Sunday, June 26, 2016

Forever A Family Man: The Story of Mike Zimmer


Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is well-known for his edgy coaching style. His tough love approach and fiery persona have transformed the Minnesota Vikings into contenders in the NFL. However, those close to Zimmer know the other side of the passionate football coach. Daniel House uncovers Mike Zimmer; the family man.

Updated: June 26th, 2016 10:00am

By: Daniel House

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is well-known for his edgy coaching style. His tough love approach and fiery persona have transformed the Minnesota Vikings into contenders in the NFL. However, those close to Zimmer know the other side of the passionate football coach.

The road to landing a head coaching job in Minnesota has Zimmer battled-tested in the game of life and football. As a coach, Zimmer won a Lombardi trophy as an assistant in Dallas. After spending 13 seasons in Dallas and one in Atlanta, Zimmer became one of the best defense coordinators in the league while in Cincinnati. However, none of those accomplishments equal the experiences Mike Zimmer has endured off-the-field. When it comes to handling life, Mike Zimmer is an illustrious MVP.

In October of 2009, Zimmer’s life changed forever. His wife and confidant, Vikki, unexpectedly passed away at age 50 of natural causes. Mike had lost his wife of 27 years.

The passing of Vikki was one of the most difficult moments of Zimmer’s life. During this tragedy, he had to find strength for his family. The man who was known for being the tough football coach, mustered resilience for his kids Corri, Marki, and Adam.

“It was important that we came together,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer received so much support from Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and owner Mike Brown, but he was very overwhelmed by how the players in Cincinnati rallied around him for support. It attests to the respect and level of admiration his players developed for him.

“Really, honestly, the support of the football players was probably as important as everything else,” Zimmer explained. “It was a tough time that we had to lean on each other. All those other people were there to support me and I was there to try to support my kids.”

Photo: CBS Sports
Three days after the passing of Vikki, Mike coached the Bengals defense to a last-second 17-14 victory over Baltimore. Before the game, Bengals players dedicated their performance to Vikki. After the win, Marvin Lewis and the players awarded Zimmer with the game ball. Zimmer was tearing up as he accepted the honor.

His voice cracked as he exclaimed, “My wife loves all of you. Win or lose, she's proud of you. And I just appreciate all of your effort."

Vikki Zimmer had become an integral part of the football community in Cincinnati. Whether it was making brownies for a family, bringing food to the homeless, or hosting a get-together for the coaches and their kids, Vikki always impacted others. Zimmer recalled Vikki having hayrides and jumping houses for the football coaches and kids when she hosted gatherings.

“She loved having people over and she loved doing things like that. She always wanted to make everybody else’s life better,” Zimmer recalled.

Five years after the passing of Vikki, Mike Zimmer was named the ninth coach in Minnesota Vikings history. An accomplishment Vikki would have been so proud to see.

“Vikki wasn’t really all about the glitz and the glamor and things like that,” Zimmer answered. “She was just supportive of myself and my career. I know she would be really happy.”

After leading the Vikings to a 7-9 record in 2014 and drastically improving the team in every phase of the game, Zimmer continued to build his team with tough, smart, and aggressive players. His 2015 season provided more improvement, including an 11-5 record, an NFC North Championship, and the Vikings first playoff appearance since 2012. After two years of building the team on-the-field, Zimmer decided it was time to make a difference off of it by launching The Mike Zimmer Foundation.

Zimmer and his family had a goal to continue the legacy of their MVP, Vikki Zimmer. In March, the Zimmer family officially launched The Mike Zimmer Foundation.

Zimmer’s daughter, Corri, was the driving force behind the development of the foundation.

Photo: Mike Zimmer Foundation
“Corri has done an unbelievable job with it. She is the one that set up everything," Zimmer explained. "She got a lot of support from a lot of people within the Vikings organization on how to get started and where to go from there.”

Zimmer involves his entire family in the process and is always open to ideas they have for the betterment of the foundation.

“I think we have a very close-knit family. My son coaches for me and Corri and Marki; they’ve always been a big part. As parents we always tried to be there for them,” Zimmer said. “It’s nice having everybody involved. When we have ideas, we kind of run it by everybody in the family and then make a decision. Corri is the boss in this,” he smirked.

The goal of the Mike Zimmer Foundation is to better the lives of children in need. They hope to accomplish this statement by promoting a healthy, active, lifestyle and way of life for children. Additionally, they hope to motivate less fortunate children and help them chase their dreams. They are awarding scholarships, will be hosting an academic honor roll program, and football camps in the future.

“It’s just really about giving back to the community,” Zimmer noted. “The most important part is giving back to the Twin Cities and, really, the state of Minnesota. The fans have been so great to me and I want to try to make an impact off the football field. Obviously, I want to on the football field too, but off the football field, so we can maybe help others try to achieve their goals.”

Photo: Mike Zimmer Foundation
Vikki Zimmer valued education and was a ballet teacher in the local community. Mike aimed to blend the importance of education with another activity -- he chose football.

“We don’t want it to be just about sports, but we want kids to have the opportunity to go to college and be able to learn football,” Zimmer said. “It’s a great sport. Everything about it helps teach discipline, teamwork, dependency on others, and all those attributes.”

