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How the Cowboys helped turn Mike Zimmer into an NFL head coach

Near the half-time of the 1994 NFC championship match, the Dallas Cowboys, laden with superstars, were on the verge of collapse.

It was the United States team, which was aiming to reach and win its third consecutive Super Bowl. And he became dominated by the San Francisco 49ers.

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Struggling to a 21-0 deficit, the Cowboys failed to beat the 49ers in this match at the Ali-Frazier. While remaining eight seconds in the second quarter, Jerry Rice scored a 28-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 31-14 lead.

From the corner of his eye, Darren Woodson caught two men screaming so aggressively that the players and coaches intervened to separate them on the Cowboys' side of the field.

Receiver Michael Irvin expressed his frustration with Dallas' defensive play plan, upset that defensive backs were not doubling to Rice, who had two passes for 36 yards in the 38-28 win in San Francisco. Mike Zimmer, 38, was in his first season with the Cowboys as a nickelbacks coach.

"And that's when I knew .I was like, this guy is crazy," said Woodson, who spent his entire 12-year career in Dallas . "On the one hand, Michael Irvin is a future Hall of Fame member, two-time Super Bowl champion and you're the new guy … Physically, Zim wanted to fight Michael Irvin and I was like, OK, this guy is crazy, we're going to have to deal with it.

"Zim did not stand in front of anyone at that time – you just knew he had that peculiarity about him."

Three jobs and 13 years are between Zimmer and the place where his career in the NFL began. Sunday, the The coach of the Minnesota Vikings returns to Dallas, where he spent 13 seasons (1994-2006), first as a position coach, then as a defensive coordinator.

The Cowboys gave Zimmer the opportunity to shape his defensive philosophy, win a Super Bowl and cultivate countless relationships with players and coaches, including many from his staff in Minnesota.

His time with the Cowboys prepared him to become a head coach. While his Vikings land on the field Sunday AT & T stadium (8:20 pm ET, NBC)It's obvious that coach Zimmer is now a part of his time working with one of the best franchises in history.


After the 1995 season, his second in Dallas, Zimmer and the Cowboys reached the XXX Super Bowl, where they met the No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was a familiar territory for many of Dallas' defensive backs who had competed in three Super Bowls in four seasons and won rings after the seasons of 1992 and 1993. It was all new for their position coach.

The NFL Nation reporters have gone on record with each of the 32 main coaches in the league, with memories (and old pictures) of every coach's first coaching job. Read more

"You had your rings, I did not have them last year," Woodson recalls, telling Zimmer about his group of positions. "I want to get this ring for you to win this damn match for me, as if we already had not enough pressure on us."

The Cowboys had a comfortable margin of 10 points at the entrance in the last moments. With the championship almost won, defensive coordinator Dave Campo left the coaching area to get out of the way, where he met Zimmer, who was intent on staying stuck despite the inevitable outcome of the match.

"I'm watching Zim trying to make the calls," said Woodson. "There were three games at the end of the game for which I could not get his attention, so I call the last three games because he's furious against Campo and he screams not to stay in the cabin They are arguing – people are separating them – I'm trying to make a call and I thought to myself: it's Zim, to a T, that's the guy . & # 39;

"He always said that the match did not end until that damn referee did not ring, it's like in baseball." That says a lot about who this man was. one of the greatest moments, about to win a championship, and this is his first championship, and he would prefer to talk with the defense coordinator than to celebrate a sacred league.We are on the ground, me- and even Deion (Sanders), we make fun of him arguing with Campo, that defines who this guy was. "

At the height of the festivities, a difficult season was finally over. There was little post-jubilation jubilation. For several minutes, Woodson, Sanders, Super Bowl MVP Larry Brown, Brock Marion and Kevin Smith sat quietly in front of their lockers, exhaling their relief after doing what was expected of them all season. But they knew in the back of their minds that this dynasty – the one that had won three Lombardi trophies in four seasons – was about to end.

The intensity of Mike Zimmer has manifested throughout his career in Dallas, including at a time of triumph. Photo AP

In the locker room, Zimmer shared the same feeling.

"The year we won the Super Bowl in Dallas was one of the toughest years of my coaching career because we were supposed to win," Zimmer said. "We had ups and downs that year and I actually remember going after the game and sitting on a chair in the locker room saying," Wow, season has been long. "It was hard, it was difficult, I have the impression that people believe that it is an easy path, this is not the case."


