Standards set higher with Zimmer
MANKATO, Minn. – Mike Zimmer spent the month before his first training camp as an NFL head coach relishing moments with his family and seeking wisdom from mentors.
Vacation in Mexico, quiet time on his Kentucky ranch, a visit with his father in Florida and a trip to NFL Films in New Jersey, where daughter Corri is interning.
Football, however, was never far from the new Vikings head coach, even stalking him during sleep.
“For the last three weeks I was having a dream about football. Last couple of nights I haven’t been able to sleep much,” he said. “I’d get up in the middle of the night and, OK, this day we’ve got to make sure we’re doing a little more tackling or we do a little bit of this. I’m into it pretty good right now.”
The Vikings reported to training camp Thursday at Minnesota State-Mankato with Zimmer debuting as the club’s 10th head coach. He is drawing upon 35 years of coaching experience, the past 20 as an NFL assistant.
Zimmer recently exchanged telephone calls and text messages with legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells, his sideline boss in Dallas from 2003-06.
“He said, ‘Make sure everyone knows you’re the head coach, not just the defensive coordinator or a figurehead or anything like that,’” Zimmer said. “When I get out on the practice field, that’s where I feel most comfortable. It’s what I love to do. I love to teach. I love to coach. Once I get out there, I won’t have any time to think about anything else. I’ll be going full speed.”
Zimmer’s hard-nosed approach was obvious when the 90 players checked in at Sears Hall and immediately learned they would have to pass a conditioning test later in the afternoon – a relic from the Brad Childress era.
“If guys aren’t in shape, then they’ll have to do more work,” Zimmer said. “I’m going to let them know that I’m not happy with what they’ve done in the time being off. I won’t anticipate that; I anticipate our guys understand what’s at stake.”
Right tackle Phil Loadholt was ready for it.
“That’s what NFL camps are all about,” he said. “Accountability.”
Running back Adrian Peterson said Zimmer’s new regime is “ahead of the curve” compared to his prior experiences reporting to camp.
“That comes from having guys that are buying into what they’re presenting to us and having great coaches surrounding us,” Peterson said. “There’s a lot more energy in the air, in the building, from the players – and I know it has a lot to do with the coaches and having that confidence in what they’re preparing for us.”
This camp is expected to be more physical in nature than the practices Leslie Frazier operated. The team hits the field today; full pads come Sunday.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re precise in everything we do,” Zimmer said. “We want to be disciplined. We want to be tough. We want to play fast. We want to play physical. I believe to be a good defensive team, you’ve got to be a good tackling team, so we’re going to have to work on that.”
During Zimmer’s last sleepless night Wednesday, he fielded a phone call from Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, who wished him luck on his great adventure.
“I promised the Wilfs ... that I will do my very best job that I possibly can do to bring what they want to bring to this organization, this football team,” he said. “And that’s my mission.”
Fans can only assume that is the world championship that has eluded the franchise for 53 years.