Mike Zimmer learned early in life not only about the game of football, but the importance of education from his father, Bill Zimmer. Bill coached the football and wrestling teams at Lockport High School in Lockport, IL, accumulating an overall record of 164-65-5. Upon retiring, Bill was the sixth-winningest coach in Illinois high school football history. He was elected to the Bradley University, Lockport High School, Illinois High School Football Coaches Association, and the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fames.

“My dad was a football coach so we’ve come from a community where sports has given us an awful lot of opportunities,” Zimmer remembered. “I used to see my dad so many times; he’d keep [the players] too long at practice and he’d drive kids all across the town where he had to go, which is 15 to 20 miles. He’d take them and drop them off and head back. He was all about trying to help his athletes get scholarships when he was coaching.”

Photo: Mike Zimmer Foundation
Bill Zimmer passed away in August of 2015 and Mike is striving to continue his legacy as well. Bill spent over 35 years at Lockport Township High School and impacted a countless number of students.

The Mike Zimmer Foundation has named an MVP Scholarship in memory of Bill. One Lockport High School student will be selected each year to receive the scholarship in honor of the Illinois coaching legend, Bill Zimmer. In May, Lockport High School student Gabe Lammers received the first $10,000 Bill Zimmer MVP Scholarship.

Photo: Mike Zimmer Foundation
“This young man, Gabe, is going to keep us updated on his progress throughout school,” Zimmer said. “He had some things happen in his life that was a setback for him. He was a wrestler and played football and went through the hardships and felt like football helped make him stronger and helped his family, so we wanted to try to help him.”

Lammers also had a unique connection to the Zimmer family. Bill Zimmer taught both Gabe’s mother and grandmother driver’s education at Lockport High School.

“That was kind of cool. This is kind of a way to keep his legacy alive too,” Zimmer smiled.

In the past, Minnesota Vikings blogs have united together to support a charitable cause. This year, the blogging community decided to partner with The Mike Zimmer Foundation for the More Than Words campaign. Donations have been pouring in and the current total sits at $8,060.

“We were really excited about the More Than Words campaign when it started,” Zimmer answered. “All the Vikings fans have supported us really great and hopefully we can do something great for the community with the funds.”

$4,000 of the donation total includes a generous gift from Fan HQ of Eden Prairie. They are hosting an autograph signing with Mike Zimmer and 100% of the proceeds from tickets will go to the Mike Zimmer Foundation. Zimmer is looking forward to meeting his fans on July 21st.

“It will be exciting to meet with the fans,” Zimmer said. “It’s a chance to meet with them and I think it will be a fun time. I think we have some of the most knowledgeable fans in the NFL. They know what good football is. They know what bad football is. I think they like watching how we play. We’re just trying to get better each and every day. We want the fans to be happy and when we leave the stadium on Sunday, we want them to say, ‘I can’t wait to watch this team again. We love how they play.’”

At this point, Zimmer is uncertain how they will use the funds from the More Than Words campaign. Corri and Mike are currently deciding whether they will use it towards a scholarship or another charitable giving initiative.

“My wife loved kids so much. We talked about doing something with some of the kids in the hospitals. We’ve talked about a few of those things. This combined with the other work that [Corri] has done, there’s a possibility that we can donate some good money here -- probably before the season starts,” Zimmer noted.

Zimmer hopes to continue contributing to the Twin Cities community that has supported him over his first two years in Minnesota. With his daughter Corri in charge, he is certain they are heading in the right direction.

“It’s just really about giving back to the community. We want to help as many kids as we can. One of the things [Corri] said the other day was that she was going to make so many kids happy with this foundation, that it really excited her. To me, that made me feel good that we are all doing it for the right reasons,” Zimmer said.

Coach Zimmer also mentioned the outpouring of support he has received from those with the Minnesota Vikings organization, including the front office and his assistant, Mary Redmond.

“They’ve been fantastic with me. All the VP’s -- if you ask questions -- they kind of steer you in the right direction. They helped get the first kick off party going. Just being able to facilitate things,” Zimmer explained. “[Mary Redmond] is my assistant and helps an awful lot. Besides just being my assistant, she helps with my foundation, and helps Corri. She’s a go-getter and helps facilitate a lot of things as well.”

Zimmer has used this foundation as a way to continue the legacy of his family. Vikki’s personality and giving heart will forever live with the Mike Zimmer Foundation.

“My wife was a huge giver. She was a really, really, sweet lady who loved kids, especially, but loved to give back to the community. So I’m sure she’d be extremely, extremely, happy, seeing that we are doing good things and that we are also keeping her memory alive,” Zimmer insisted.

In 2015, Mike Zimmer led the Vikings to an NFC North Division Title for the first time since 2009. He could feel Vikki’s bright smile shining down on Lambeau Field as the Vikings knocked off the arch-rival Packers.

“There were so many times I wish she would have been at Green Bay when we won the division last year,” Zimmer said. “Those are the things where you wish she would be around and you could share all those great memories. And then the day when I got the job too. Obviously, when Vikki passed away, you learn a lot about life. About how fragile it can be and how important it is to enjoy and live every moment.”

Zimmer’s accomplishments on the field have made him one of the most well-liked head coaches in the NFL. However, the strong, driven, and inspiring story of using a tragedy to help others makes Mike Zimmer an MVP of life.

Through the eyes of those who know him, he is more than just a football coach -- he is forever a husband, son, father, and family man.


To donate to the More Than Words campaign in support of the Mike Zimmer Foundation, follow this link. 

Photo: Mike Zimmer Foundation

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