Mike Zimmer’s first job as a head coach in the NFL was long overdue when he accepted the open position with the Minnesota Vikings earlier this week. He’s been an extremely successful defensive assistant and defensive coordinator in the NFL for the past 20 years and should have been the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2007. However, Jerry Jones made one of his many foolish decisions to note hire Zimmer, which has resulted in more mediocrity in Dallas ever since.
Sure, you can point to the 13-3 season the Cowboys enjoyed in ’07, Wade Phillips’ first year as head coach and Zimmer’s first with another NFL team, but do you remember what happened in that first playoff game? A loss to the New York Giants at the old Texas Stadium after the Cowboys had swept the G-Men in the regular season. That lack of mental toughness continued in the years to come and has culminated in three straight 8-8 campaigns with Jason Garrett at the helm.
Meanwhile, Zimmer took his success in Dallas (which included winning a Super Bowl after the 1995 season) and became even more successful with the Cincinnati Bengals. He boasted a top 10 defense in four of his six years as Cincy’s defensive coordinator after doing so twice in Dallas, and that included once during the pathetic Dave Campo era. That alone speaks volumes of Zimmer’s abilities to coach a defense, yet Jerry apparently never saw it.
When Bill Parcells left Dallas at the end of the 2006 season, Jerry interviewed 10 candidates for his replacement, including three on his current staff, but not Zimmer. That’s astounding considering Zimmer was a 4-3 guru until Parcells arrived in 2003 and then Zimmer became one of the most respected 3-4 minds in the business. There aren’t many coaches who can just switch schemes like that and become immediately successful; the Cowboys boasted the No. 1 defense in the NFL that first season running the 3-4 with Zimmer at the helm.
Yet Jerry thought it wiser to bring in Phillips instead of a man who was respected in Dallas and helped the team win its third Super Bowl in a four-year span. Then when the Phillips experiment imploded midway through the 2010 season, Jones promoted Garrett to interim head coach and was basically forced to see how things went for a season when Dallas finished the year 5-3 after a 1-7 start under Phillips. Now? There’s absolutely no excuse not to hire Zimmer.
And regardless of what Jerry may say in the future, everybody in Dallas knows he regrets the decision not to hire Zimmmer (or even interview him for the job). But the fact he didn’t hire Zimmer this year is the icing on the cake; Garrett has proven he can’t overcome the mental weakness that Jones spreads throughout the organization, but a no-nonsense guy like Zimmer could possibly do that. The players respect him and he would push back against Jerry just enough to get something accomplished in Dallas, just like Parcells did. It’s a Herculean task, but it can be done…by the right coach.
When the Vikings get a new quarterback this year, the era of Zimmer’s reign will begin. You can bet Minnesota will make the playoffs in 2015 if not before then and the Vikings will be Super Bowl contenders within the next half-decade. It’ll be funny when they beat the Cowboys in the playoffs down the road. Well, it won’t be funny at the time, but Jerry’s reaction will be absolutely priceless.