Mike Zimmer is an NFL lifer who thought that the chance to be a head coach in the league had passed him at age 57.
He had received strong interest from an NFL team this spring — likely the Tennessee Titans — when Zimmer found out on the flight back that the team had picked someone else to be a head coach. Zimmer, who has been a defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals since the 2000 season, wondered if his window of opportunity to be an NFL head coach had passed him by.
"I almost didn't go (on the second interview with Minnesota), yeah. I was so disappointed," Zimmer, 57, who nabbed the Vikings job after that interview, told FOX Sports. "It was like, 'Why even do this?' It was to that point. I figured I was getting too old. It thought, 'Forget this.'
"But I talked to a couple of people who said, 'Hey, you've gotta go. What are you doing?'"
The Vikings are glad he did go. They eventually offered him the job, the one he currently holds.
Zimmer told his story at the NFL's career-development symposium at the University of Pennsylvania, and his success is a notable story for somewhat of a non-traditional path to earning his first head-coaching crack. Will there be others?
It's interesting to note how some NFL head coaches, including a few who experienced success last season, almost gave up on their dreams. Ron Rivera had been interviewed nine times for head-coaching jobs — he qualified as a minority under the league's Rooney Rule, and some thought he was being used unfairly for that — before landing the Carolina Panthers' gig. After struggling for two seasons, Rivera's Panthers broke out in 2013 with 12 wins and a division crown.
Likewise, Bruce Arians was dumped by the Pittsburgh Steelers as their offensive coordinator following the 2011 season, and he planned to retire before then-new Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano talked him into being his right-hand man and offensive coordinator. When Pagano fell ill with leukemia, Arians took over in an interim role and guided them to an improbable playoff spot. After the season, the Arizona Cardinals named him head coach, and Arians led them to a 10-win season, narrowly missing the playoffs.
You wonder who the next one in this line will be? Maybe Ray Horton, as Garafolo writes, who has been passed over several times despite a strong record and massive respect from his players. Horton will be coaching the Titans' defense this season under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Although he might be dismayed by his chances to be a head coach, Horton — like Zimmer — has given himself the proper pep talk and picked himself up by the bootstraps.
"That was more demoralizing than anything. It's humbling, it's humiliating," the 54-year-old Horton said, adding of the disappointment in missing out on several jobs: "To be honest, there's self-doubt: 'Am I good enough?' You think your numbers support that you're good enough, along with your players and how they speak about you. It's like, 'What am I doing? Woe is me.'
"There's a mourning period, but then you go right back to work because you're probably pretty good at your job, otherwise you wouldn't be in that other room."
We'll be watching Zimmer's first season closely. He has an interesting rebuilding task in Minnesota, with a mix of talented players in their primes and young talents who need to grow up quickly in what could be a fairly tough division.
Horton is attempting to rebuild and reshape — from a 4-3 to a 3-4 — Titans defense in short order. If he does, teams looking for head coaches might want to call again. Horton, like Zimmer, should remain hopeful.
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