Skip to main content



Mike Zimmer

When the Zimmers return to Dallas on Friday for Saturday's game against the Cowboys (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), it will be just like always with Mexican food, football and family.

It may be Uncle Julio's, which is near Vikki's dream house in the South Lake section. Or it could be Pappasito's, which is not. But there will be Mexican just as surely there will be family and football.

"Fond memories," Mike Zimmer says. "The kids grew up there. We spent 13 years there. We won a Super Bowl there. I've got a lot of friends that still work there. The owner. People in the front office. People in suite sales. I had an office there for a long time."

It's been 2006 since Zimmer went to work in the Cowboys complex, the last of his eight seasons he ran the Dallas defense, and so much has changed.

Vikki, his wife of 27 years, has been gone now almost four years, taken so suddenly and quietly and cruelly at age 50 during their second year in Cincinnati.

Adam, their 29-year-old son, is finally working for his father as the Bengals assistant secondary coach 17 years after he held his father's headsets in Dallas's Super Bowl victory over the Steelers and seven years after he followed in his footsteps and began coaching in the NFL.

Mike Zimmer, 57, returns as a prime-time figure thanks to the HBO series Hard Knocks that has embraced his storyline of best NFL assistant who has never been a head coach and a stout defense that has been at the center of the three Bengals playoff berths in the last four seasons. 

And wasn't it Vikki who about month before she died asked Mike over dinner, "How honored do you feel that your son wants to be just like you, idolizes you and even has your mannerisms?"

"They're spitting images when you talk about coaches," says Bengals cornerback Terence Newman, who played for Mike and played golf with Adam during the Dallas days. "He commands respect no different than his dad. He knows the defense in and out just like his pops. The only thing about Adam is I don't think he uses as many four-letter words. But he does a job that does the guys on this defense justice."

Watch out with "in and out." One of the many things the profane yet profound Mike Zimmer demands in his meeting room of crusty creativity is everyone speaking the same language. Adam Zimmer may have Mike Zimmer's clipped, unvarnished sentences but there are still some foreign terms left over from his stint in Kansas City as the assistant linebackers coach during the previous three seasons.

For instance, in K.C., the Chiefs coaches shortened "in and out" to "INO."

"That's the big thing he's been on me about," Adam Zimmer says. "I'll say some things the way we said them in Kansas City and he says, 'No, I want you to say it this way.' It might be as simple as 'in and out.' "

Newman catches himself wondering how much of this scheme Adam Zimmer is going to use when he becomes a defensive coordinator.

"That's awhile down the road," Newman says. "But it's going to happen."

Even though Adam Zimmer has a bigger Super Bowl ring than his dad (from the '09 Saints), he wondered how the players might view him. He didn't have to worry. Cornerback Leon Hall says, "He seems like a natural."

"He's not as hard-nosed as his father. But he expects the same out of his players that he does. You can tell he knows the game," Hall says. "He's led a couple of our meetings and he can run a meeting just as well as anybody else. He knows what he's talking about and you believe what he's going to say. I don't know this, but I would imagine he got into coaching because he watched his dad coach."

Hall has diagnosed another play right on. During vacations back in the South Lake home during the past decade, Adam Zimmer's idea of a great time has been playing golf with his dad and then watching tape with him. Then doing it again the next day.

OK, so every day may not be a vacation, but Adam Zimmer is savoring the opportunity working with his dad after toiling under such accomplished coordinators as Gregg Williams in New Orleans and Romeo Crennel in K.C. He continues to be amazed at how his father coaches every position.

On one snap Mike Zimmer can tell tackle Geno Atkins to punch with his left hand. On the next he can tell WILL backer Vontaze Burfict that he took a false step by falling into the bucket. On the next whistle he can tell Hall what was wrong with his press coverage.

"I couldn't tell you if a defensive lineman was stepping with the wrong foot or not," Adam Zimmer says. "I can tell you if he's in the wrong gap, but I can't tell you why he's doing it. That's the plan (to watch my father). In my mind to be a good defensive coordinator, you have to know them all. He's the first one I've been around that knows them as well as this."

Mike Zimmer says his son is a better person and smarter than him because doesn't every dad say that about his son?

"I've known him forever. I know what kind of kid he is," Mike Zimmer says. "I try to give him pointers all the time about how to coach different guys and how to talk to the players. But he's smart. He knows what we're doing very well and he knows the techniques I'm trying to teach. He interjects what he's picked up at different places."

Mike won't go as far to say that Adam is the better coach at age 29, when his dad was the defensive coordinator at Weber State.

"I don't know if he is. He's probably smarter than I was," Mike Zimmer says. "He's advanced more than I ever did."

Newman can see some differences. After all, Mike Zimmer was Hall of Famer Bill Parcells's coordinator for four seasons while Adam Zimmer broke in under the youthful Sean Payton in New Orleans.

"Big Zim is out of that Parcells-Belichick-type mold. Adam has picked up things from his dad and the other coaches he's been around," Newman says. "For Big Zim, being with Parcells for so many years he was able to pick up key and valuable information that he uses here.

"When he gets on guys it's just not because he wants to get on them. It's twofold. He's getting on them because they need it, and to see how a guy might handle that. Payton's approach is a little bit different, but he has an approach that obviously works."

After playing high school ball in Dallas, Adam went on to letter four years as a DB at Trinity in San Antonio and he admits, "I always get excited when I go back to Texas."

But if his dad was once identified with the Cowboys star and if he still hunts occasionally on owner Jerry Jones's property, he now has to be viewed in Bengals stripes with back-to-back No. 7 and 6 rankings that have helped erase the path for one of the youngest offenses in the NFL.

"He's built his own thing here," Adam Zimmer says. "In Dallas it was kind of added on to what Butch Davis and Dave Campo and Dave Wannstedt did."

Adam says the Cowboys would probably be his father's dream head coaching job simply because "that's where he came into the league, that's where he won a Super Bowl, and that's where his kids grew up," but both he and Newman note Mike is happy in Cincinnati coaching this group under head coach Marvin Lewis.

Newman says he's not surprised Zimmer has yet to become head coach of the Cowboys. He's just surprised he's not a head coach somewhere.

"He's definitely one of the best kept secrets in the coaching world. He definitely deserves a chance," Newman says.

Mike Zimmer is done talking about head coaching shots after two tough offseasons he was interviewed but not hired. The résumé is doing all his speaking. One thing looks certain: When all is said and done in several years, he'll probably end up in the house in South Lake.

"It was my wife's dream house," Zimmer says. "We'll probably stop by when we get in (Friday) and after the walkthrough (Saturday morning), maybe we'll go fishing on the pond."

The food, football and family are already spoken for.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.