Zimmer, Spielman shaped by football families

Mike Zimmer (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Rick Spielman found he had a lot in common with Mike Zimmer, both growing up around football and being immersed in the sport from their fathers. It helped create a bond between the new head coach and the general manager that was instrumental in hiring him.

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman had a lot of reasons to consider Mike Zimmer as the ninth coach in franchise history. One of those reasons was the connection he and Zimmer felt – both growing up with football passed down from their fathers.

Rick and Chris Spielman, a former star linebacker for the Detroit Lions, grew up hearing about football from their dad. Zimmer grew up learning about football from his dad, Bill, a high school football and wrestling coach that made the Illinois High School Hall of Fame for his prowess there.

"He has been very successful at (coaching) and he has a true, true passion for the game," Rick Spielman said of Mike Zimmer. "It's funny. As we were sitting there and got to know each other, I spent the majority of the time since he came up here, almost 10 hours with him, and to talked about our upbringing and our background and his dad being a coach, my dad being a coach, a lot of the same philosophies and a lot of the same beliefs on how you develop a football team. That just really, really struck me."

Both have roots in the Midwest.

Spielman has a bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois, where he played football from 1983-86, and a master's degree from Ohio State. Zimmer played quarterback and then linebacker at Illinois State.

Zimmer called himself a "Midwest guy" who likes to hunt and fish and has done it in areas similar to Minnesota. He also said he grew up on NFC North football, which was the NFC Central back then – "Black and Blue division," he said.

Spielman started his career in NFL scouting departments with the Detroit Lions in 1990, and in 1997 became director of player personnel for the Chicago Bears, eventually working his way to the Vikings after spending five years with the Miami Dolphins.

Some wonder how he and Zimmer will get along, both of them with reputations for being direct with a strong belief in their way of doing things.

"Part of it is we are both coaches' kids. He was a coach's son and we grew up doing a lot of the same things," Zimmer said. "He is from Ohio and I'm from Illinois, but that is coaching areas, football areas. We've gone through a lot of the same things when we were growing up. He is an honest guy, straightforward and I think that is how I am.

"We will be fine. I can get mad at people. I'm sure he can get mad at people, but we understand that both of our butts are responsible for each other, so the first time we say the heck with you and we go in the other room and we don't come back out, it's over. Collectively, it's going to get over because we are going to do whatever we need to get it fixed. I think I'm a fairly smart guy and I know he is a smart guy, so I think we are going to try to be smarter than that."

Both have sons involved with football. Although Spielman has two sons that play football for Eden Prairie High School, their better sport might be lacrosse. Zimmer has a son, Adam, who played defensive back at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and has eight years of experience coaching in the NFL, earning a Super Bowl ring with the New Orleans Saints in 2009 as a defensive assistant/linebacker. He is expected to join the Vikings coaching staff as a defensive position coach.

The passing down of generational football is ongoing, with Bill, Mike and Adam Zimmer continuing to talk football.

"I think I learn a lot from him just sitting and watching games – what did you do here, what did you do here?" Adam said of Mike. "Just from the moment I started growing, he always wants me to do the best that I can so he's always giving me pointers and how to relate to players or how to teach something. It's a good advantage for me."

Just as Mike is passing down information to Adam, Mike says he hopes to continue learn from Bill.

"My father was a high school coach and is in three Hall of Fames – two for coaching, one for playing," Mike said. "I think you can look at it a lot of different ways, especially when you're growing up. Hopefully, I'll continue to learn as the process goes, and hopefully some of the coaches that we hire learn from me some day."

Mike says he has a chip on his shoulder and several times has referenced his belief that people have doubted him along the way. The reality is he might be a chip off the old block.

"There's all different personalities and I know my dad, with me and my brother, coached us through high school and the personality of my dad, we had a lot of very similar philosophies on things," Spielman said of Zimmer.

"… I felt comfortable with him, because I really do believe if you have that general manager and head coach together and have that same mindset, it's going to be very successful."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

VikingUpdate.com Recommended Stories