If you must be quarantined, Mike Zimmer’s ranch in Kentucky sounds like a pretty good place to be stuck. The Vikings coach has had a small golf course built that includes a few tee-boxes and a green,160 acres of land on which he can go hunting, four-wheelers that he can take for a spin, and a whirlpool in which he can relax.
Despite all of this, Zimmer admitted in a video conference call with reporters Wednesday that conducting a virtual offseason program from his home base, because of the coronavirus pandemic, isn’t the same.
“I really miss being around the players,” Zimmer said. “Talking to them on the computer, the iPad, or whatever, it’s not the same because I want to get out there and I want to coach and correct them, teach them, try to build camaraderie that we need with the football team. Unfortunately, we’re not able to do that.”
Zimmer did his best to remain positive but the reality is that every NFL coach is at a big disadvantage this offseason as teams are currently prohibited from working at their facilities. This is a big deal for Zimmer, who will have several newcomers on defense after losing five regulars. Gone are defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.
Zimmer, who will turn 64 on June 5, is known for his work on the defensive side of the ball and not surprisingly he pointed to a position that is near and dear to his heart as being most impacted by not being able to be on the field.
“The defensive backs, they’ve got a lot of stuff to do,” he said. “I’ve always had the opinion of you get better at covering when you’re covering somebody. It’s like playing basketball. If I play basketball everyday, I’m going to get better at it. So it’s really hard when they are by themselves and they are not able to work on the skill of covering a receiver. Receivers can run routes all day long and it’s pretty simple for them. Running backs, it’s pretty simple for them. But defensively because of the reactions, and, like I said earlier with the defensive line trying to take on a block, all those things become more difficult when you are by yourself.”
Zimmer has had success in his coaching career developing cornerbacks and he gets plenty of the credit for turning Rhodes into a Pro Bowl player before his performance started to decline. Ideally, Zimmer would be working with corners such as Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd and first-round pick Jeff Gladney. Instead, all communication is being done virtually. Players then can work on things on their own but that is a far cry from getting instruction in Eagan.
Zimmer said he is looking forward to getting the chance to coach several new players on defense, including free-agent defensive tackle Michael Pierce.
“When I say refreshing, I don’t mean I’m glad these guys are gone, what I mean is it energizes us as coaches and trying to get these guys up to speed as fast as we can,” Zimmer said. “It reminds me, honestly, when we were in college and we had five defensive starters graduate and you’ve got guys come in and they are redshirt freshmen. You’ve got to get them ready to play. So that part kind of energizes us as coaches as far as, ‘OK, let’s figure out what this guy can do, how fast he can do it and then how can we teach him the best way to be prepared to get out there and play?'”
Zimmer has two of his kids, including his son, Adam, the Vikings’ co-defensive coordinator, staying with him. Adam runs defensive meetings from downstairs at the ranch, while his father works upstairs. “It’s been good because No. 1, he can help me get all this stuff organized,” Mike Zimmer said. “If I can’t figure it out I text him and say, ‘Come up here and fix this.’ After dinner, we’ll sit down and I’ll have some crazy idea and he’ll say, ‘OK, we can talk about it tomorrow with the rest of the defensive coaches.'”
Mike Zimmer said right now he is taking part in different portions of all meetings, including offense, special teams and then defense. The benefit for the players is once they are done listening to Zimmer they can simply turn the communication off. Zimmer is looking forward to the day that won’t be the case. “I really miss being around the players so they are probably going to get an extra dose of me when they get back,” he said.