MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Zimmer might have thought twice before making the fateful trip to Minnesota in January to interview for the Vikings head coaching job, but there have been no second thoughts since.
Zimmer’s schedule since being named Minnesota’s coach hasn’t given him much time to think about his wavering in January.
The long road to his first NFL head coaching job had taken its toll on Zimmer, the longtime NFL defensive coordinator. After being passed over again, Zimmer questioned whether he wanted to continue the pursuit and head to Minnesota for another interview.
"Then I decided to come up here and, really, when I got up here and I spent more time with (Vikings general manager Rick Spielman) and the people in the organization, got a chance to be around some of the players, I felt like it was a perfect fit," Zimmer said Wednesday at the team’s annual charity playground build. "Since the day I’ve walked in, I don’t think it could have been a better situation for me. Thank God that I did do that. I think what it does show you, though, is that you’ve got to keep persevering all the time, no matter how despondent you get at certain times.
"When I was thinking about not going on the visit, it had nothing to do with the Vikings. It was just kind of the feeling of a loss until you get over it and then you go about your business."
Zimmer hasn’t looked back, pushing Minnesota through a busy offseason and beginning to shape the organization with his beliefs, particularly on defense.
Wednesday offered the chance for Zimmer and players to interact away from football, a small break in the five-month grind since Zimmer was named the Vikings’ coach in January.
"The other day I was counting how many months I’ve been on the job since January and I think it was like five months, and it seems like it’s been two weeks that we’ve been going," Zimmer said. "I’ve really, really been impressed with the way this team works. This team works. They’re hungry, they want it, they study. Those things have been really positive for me."
A chance to work on the playground and connect with players in a different way is good for Zimmer and his players, too.
"You can joke around with them a little bit more," Zimmer said of being at the playground build, the ninth annual edition co-funded by the Vikings and Toro. "It’s more of a relaxed atmosphere. So it’s good. It’s good to be around them when you don’t have the whistle in your mouth and you’re trying to be demanding on everything."
His players have embraced Zimmer’s demanding style and teaching.
"Oh man, are you kidding me? All of us are thrilled," quarterback Matt Cassel said of Zimmer following through and interviewing with Minnesota in January. "I’m sure everybody in Minnesota is thrilled he decided to show up. He’s a heck of a coach. He demands immediate respect from us. And it’s not he’s demanding of it, but we come in understanding that he gets all the respect that he ever would need. I think that we’re all very lucky to have him and he’s a guy that has had great success, has a great system in place and also that guys look up to and are ready for him to be our leader."
Zimmer said he wasn’t close to canceling the trip to Minnesota. But his careful consideration and choice to keep trying resonates with players.
"I think that just shows his humility, too, as a head coach," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "He doesn’t have a big ego. He’s here to work and he’s bringing that mentality to the rest of the players. Again, he’s a guy that expects everyone to work hard and put in their time, and he’s the same way."
Friday, Zimmer turns 58 years old, his life and career forever altered by the decision to come to Minnesota and interview.
He’s been told plenty of times that things happen for a reason, just like getting on that plane one more time.
"It’s probably been a blessing in disguise that I didn’t get this job or that job, that this was the one that was right for me," Zimmer said. "Sometimes that’s just how it is. Things don’t work out for whatever reason, but you get the right situation and it just happens to fall in place for you."