MINNEAPOLIS — One game was difficult enough for Mike Zimmer to miss.
He sure didn’t want to sit out longer than that, even after major eye surgery.
The hard-driving head coach has returned to work with the Minnesota Vikings, who announced on Monday that Zimmer is expected to travel with the team this weekend to Jacksonville.
That’s a three-hour flight, a little bit more than a week after Zimmer had an emergency operation to repair a detached retina, but the Vikings (6-6) wouldn’t have proactively declared him fit for the job again if there were still uncertainty about his status for the game on Sunday against the Jaguars (2-10).
The matchup with a team with the third-worst record in the NFL has taken on an extra measure of significance, given the freefall Minnesota has experienced since a league-leading 5-0 start. The Vikings have dropped in the NFC North two games behind Detroit, which owns the division tiebreaker with a season sweep, and they’re on the outside of the race for two wild card spots. The 17-15 loss to Dallas on Thursday, with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer running the team in Zimmer’s absence, was their sixth in the last seven games.
Vikings players had four days off after their second consecutive Thursday game and will reconvene for practice on Tuesday. Zimmer’s first news conference upon his return is scheduled for Wednesday. Zimmer had two surgeries on his right eye about a month ago, but his recovery was sidetracked last Wednesday when he developed vision trouble during practice and was sent for surgery that night. He had a fourth procedure on Friday, according to an ESPN report.
Befitting his classic old-school personality, whose late father was a longtime high school football coach in the Chicago area, Zimmer was spending longer days than usual on the job last month, often arriving at work around 4:15 a.m. if he didn’t sleep in the office the night before in an attempt to help the Vikings stop their slide.
General manager Rick Spielman said Zimmer’s setback was unrelated to his unrelenting dedication to the job after the problem first surfaced in late October. Spielman, though, said he spoke with Zimmer last week about keeping perspective when the prospect of him missing a game surfaced.
"We had some pretty significant talks, one-on-one, heart-to-heart, on what is important in life and what isn’t," Spielman said. "I think after we met, I expressed to him specifically, that potentially going blind in one eye is not worth one game in the NFL. We have to look out for your long-term health."