The NFL keeps no such records, but it’s safe to assume Vikings coach Mike Zimmer just became the first 63-year-old defensive guru to hire a 69-year-old defensive guru to be his (super?) senior defensive consultant.
“It did surprise me when he called,” said the 69-year-old, Dom Capers.
Zimmer is heading into his 27th NFL season. And Capers has him beat by eight years.
“I think it was very smart of Mike to do something like this,” said longtime Zimmer confidant Andre Patterson, now Vikings co-defensive coordinator along with Adam Zimmer. “Dom has seen a lot. To have a voice in that room to give us ideas, I think that’s outstanding.”
Zimmer was a defensive coordinator for 14 years, winning one Super Bowl with the Cowboys, and has been a head coach going on seven years. Capers was a defensive coordinator for 15 years, winning one Super Bowl with the Packers, and was a head coach for eight years.
“I just want another idea guy, really,” Zimmer said. “Somebody to come in and maybe have a little better way of doing things than we’ve done in the past. … And then we all sit in a room and decide how we want to do things.”
Zimmer carved out his NFL reputation with a 4-3 scheme featuring the Double A-gap pressure packages that have been copied leaguewide. Capers comes from a 3-4 scheme and was on the ground floor of the zone blitz craze that spread from Pittsburgh to all corners of the league.
“We had a lot of success with it, and within a few years a lot of people were zone blitzing,” Capers said. “And the more familiar people become with [a scheme], sometimes it loses its effectiveness. And you have to look for the next edge.”
That, essentially, is what Zimmer said he needed help with as the Vikings were finishing fifth in scoring defense but struggling with consistency in 2019.
“I had written down toward the end of the season that I kind of would like to get another defensive guy in there who has a background in a lot of different things,” Zimmer said. “There are some things that Dom has done that have intrigued me that I would like to know more about.”
Capers said he’ll funnel ideas through the defensive coordinators, similar to how he did last year as senior consultant with Jacksonville. But it also sounds like Zimmer will be asking a lot of questions.
“We’ve been running this defense for a long, long, long time,” Zimmer said. “I just thought it would be good to get some new, fresh ideas.”
Meanwhile, at defensive coordinator, Zimmer chose familiarity, giving his son Adam, 36, and Patterson, 59, their first coordinator jobs as they continue coaching linebackers and defensive linemen, respectively.
“I thought that would be the best of both worlds,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said specific roles will be worked out during spring practices and training camp. He also didn’t rule out giving up defensive play-calling duties.
“If I feel like the best thing for the team is for me to call defenses, I will,” he said. “And if I feel like it’s not, then I won’t.”
Adam Zimmer and Patterson said they’re comfortable with the unusual arrangement because they’ve worked well together for many years. Patterson took it a step further, saying he’s known Adam “since he was a little boy” back when Patterson and Mike Zimmer were coaching together at Weber State in the mid-80s.
“Adam and I got together and talked a lot of things through,” Patterson said. “And I think it’s going to be a great thing …. So I have no concerns whatsoever.”
Adam said there’s no added pressure in having Pops promote him.
“He’s not just going to do something just because I’m his son,” Adam said. “I think he believes that I’m ready. And I’m going to try and prove him right.”
Zimmer said Adam and Patterson already have been able to run the defensive meetings with the kind of efficiency that “I don’t have to be there every minute.”
“Zim knows that Adam and I understand what the defense is supposed to look like,” Patterson said. “That’s the biggest thing. You can’t achieve it until you know what it’s supposed to look like. Adam and I know when this defense is right, what it’s supposed to look like.”
And if that look needs some tweaking to stay ahead of the pack? Well, that apparently is why the 63-year-old guru calls the 69-year-old guru.