MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Zimmer, the highly-respected Bengals defensive coordinator for the past six seasons, was already taking about winning championships after becoming the Minnesota Vikings head coach Wednesday night.
Zimmer said he was "extremely excited" to get a chance "to bring a championship to the state of Minnesota and to the great fan base of the Vikings.
"I can't wait to get to work," he said.
The 57-year-old Zimmer finally got his first NFL head coaching position after 14 seasons as a defensive coordinator.
Asked what kind of team he would field, Zimmer said:
“I think we’re going to be passionate. I think we’re going to play with a lot of energy. We’re going to be a smart football team. We’re going to be a team that makes the fans proud and want to come and watch us.”
Zimmer takes over a Viking team that slipped to 5-10-1 last season, but he spoke with the optimism and excitement of a young coach.
“I think we have a lot of young players who have a chance to be great football players,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got depth at a lot of different positions and I think we have a chance to be an awfully good football team for an awfully long time. We want to build a solid and steady football team. I think we have a great nucleus right now.”
The Bengals have chosen linebacker coach Paul Guenther to replace Zimmer as defensive coordinator.
It was reported that Zimmer wanted to bring Guenther with him to Minnesota as defensive coordinator.
The Vikings waited until 10 p.m. ET to announce Zimmer’s hiring after working out the final details of his contract.
"Fans will appreciate Mike's intensity on the field and his down-to-earth attitude off the field," Vikings owner Mark Wilf said. "We strongly believe he will help us compete for division championships each year and lead us to our ultimate goal of bringing a Super Bowl championship to Minnesota."
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, from Elder High in Cincinnati, expressed excitement about Zimmer’s hiring on Twitter.
“Fired up about Coach Zimmer! As a Cincy kid he's been fun to watch there and can't wait to work with him!" Rudolph tweeted.
For the Bengals, the news was bittersweet.
"Today is one of the happiest and yet saddest days for me. Happy Coach Zimm finally gets to be a head coach and spread all of his knowledge," cornerback Terence Newman tweeted.
"Gonna miss you coach Zimmer! Wish you nothing but the best in Minnesota. You brought out the best in each of your players! So honored to have been coached by you!" tweeted linebacker Rey Maualuga.
The Bengals defense was third in the league in yards allowed and fifth in points against this season, though Cincinnati lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.
Asked why he is a good fit for the Vikings, Zimmer said:
“I’m a Midwestern guy, grew up in Illinois, so I’ve always had an NFC North background. I love the area. I love to hunt and fish. The tradition here is fantastic – the Hall of Famers, the Purple People Eaters. I really cherish all of that.”
Zimmer replaces Leslie Frazier, another former Bengals defensive coordinator who was fired Dec. 30.
Zimmer has interviewed for at least five head coaching jobs over the years. He had two interviews with the Tennessee Titans and was considered a candidate for at least two other job openings this offseason.
The Peoria, Ill., native was offered the University of Nebraska's head coaching job in 2003 after he directed the Dallas Cowboys' defense to the No. 1 ranking in the league, according to ESPN. He was with the Cowboys from 1994 to 2006, serving as a defensive back coach until 2000 when he took over total control of the defense.
After one tumultuous year as the defensive coordinator for Atlanta, when Falcons coach Bobby Petrino quit midseason in 2007, Zimmer went to Cincinnati to work for coach Marvin Lewis and had to rebuild one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
The Bengals' defense ranked 27th in the league in total yards allowed and 24th in points per game allowed in 2007.
In 2009, when his wife, Vikki, unexpectedly died, Zimmer was named the winner of several NFL assistant coach of the year awards.
He will have a similar repair job with the Vikings, where he'll look to improve a defense that surrendered the second-most yards and the most points in the NFL during the 2013 season.
Zimmer has a fiery personality, as evidenced by his profanity-laced appearances on HBO's "Hard Knocks," which featured the Bengals in 2009 and 2013. That overt intensity is a contrast to Frazier, who went 21-33-1 in three-plus seasons with one appearance in the playoffs.
Zimmer's departure marks another big change in the Bengals' coaching staff.
The Bengals lost their offensive coordinator last week when Jay Gruden became head coach of the Washington Redskins. Hue Jackson was promoted to OC and assistant offensive line coach Kyle Caskey was named running backs coach.