Zimmer was promoted to Defensive Coordinator in 2000 when Campo was named head coach of the Cowboys. Three consecutive seasons of 5 to 11 records put Campo in check and marked the beginning of the Bill Parcells era. Zimmer was the only coach selected from Campo staff.

Zimmer built his defense with smaller players whose abilities allowed him to tinker with various covers and blitzes based on speed. Parcells wanted to change his defensive system as soon as he arrived, particularly impressed by the linebackers' body.

Parcells wanted to go from 4-3 defense to Zimmer for a 3-4 defense with the Jets, Patriots and Giants. But he did not have the staff to make the change in his first two seasons as head coach (2003-04).

"Bill did not want" midget "linebackers," said former linebacker Dat Nguyen, referring to Parcells' feelings about the post group he inherited. "I remember that every day, after working, Dexter Coakley and I would come into the locker room and every time we saw Zim, he would look at us like that and come in and say," Do not worry , guys., we will prove to the coach that we can play 4-3 in defense. "

Dallas had the # 1 defense in the 2003 season but dropped to 16th place the following year.

"In the off-season, even when we were # 1 in the league, he had me study 3-4 teams," Zimmer said. "And he did not stop bringing in great linebackers who could not really work well, you could see where it was going, so he went in and said, Hey, what is it? you think of going to 3-4, as if it was a question. "

In 2005, the change took place. Increasing pains ensued.

Dallas had drafted Greg Ellis with the eighth pick in 1998 as a defensive back. In this new scheme, he opted for the outside linebacker, against which he initially beat.

"I never did it so I was worried," said Ellis. "Bill had put me in a defensive position in the scheme, so my reluctance was to go against guys who in some cases weigh 100 pounds more than me and I can not use my speed." 3-4, I am aligned face to face with them.

"Zim called me" worried "because I had always wanted to be good and I wanted to play as a linebacker, I do not know if I can be I'm good at doing that, and I want to be good, but he's been good with me and was very, very patient, more patient with me than I was with me. "

Mike Zimmer and Deion Sanders present their Super Bowl rings. Courtesy of Corri Zimmer

Parcells tested Zimmer's ability to adapt and succeed (the Cowboys had a top-10 defense in the first 3-4). The defensive coordinator had to do more than understand the subtleties of how to defeat an offense in a ploy with which he had little experience. He had to figure out how to teach a defense to the players who were learning with him.

"That could have been the best thing, in my opinion, for coach Zimmer," said Nguyen. "When I see him now and what he does … he has his own philosophy, but I think he's learned a lot from Coach Parcells."


Zimmer left Dallas in 2006 for a one-year term as defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons followed the same job with the Cincinnati Bengals (2008-13) before receiving his first shot as a head coach in Minnesota at the age of 58.

Football brought him to Dallas, but it was there that his family had established roots, friendships and long-time memories.

His daughter Corri lives in the house that Zimmer bought for himself and his late wife, Vikki, in the suburb of Southlake in Dallas. Corri, who was four years old when Barry Switzer hired his father, spent his formative years with the Cowboys organization, with his brother Adam, the Vikings linebacker, and his sister Marki. The family spent the 4th of July driving four-wheeled vehicles at Sanders. The Zimmer girls guard Sean Payton's preschool children when the current Saints coach from New Orleans was the offensive coordinator of Parcells. Their houses were only four or five streets apart.

Corri can still imagine the Texas Stadium environment as he had felt on game days when she attended games with her mother and younger sister.

"From time to time, the fans got bad and my mother, sitting in the stands and shouting at someone" You do not know how much they work! ", Said Corri Zimmer.

She has witnessed her father's career in the NFL since the very beginning and remembers having heard the garage door open at 4 am, almost every morning, when Mike Zimmer headed to the post DB coach then defensive coordinator.

Years later, very little has changed.

"I always remember that he had the same intensity," said Corri. "It never really grew when he climbed the ladder – I think he's always been intense, that he's always worked hard and that he's brought it on." where he is today. "

From owner Jerry Jones to the coaches who went through the organization, the Cowboys created a family environment that welcomed the Zimmers. But each relationship has its share of ups and downs. It is only after Zimmer and Parcells have separated that their links have grown to become what they are today.

. (tagsToTranslate) NFL (t) Minnesota Vikings (t) Dallas Cowboys

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