Who is Mike Zimmer?
Mike Zimmer is a well-known figure in American professional Football, primarily recognized for his contributions as a coach. Between 2014 and 2022, he served as the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings in the National Football League (NFL), before which, he was a defensive co-ordinator for several other NFL teams including the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys. His coaching career is marked by his strategic defensive schemes, and the ability to develop players.
Early Life and Education
Born in Peoria, Illinois, on 5 June 1956, Mike is the son of former NFL player Bill Zimmer, who was also a longtime high school wrestling coach. The competitive spirit and love for sports were ingrained in Mike from an early age. He attended Lockport Township High School in Lockport, Illinois, excelling both in the classroom and in athletics.
After matriculating, Mike enrolled at Illinois State University. He initially planned to follow his father’s footsteps and become a wrestler, but due to the program’s cancellation, he switched to football. He majored in Physical Education and embarked on a journey that would pave his way to the zenith of American Football.
Mike’s playing career was relatively brief, mainly focused in his college years. He played at Illinois State University from 1974 to 1976, backing up their quarterback, Bob Lopez.
His time as a player was promising, however, a severe neck injury prematurely ended his career. Rather than leaving the sport, he chose to stay and transition into coaching, leveraging his knowledge and passion for the game into a new role.
Career as a Coach
Mike’s coaching career began with his early years at the University of Missouri, where he served as a part-time defensive assistant from 1979 through 1980. From there, he moved on to become an assistant coach at Weber State and Washington State, honing his skills and laying the groundwork for his future in the NFL. In 1989, he became the defensive co-ordinator of Washington State Cougars, where he made a name for himself after his team ranked second in the nation in rushing defense, and eighth in total defense.
In 1994, Mike entered the NFL as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, initially working under Barry Switzer. He worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming the defensive co-ordinator, a role he held from 2000 to 2006. Mike’s tenure with the Cowboys was highlighted by their win at Super Bowl XXX in 1996, in which he played a significant part. During his time with the Cowboys, Mike survived four head coach changes and was himself rumored as a potential head coach for the University of Nebraska.
In 2007, Mike briefly served as the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive co-ordinator, but the tenure was short-lived due to the resignation of head coach Bobby Petrino. Mike was very outspoken against Petrino following his unexpected departure.
In the following year, Mike joined the Cincinnati Bengals as their defensive co-ordinator. During his time with the Bengals from 2008 to 2013, he became known for developing a top-tier defense, and his ability to mold and develop players, including Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. In 2009, he earned the title of NFL Assistant Coach of the Year, after his team was ranked fourth in defense.
In 2012, he was reportedly considered for the head coach for Cleveland Browns, instead, two years later, Mike became the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, replacing Leslie Frazier. His tenure with the Vikings has been marked by disciplined teams with strong defenses. Under his leadership, the Vikings have made several appearances in the play-offs and have become a consistent threat in the Northern Football Conference (NFC). He has been praised particularly for his player development and his defensive schemes, which are considered some of the most innovative in the league.
Mike earned his first win as the head coach on 7 September 2014, against St. Louis Rams. He ended the year setting the team’s record to 7-9. In the following year, his team earned their first title since 2009, winning the NFC North. Mike underwent multiple eye operations in 2016; his dedication was evident when, despite the surgeries, he missed only a single game as head coach of the Vikings.
TOP 10: Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer checks in at No. 10 on Pro Football Talk's top 10 coaches in the NFL.
What other coaches would you put Zimmer ahead of? pic.twitter.com/wmZ6LaSiZH
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) June 29, 2021
In 2017, Mike led the Vikings to one of the greatest seasons in the team’s history. They finished 13-3 tying for the seventh best regular season record, and in the playoffs, they won against New Orleans Saints in the divisional round, but lost the NFC Championship to Philadelphia Eagles, who would go on to win the Super Bowl.
In the following year, Mike became the fourth head coach in the Vikings history to lead the team to 40 wins. However, they failed to make the play-offs this time. In the more recent years, the Vikings were unfortunately hampered by players’ injuries and Mike failed to match the success from his early tenure with the team. In January 2022, he was fired from the position of head coach, and subsequently retired from his coaching career.
Mike’s coaching style was characterized by his tough, no-nonsense attitude, but he was also known for his deeply caring and respect for his players. His defenses were typically aggressive, emphasizing pressure on the quarterback and robust secondary play.
In August 2022, Mike became an analyst for The 33rd Team, an NFL-centered sports media company which employs several former football coaches, such as Marvin Lewis, Bill Cowher and Wade Phillips.
Away from the limelight, Mike leads a private life. He was married to Vikki Zimmer for 27 years until her untimely passing in 2009. Mike has often talked about Vikki as his pillar of support, and how her death had a profound impact on him. Together, they have three children, including Adam Zimmer, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became an NFL coach. Unfortunately, in 2022, Mike was faced with another tragedy, after Adam was found dead at the age of 38.
Hobbies and Interesting Facts
Despite his stern demeanor on the field, Mike has a softer side. He loves to spend his free time outdoors, with hunting and fishing being his favorite pastimes. Mike also owns a ranch in Kentucky, where he retreats to unwind and connect with nature.
An interesting fact about Mike is his attachment to a stuffed animal, which his players nicknamed ‘Zimmer the Gnome’. This gnome has been a constant companion for the team, often seen during team meetings and games. This quirk adds a touch of humor and lightness to Mike’s otherwise intense demeanor.
As of July 2023, Mike’s net worth is estimated to be over $12 million, amassed primarily from his successful career in coaching. His annual salary as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings reportedly stood at around $4 million.