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Offseason | 2024

Zimmer sees opportunity in Dallas after brief NFL hiatus


FRISCO, Texas — After a deliberate search for a new defensive coordinator officially wrapped up this week, a reflective but forward-thinking Mike Zimmer walked onto the stage in the press conference room at The Star in Frisco on Wednesday excited to be back in Dallas as defensive coordinator where his NFL career began back in 1994 and excited for what the future holds three decades later.

It has been three years since Zimmer was last in the NFL as head coach for the Minnesota Vikings. His time spent away included working as a consultant for Jackson State and Colorado under Deion Sanders – time that he said was spent mostly on the phone with Coach Prime – while also continuing to study the game alongside a good friend in fellow former NFL head coach Marvin Lewis.

But more importantly, his time spent away from football included being with his family more after welcoming in grandkids and losing a son unexpectedly in 2022. It was clear that family meant a lot to the now 67-year-old Zimmer, as being back in Dallas not only allows him to be closer to them, but it also allows him to reunite with people in the business that he considers family at the end of the day.

"I probably needed a little time off just because of some of the things happening with family and that was important to me, to take some time to help the rest of my family in some of those situations too," Zimmer said. "I knew right away [Dallas] was the right opportunity. There was another club talking to me. This was where I wanted to come."

The comfortability not only resides within the front office that once resided over his duties from 1994 to 2006, but also with Mike McCarthy who Zimmer has extensive experience with from his days coaching in Minnesota against McCarthy and the NFC North foe Packers across the way.

"Mike [McCarthy] and I had some great conversations on the phone," he said. "We had some great conversations since I've been here. I've always been comfortable with Stephen and Jerry [Jones]. They've been outstanding to my family, ever since I was here way back when. There was never a question of whether or not I wanted to be here at all. I probably couldn't think of the 32 teams, one that I really wanted to be more than here."

For McCarthy, the opportunity to welcome in a friend and a trusted confidant that he has experience coaching against was huge, as it made sense for both parties to have Zimmer back in the building for 2024.

"We kinda had two buckets we looked at as far as individuals who were tied to the existing defense and then looking at former head coaches was something, which points to my history is a preference I feel is very important," McCarthy said. "Then, having the chance to sit down and talk to Mike, I just think it's an incredible fit for us."

Zimmer would be the first to tell you about things that have changed with him since the last time he was in Dallas.

He reflected on being hard on players – a style he still is proud to hold going into 2024 – and how it impacted guys like Pacman Jones and Xavier Rhodes during his career, and how both have shown that love back following their time with Zimmer. It's an approach he's looking forward to taking into the locker room in the coming weeks to get the most out of his next project in Dallas.

"I've been doing this for a long time," Zimmer said. "So I'm excited to try to get to where I can try to help players be better and teams to be better and groups to be better. That's what I try to do. I did a lot of reflection on my time in Minnesota, the eight years, things I felt like we did good, the things that I felt like I didn't do as good. Trying to figure out how I can be a better coach in the future."

While evolving with the constant changing atmosphere in the NFL, specifically in trying to defend modern offenses and their multiplicities, Zimmer will continue to hold a few things in as high regard as he did as a 37-year-old first-time assistant back in 1994. For him, it's what allows him to be the coach that he is and to reach his full potential in his second stint with the Cowboys.

"Competitiveness. Being technique-oriented. Being fundamental. Disciplined. Those are the kinds of things that kind of get me grouchy."

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