New Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer refutes notion he's a "jerk"

Mike Zimmer is a hard-nosed, old-school football coach. Some have called him a "jerk" (or maybe worse).

The truth is: Most players love playing for him (and beat writers love covering him).

Zimmer was introduced as the Cowboys' new defensive coordinator on Wednesday, getting him back on the sideline for the first time since 2021. For the first time in four years, the Cowboys defense will be called by someone other than Dan Quinn, who left to become the Commanders' head coach.

"There's a reputation out there that I'm a jerk or something like that," Zimmer said. "It is what it is, I guess. But you know, since it was announced I was going to be here, I've heard from so many players that played for me. Players here, not just defensive backs, the linebackers and defensive linemen have texted me and said how happy they were for me. I think if I was such a jerk I wouldn't be hearing from those guys."

Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who played for Zimmer from 2014-21, calls the former Vikings head coach "an acquired taste." Former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson, who played for Zimmer from 1994-2003, is among his former players who say players have to adjust to the edge Zimmer has to him.

Zimmer disagrees.

"The ones who want to be great, they want to be coached," Zimmer said. "There's a lot more social media. There's a lot more of the outside stuff going on. The ones I have been around, the young guys, the ones that want to be great, they want to be coached. They want to study. They want to understand how they can get better. Most all the great players, they want to know, 'How can you make me better?'"

Former Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the 25th overall selection in 2013, is a player Zimmer said he pushed hard. Rhodes made three Pro Bowls and once was All-Pro, and the former player still has a relationship with his former coach.

"Xavier Rhodes called me probably five months ago," Zimmer said. "I was on his rear end every day about being disciplined, getting the right footwork, all this stuff. He became a terrific player, and he called me and he just said, 'Coach, I know how hard you were on me, but I appreciate what you've done for me and the family' and things like that. You hear that. I was probably too hard on a lot of players, but I've heard it several times. It makes you feel good that they understand that you're just trying to help them. You're not just out to be a mean guy or something like that."