EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Mike Zimmer was Adrian Peterson's coach for a mere offseason and one regular season game, before the tumultuous hiatus began for the Minnesota Vikings running back.
Zimmer never wavered in his support for Peterson during the child abuse ordeal that kept him away from the team for months. The first-year coach knew how valuable Peterson would be for his offense, how exceptional his ball-carrying ability was.
The patronage ran deeper than that. Zimmer had apparently spent enough time with Peterson that he vouched for his character with any opportunity he was given despite the tarnished public image of Peterson after injuries to his 4-year-old son were revealed.
Why was he so confident?
''Because I know the kind of person that he is,'' Zimmer said. ''I know what's in his heart.''
Peterson took part in offseason practice again on Wednesday. Then he traveled by bus with his teammates to a suburban elementary school for one of the organization's biggest community service efforts, the annual playground building project. Peterson smiled as he signed autographs for adoring kids, some of whom wore purple shirts bearing his name and jersey number.
The Vikings had the leverage in the stalemate that ended with Peterson's arrival this week, given their disinterest in releasing or trading him. He wasn't going to get paid this year if he didn't soften his stance on returning to Minnesota. Zimmer's voice, though, was as instrumental as any in steering Peterson back.
Peterson, at his re-introductory news conference at Winter Park on Tuesday, was asked how much Zimmer has meant to him.
''A lot. Maybe more so than he knows,'' Peterson said. ''He's just one of those guys, one of those coaches, you really don't want to disappoint, because you understand, you're able to see, that he has the same passion for the game as you. And he's going to do the right thing.''
Peterson, like many players, was upset when the Vikings fired coach Leslie Frazier after the 2013 season. The selection of Zimmer went a long way toward quickly mending those feelings.
''I've said it before, but I feel like this is the best coaching staff we've seen since I've been here,'' Peterson said. ''I like what they present.''
Zimmer has spoken sternly about Peterson only once, and that came last week after a series of questions from reporters about when he might show up. ''He can either play for us, or he cannot play,'' was Zimmer's statement, but that was made more out of disinterest in revisiting the drawn-out subject than personal disappointment in Peterson.
They spoke after that, making sure the air was still clear between the two of them, and Peterson was on his way from his offseason home near Houston a few days later.
''Coach Zimmer has a great relationship with players in general,'' general manager Rick Spielman said, praising Zimmer's ability to communicate with them. ''There's not much filter with coach Zimmer, but I think players, that's why they respect him. Not only is he a great teacher who's going to make them better football players, but they have the utmost respect for him and how he handles them.''
Spielman and Zimmer traveled together to Texas one day in March to visit Peterson, who was clearly uncomfortable with the Vikings at the time.
''I'll always fight for my players,'' Zimmer said. He added later: ''I wouldn't fly down to Houston to see him if he wasn't important to me and my program and to our coaches and to the rest of the football team.''
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