FRISCO, Texas – Will be good to have an old soul back at AT&T Stadium on Sunday when the Cowboys take on the Minnesota Vikings.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.
"Zimm" spent 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, first as a defensive assistant in 1994, then the secondary coach for the next five seasons and as the defensive coordinator from 2000-06, first for head coach Dave Campo and then for Bill Parcells.
Remember, 2003 might have been Zimmer's highlight coaching season with the Cowboys, turning a Cowboys defense ranked 18th in 2002 into the NFL's No. 1 defense, a big reason the Cowboys, who had gone 5-11 three consecutive seasons, went 10-6 and earned a wildcard berth in the NFC playoffs. In fact, the Cowboys defense gave up only 4,056 total yards, the franchise's third best performance in a full 16-game season. Since then, the fewest total yards given up since came in 2008, 4,709 yards.
The one-time college quarterback left the Cowboys in 2007, unsure if head coach Bill Parcells was going to return for a fifth season – he didn't eventually – to join new head coach Bobby Petrino with the Falcons as defensive coordinator. And after Petrino left the Falcons just 13 games into the season to become the head coach at the University of Arkansas, and a new staff was hired by Atlanta in 2008, Zimmer moved on to become Cincinnati's defensive coordinator from 2008 through 2013 before the Vikings hired him as their head coach in 2014.
This will be the first time Zimmer actually is on the field coaching against the Cowboys as a head coach, since he missed the 2016 game in Minneapolis after undergoing serious eye surgery left him home-ridden, a 17-15 victory for the Cowboys.
So an on-field reunion of sorts since Zimmer and Jason Garrett spent six seasons together with the Cowboys, Zimmer the assistant coach and Garrett one of the Cowboys backup quarterbacks all those years. And Garrett has been forever grateful to him.
"Zimm and I used to talk all the time," Garrett says. "Zimm had such a positive impact on our time, and I think everybody who was around him knew he was a helluva coach. I think he helped those guys individually, he helped the back end and had a really positive impact on our defense and our team.
"For me as a player, he was always so generous. I was so curious about why they were doing certain things. We spent a lot of time, I would ask him about coverage philosophies – 'Did this bother you, if we did this, would that give you guys some problems.' He was always so generous and gracious with me, really educating me as we went. So really value his relationship."
First met Zimm in 1979, his first coaching job out of college, a graduate assistant at the University of Missouri while I was working at the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune covering Missouri football.
The no-nonsense coach, the son of a long-time high school coach in the western suburbs of Chicago, also valued his time with the Cowboys, his first venture into the NFL after going on to coach college ball from 1981-93 at Weber State and Washington State, hooking back up at both stops with former Missouri offensive coordinator Mike Price, along with bumping into eventual Cowboys head coach Dave Campo for two years at Weber.
"I enjoyed my time there," Zimmer says of all those years with the Cowboys, "it's a great organization, you know, Jerry was great, the coaches I worked for were great, I loved being around the players, especially the ones when I was there, the Darren Woodsons and Deion Sanders and Aikmans and "Moose" Johnston, and really all of them, Larry Allen, and all of those guys."
Just think, since that first stop at Missouri in 1979, Zimm's been coaching now for 41 seasons, one of those true lifers.