Quarantine life isn't all that bad for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. He misses his players and he misses coaching, but his offseason home comes with its perks.
Zimmer is sequestered at his house on the "Zimmer Ridge Ranch," the sprawling Walton, Ky. property he bought in September 2013 when he was still the Bengals' defensive coordinator. Also staying with him are two of his three children, one of whom is Vikings linebackers coach and recently-promoted co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer.
Both Zimmers take part in daily virtual meetings with players and the rest of the coaching staff, but living together has allowed father and son to talk defense even long after the day's meetings have concluded.
"At night, after dinner or something, we’ll sit down and have some crazy idea and we’ll say, ‘OK, we can talk about it tomorrow with the rest of the defensive coaches,’ Mike Zimmer said in a Zoom call with Twin Cities reporters.
Another benefit of having his son around is that Zimmer, who turns 64 in June, can request technological assistance whenever he needs it.
"[Adam] runs his meetings from downstairs, and I run them from up here," he said. "It’s been good, because number one, he can help me get all this stuff organized. If I can’t get it figured out, I can text him and say, ‘come up here and fix this.'"
There's plenty of work to be done with the team, but there's also more than enough time to relax. The Zimmers built a golf course with a green and four tee boxes that Adam uses regularly. Mike, an avid outdoorsman, can typically be found hunting, fishing, shooting clay pigeons, or tending to the land on one of his many vehicles when he's not busy with coaching duties.
Zimmer has said before that he always wanted to own property, but was concerned about the volatile job status of coaches in the NFL. Eventually, he heeded advice from his late wife Vikki, who once told him that "you can't live life that way, worrying about what's next." Vikki Zimmer died unexpectedly of natural causes at age 50 in 2009.
Ironically, Mike had to move just fourth months after purchasing the land, which is located 30 minutes south of the Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium. But that hasn't stopped him from returning every offseason since landing his first head coaching job. Normally, the Vikings coach would be back in Minnesota by now, overseeing things like rookie minicamps and OTAs.
Not this year. Zimmer's seventh offseason with the Vikings is unlike any of the previous six.
"Today, I woke up, I got a skid steer, I went in the back, and did some work way back there," Zimmer said. "Then I came back, we had a defensive staff meeting, offensive meetings with the players. I took a break, got on the tractor and got the fields ready to plant and then I came up here for [another meeting]. And then in the evenings we just kind of hang out, build a fire, get takeout. Adam loves smoking stuff on the [BBQ] smoker. He'll go jump in the hot tub and I'll watch some Chicago PD or something."
"I'm really fortunate that I'm here in Kentucky and I have 160 acres," he added. "In between meetings, I can go get on the four-wheeler, on the tractor, go fishing and shoot guns, or whatever I want to do. So it's not like I'm totally quarantined – even though I am."
There are far worse ways to spend one's free time during quarantine. But for as much as Zimmer loves his ranch, football is his true passion, and it's obvious how much he misses being out on the field working with players.
That's especially true with such a young team. Zimmer has called it a "refreshing" challenge for the Vikings' coaching staff to have so many young players in need of development after an offseason filled with turnover. The Vikings lost six starters in March and added a record-breaking 15-man draft class in April. The talent is there, but it's in need of hands-on instruction and lots of reps on the practice field. Right now, the Vikings can provide neither.
"It energizes us as coaches trying to get these guys up to speed as fast as we can," Zimmer said. "It reminds me honestly of when we were in college and had five defensive starters graduate and you’ve got guys coming in and they’re redshirt freshmen but you’ve got to get them ready to play. That part kind of energizes us as coaches as far as, 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 play.”
Zimmer spent the first 15 years of his coaching career at the college level, moving from Missouri to Weber State to Washington State, where he got his first defensive coordinator gig. He would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Cowboys as their defensive backs coach before DC stints in Dallas, Atlanta, and Cincinnati.
All throughout his coaching career, Zimmer has been a coach that players tend to love because they know he'll always have their back. He won't sugarcoat things to them on the practice field, but that style is a byproduct of his personality and his burning desire to win games.
"I really miss being around the players," Zimmer said. "Talking to them on the computer, the iPad or whatever is not the same, because I want to get out there. I want to coach and correct them, teach them, try to build the camaraderie that we need as a football team. They're probably going to get an extra dose of me when they get back."
Until that day comes, Zimmer and the rest of the coaches are doing everything they can to help the team progress as much as possible. They're installing the playbook, providing key drills for players to do at their respective homes, and keeping close tabs on their conditioning efforts. Unfortunately, Zimmer notes, "if they’re doing it wrong, we can’t correct them."
There's a lot that can't happen until they can physically get together. Zimmer's main concern is working on technique, especially with so many new young players.
"That might take three weeks, who knows," he said. "Each player is a little bit different. That will be the biggest factor. You can't just roll out the ball and play. You can't just say: here's your playbook, now you go out there. It doesn't work like that. They know what to do but they don't know how to do it."
Zimmer is aching to get out on the field and watch his team play some football. But until then, he'll be just fine at the ranch. He'll keep on hunting deer and planting the fields and fishing at the lake.
And when nighttime rolls around and it's almost time for some Chicago PD, maybe Mike and Adam will come up with a crazy idea that will wind up winning a game in the fall.
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