Just when it looked like the search for NFC North head coaches could go on forever, the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings filled their open positions within 24 hours, going in completely different directions.
The Vikings added some Chicago area flavor with their choice of Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Zimmer is a graduate of Lockport High School, and Illinois State University, where he was recruited as a quarterback. Once at ISU, Zimmer was switched to linebacker and his pursuit of defense was born.
Zimmer was the defensive coordinator with the Cowboys in Dallas from 2000 to 2006 and then left to join Bobby Petrino with the Falcons in 2007. After what Zimmer himself dubbed the “Petrino fiasco,” Zimmer took over the Bengals defense in 2008.
He is highly respected around the league and many general managers and head coaches have expressed surprise that Zimmer didn’t get his shot at a head coaching job sooner.
There was speculation that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman might be leaning toward a switch to a 3-4 defense, but Zimmer is primarily a 4-3 guy and most likely will stay with that scheme in Minnesota.
One of the issues Zimmer battled in securing his first head job is the trend of going with offensive-minded coaches. But Spielman committed to finding the best head coaching candidate, not the best offensive or defensive coach, and the current success of former defensive coaches Bill Belichick, John Fox and Pete Carroll appears to have helped.
What impact might Zimmer’s hiring have on the Bears? Zimmer becomes the only defensive-oriented head coach in the NFC North as he joins Marc Trestman, Mike McCarthy and Jim Caldwell, the new hire in Detroit.
Zimmer should know the Bears fairly well after preparing for them in the opening game of 2013 and will almost certainly focus immediately on devising a scheme to stop Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, as well as using it to compete with Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Caldwell to the Lions is a quality hire, but also a bit of a puzzle. It is no secret that Ken Whisenhunt, the new coach of the Tennessee Titans, was Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew’s first choice. It is not clear whether or not Caldwell was the second choice or possibly even third or fourth.
That said, Caldwell comes with head coaching experience and a 26-22 record, 2-2 in the playoffs. Caldwell guided the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl in his first season as Tony Dungy’s successor. In fact, his Colts were 14-0 when, under instructions from general manager Bill Polian and owner Jim Irsay, he rested his starters and dropped his last two games before the playoffs.
Caldwell did succeed in getting the Colts to the Super Bowl, where they were beaten by the New Orleans Saints.
Caldwell’s Colts went 10-6 in 2010 and then, with Peyton Manning on injured reserve, fell to 2-14 in 2011 leading to Caldwell’s firing.
How might he impact the Bears? The Lions are thought to be talented enough to contend right now, but lacking in discipline and leadership. What is ironic about the Caldwell hiring is some thought he may have lacked some leadership and discipline as the Colts spiraled in 2011 with Manning on the bench.
But, as a Colts assistant and head coach from 2001 to 2011, Caldwell deserves some level of credit for coaching Manning and could be the ideal fit to find the best in Matt Stafford.
While Caldwell and the Lions pose the more immediate competition/threat to the Bears, insiders around the league suggest Zimmer could be the coach to watch and a very solid bet to turn the Vikings fortunes around.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears and pro football for Shaw Media. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.