his profanity-laced appearances on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which featured the Bengals in 2009 and 2013. That overt intensity is a contrast to Frazier, who went 21-33-1 in three-plus seasons with one appearance in the playoffs.
Frazier was a popular figure in the locker room and throughout the organization, but as a former defensive coach his area of expertise became the team’s biggest downfall. Despite a carousel at quarterback, the aged, injury-depleted defense was mostly responsible for the sorry showing this season. The Vikings allowed an average of 30 points per game, the most in the league, and 397.8 yards per game, the second-most.
Five of the seven reported candidates who interviewed for the vacancy had defensive backgrounds: Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, San Francisco defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and Zimmer. The other two were offensive coordinators: Seattle’s Darrell Bevell and San Francisco’s Greg Roman.