INDIANAPOLIS Rick Spielman, the general manager of the Vikings, offered a lesson Thursday for teams that prefer to listen to legend instead of looking at men.
The Vikings hired Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to be their head coach last month after his salty and crusty reputation apparently kept him from a head job a handful of times despite churning out top defenses every season. And before Spielman was asked a question at his news conference at the NFL scouting combine, he spent his introductory remarks praising Zimmer's first month. He knew he was getting a hard-bitten, no-nonsense football man loved by his players, but he also got a surprise.
"The biggest thing is the perception of him being so gruff. When he's in the office and you talk to people, he's the nicest person in the world," Spielman said. "He's very smart, a very football-minded person. But the gruffness and him not being polished and things like that…I don't know why other teams passed on him to have the opportunity to be a head coach, but I'm sure glad they did because it's the right fit, the right timing, the right coach for us."
Zimmer takes the stage Friday in what amounts to the Marvin Lewis Media Day at the combine. After Zimmer's news conference at 11:15 a.m. Lewis appears at 11:45 a.m. Then then the other coordinator Lewis lost, Jay Gruden on offense, makes his combine debut in the afternoon as Washington head coach.
Zimmer caught the imagination of the fan base earlier this month when he visited a frigid Minnesota outpost on a bus to pass the gospel according to Zim. Bengaldom won't be surprised about what is being said. Spielman checked out the magic he had with players when he called agents during the interview process.
"As demanding as he is, I never heard so much respect for a coach. Guys love to play for this guy," Spielman said. "He has that 'it' factor. He's able to hold guys accountable and get the utmost out of their ability. Yet players love him. That's the one thing that really stuck out."
After watching him turn around the careers of the likes of Brandon Johnson, Dhani Jones,
"For sure, Mike is going to look at a player and he's going to tell us his strengths and tell us how he's going to use him and his skill set with his system. It's been very refreshing," Spielman said. "He has a reputation for taking guys who are good football players and some guys thought they may be done and yet he got the most out of their capability and beyond their capabilities."