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TDBH: Zimmer introduced as defensive coordinator

Posted Jan 15, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - January 16, 2008


Like the man who introduces him today as the Bengals new defensive coordinator, the hard-boiled Mike Zimmer arrives at Paul Brown Stadium after spending seven years as a coordinator with one perennial playoff contender (Dallas), spending one year with another team (Atlanta), and winning a Super Bowl ring (as a secondary coach with the 1995 Cowboys). Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, yet to find the magic on defense he had as a Super Bowl coordinator, is trying to find the key for a Cincinnati defense that finishes 27th or lower in four of his five seasons. He turns to the famously intense and demanding Zimmer to be his third coordinator and Zimmer brings more experience in the role than Chuck Bresnahan (four years in Oakland) and rookie coordinator Leslie Frazier, as well as the enthusiastic endorsement of Lewis’ good friend Hue Jackson, a former Bengals assistant whom coached with Zimmer last season in Atlanta. "He's a stickler for the technique of things and I think that's important. You have to build that from the ground up," Lewis says. "It comes down to a simple thing and that's ultimately what we're looking to fix and change. To get our guys to consistently play well together technically sound and do it right.”

Lewis gets the right man for the right job. Zimmer, 51, arrives with a steel-belted resume. In the past few seasons he has turned down the Nebraska head coaching job, interviews for the Chargers' head job, and Bill Parcells retains him when he takes the head job in Dallas in 2003.  Zimmer makes his mark in Dallas during 13 seasons with the Cowboys, six in the secondary and seven as coordinator in a stretch the defense earns seven top 10 rankings and the No. 1 spot in 2003. And one thing he's done that no Bengals defensive coordinator has done since Dick LeBeau in 1990 is coach a draft pick to the Pro Bowl. "I'm big on technique," Zimmer says. "I want to make sure guys do the things we're asking to do to do it right. Play hard all the time. Hands in the right place. Feet in the right place. I think in pro football a lot guys get to the point where they worry so much about who you're playing or the scheme, your technique goes bad. Especially late in the year. Typically I'm a little bit of a hollerer and screamer."

That proves to be one of the great understatements in Bengaldom annals, just like Zimmer is one of the more significant hires in franchise history. With the cult of personality and Lewis’ help he transforms a team founded by an offensive innovator where his side of the ball is seen as a grimy necessity into a defensive powerhouse. Defense becomes the team’s signature while winning two division titles and making the postseason four times in his six seasons before Zimmer becomes the head coach of the Vikings in 2014. After finishing in the top 10 once in the 18 seasons before his arrival, the Bengals defense has four top ten finishes under Zimmer. Tackle Geno Atkins, a fourth-rounder, and undrafted linebacker Vontaze Burfict make the Pro Bowl. It turns out he gives the turnaround secret today when he talks about his 2001 defense in Dallas that finishes fourth overall. That comes after his first year as coordinator when he is stung by a last-place finish against the run and he responds by going around the country to commiserate with other coaches in an effort to fix it and one of them is Lewis. “"We had a whole bunch of guys that just wanted to line up," Zimmer says.”They said, 'Who is this guy and who is that guy?' They were just a bunch of guys if you told them to line up here and do this and do that ... it taught me if you put all the guys on the same page doing the right things and they care about football and they care about winning and they care about doing what you want them to do, you've got a chance to be pretty good."

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