Mike Zimmer, after years worth of interviews for an NFL head coaching position, has finally found a place to make his own. The Minnesota Vikings, in turn, may have found the anti-Leslie Frazier. Zimmer has been termed "blunt" and a "strong disciplinarian" by those praising him. He has also been repeatedly recognized for his immense talent. Zimmer's Cincinnati defenses have consistently been among the best in the NFL. The Bengals ranked third in the league last season in total defense.
The Vikings need help on offense and defense, and the hope may be that Zimmer's tough personality can permeate both sides of the ball. He certainly had a positive impact on his players as a defensive coordinator. Players seemed to adhere themselves to his brand of tough love. It's a good sign that Adam "Pacman" Jones was among those wishing Zimmer luck after being hired away. When Jones signed with the Bengals in 2010, Zimmer's brashness showed:
"We've got a bunch of strong character guys on defense," Zimmer said. "I'm not going to let this kid screw up our chemistry."
Zimmer also owns a strong reputation as a tactician. He ostensibly operates a base 4-3 defense, but he has shown looks as varied as the 3-3-5. The only consistent thread season-to-season has been the results. The Bengals finished 27th in the NFL in total defense in 2007, the year before Zimmer arrived. The next season they jumped to 12th, then went on to finish in the top 10 in four of the next five seasons.
This past year, the Bengals lost defensive tackle Geno Atkins, cornerback Leon Hall, safety Taylor Mays and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur to season-ending injuries. They also went without linebacker Rey Maualuga and Devon Still for a month each. The Bengals weathered the potentially crippling losses with young players. Vontaze Burfict, once considered a draft risk, was named second-team All-Pro in just his second year. Brandon Thompson stepped in for Atkins, a two-time All-Pro, and mitigated the loss admirably.
The Vikings' personnel should fit well with what Zimmer likes to do, especially after he proved this season how well he is able to adjust on the fly. The Vikings were already operating out of base 4-3, and Kevin Williams and Sharrif Floyd both have the ability to rush the passer from the defensive tackle spot similar to Atkins -- though, they're not the same caliber players at this time. The Vikings' linebackers are all adept run defenders and should adapt easily to Zimmer's almost single-minded focus on stopping the run and daring quarterbacks to throw. If the Vikings can stay healthy in the secondary and first-round pick Xavier Rhodes comes into his own at corner, Minnesota's defense has the potential to be an excellent unit.
On offense, the Vikings will mostly be left in the hands of whomever is hired as the offensive coordinator. The Vikings have already requested permission to interview Norv Turner, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, and Scott Linehan and Mike Mularkey have also been rumored as possible candidates, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Whoever takes over the offense will have to sort out a starting quarterback race featuring Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman, as well as figure out how to get the most out of a solid cadre of skill players featuring Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson.
Even if the Vikings simply hold serve on offense, however, fans will expect the team to be much improved next season. Zimmer's reputation as a defensive guru is second to few in the NFL. Expectations are high, but after the Bengals' turnaround, there is reason to believe Zimmer will succeed.