EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Mike Zimmer stood for photos with the rest of the Minnesota Vikings’ leadership as he was introduced as the team’s new head coach on Friday, five men smiling, arm-in-arm while cameras snapped in front of them.
Each man — Zimmer, Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman, Vikings’ owner/chairman Zygi Wilf, owner/president Mark Wilf and Jonathan Wilf, the team’s vice president of strategic planning and business initiatives — was dressed impeccably in near-matching black suits with purple ties, and Vikings’ logo pins.
Upon closer inspection, Zimmer’s attire included one different accessory. As he stood at the podium speaking about his personality, philosophies and background, a shine came from his right hand. Zimmer, after 35 years of coaching and conducting his first press conference as a head coach, was wearing a Super Bowl ring.
The one piece of jewelry the Wilfs and Spielman desire is on Zimmer’s finger. He’s in town to bring shiny hardware to the Vikings.
"Honestly, I can’t wait to stand on the podium with Zygi and Mark and Jonathan and we’re standing on the podium and we look up and the confetti is falling on top of us and the commissioner, (Roger) Goodell comes over and he hands the Super Bowl trophy to Mr. Wilf and tells him we’re world champions," Zimmer said Friday. "So that is my goal and my drive."
Zimmer helped the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl title at the end of the 1995 season as defensive backs coach, when Larry Brown had two key interceptions in Dallas’ Super Bowl win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After 20 seasons as an NFL assistant, he is getting his first chance to lead a team.
Promises of a Super Bowl sound pretty good to the Wilfs.
"It sounds good when he says it," Mark Wilf said. "It’s not something we don’t think about. It’s something that drives us every day. I know how hungry our fans are. Vikings fans everywhere, it’s that hunger and that thirst for that championship, and we have that. It’s what drives us every day and I think Coach Zimmer reflects that. We’re looking forward to a great future."
Days of meetings turned into Zimmer’s big opportunity.
Spielman conducted seven interviews over an eight-day span. Surprisingly, the Wilfs were a part of the early interviews. There were reports of several good interviews, and also reports the Vikings wanted to bring Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles in for a second interview.
Spielman always ended up coming back to Zimmer in his mind.
Zimmer arrived in Minnesota Tuesday and spent two days and many hours inside Winter Park with Spielman, the Wilfs and the staff. Everyone liked what they heard.
"As we were sitting there and got to know each other, I spent the majority of the time since he came up here, almost 10 hours with him, and to talk about our upbringing and our background and his dad being a coach, my dad being a coach," Spielman said. "A lot of the same philosophies and a lot of the same beliefs on how you develop a football team; that just really, really struck me."
The two will have to co-exist; one, the general manager, making the personnel decisions, the other getting his first chance to serve as head coach. But both are direct and straight-forward in their opinions. Differences are bound to arise. Zimmer feels the two strong-willed personalities will be able work out any issues.
"We will be fine," Zimmer said. "I can get mad at people. I’m sure he can get mad at people, but we understand that both of our butts are responsible for each other. So the first time we say the heck with you and we go in the other room and we don’t come back out, it’s over. Collectively, it’s going to get over because we are going to do whatever we need to get it fixed. I think I’m a fairly smart guy and I know he is a smart guy, so I think we are going to try to be smarter than that."
Spielman said he was meticulous in his search. He downplayed his "13 categories" of where successful head coaches can come from. He interviewed only current NFL coordinators, coming from both offensive and defensive backgrounds.
Zimmer, with his defensive background to help the league’s worst scoring defense, and his no-nonsense approach, fits Spielman’s personality and what he felt his team needed.
"We felt that there’s no secret sauce that this guy has to have this personality or come from this category," Spielman said. "It’s just got to be the gut feeling what you think is the right fit. There was no question he is the right fit for us."
Honesty, accountability, and being direct were recurring themes on Friday. Zimmer spoke about being a teacher and being a "fixer."
What he said won over Spielman and the Wilfs. Zimmer is different. The differences are being embraced as much as the confetti, a ring and a late-season meeting with the commissioner would be.
"Our No. 1 priority is his ability to lead the football team to a championship, and that’s really what we focused on the most," Mark Wilf said. "It’s going to be hard work. He’s going to be tough at times, but I think that accountability and that kind of leadership is what we need."