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Updated: January 17th, 2014 5:30pm
Zulgad: Zimmer's first impression with players will be most important

Zulgad: Zimmer's first impression with players will be most important

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Fifteen years to the day of one of the most gut-wrenching losses in franchise history, the Minnesota Vikings attempted to create a positive lasting memory of Jan. 17 by introducing Mike Zimmer as their ninth head coach on Friday at Winter Park.

Judging from the reaction on social media, the now former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator did not disappoint.

Zimmer said what he knew Vikings fans would want to hear and he did it in an even-keel tone that distanced him from the four-letter word, in-your-face coach that viewers came to know during his appearances on HBO's "Hard Knocks."

"Honestly, I can't wait to stand on the podium with Zygi and Mark and Jonathan (Wilf)," Zimmer said early in his press conference, "and we're standing on the podium and we look up and the confetti is falling on top of us and Commissioner (Roger) Goodell comes over and he hands the Super Bowl trophy to Mr. Wilf and tells him we're world champions. That is my goal and my drive."

While this statement can be filed under wishful thinking -- Zimmer certainly is not the first hire in NFL history to talk about Super Bowl aspirations -- it appeared to help him win the press conference.

This is good in that it never hurts to get off on the right foot with your fan base, especially in Minnesota, but first impressions can be overrated.

Brad Childress did himself no favors, and rubbed many the wrong way, in January 2006 by telling everyone that things would be done his way and there was no wiggle room.

Eleven days later, Tim Brewster proved to be a hit during his introductory press conference as the new football coach at the University of Minnesota. Brewster sold optimism and spoke of Rose Bowl aspirations.

Brewster was fired in October 2010 and a month later Childress was shown the door by the Vikings.

Brewster, it turned out, was full of hot air, and one of Childress' big problems was that he treated everyone the same. Fans, media, players, co-workers, it didn't matter.

Zimmer, who has been an assistant in the NFL for 20 seasons and will turn 58 in June, is known as a fiery guy who can motivate but yet is loved and respected by his players.

He seemed to dispute the notion that the way he was portrayed on "Hard Knocks" was really a reflection of him, indicating that was more of a character that the producers developed through creative editing.

So what's the truth about Zimmer?

Right now, it's not that important that we know. The crucial moment will be when Zimmer gets his players in front of him and delivers his message. That's when his true character really will need to be reflected.

NFL coaches, the good ones, are put in an interesting situation when it comes to showing their personality, or lack of it. We encourage people to be themselves, but when you're running an NFL team that isn't always the smartest move.

Do you think that New England's Bill Belichick treats his players like he does the media? Absolutely, not. Belichick wants to be around his players and he wants to answer as few questions as he can from the media. Thus, he makes sure to make his press conferences as boring as possible.

This doesn't mean that Belichick wants to be best friends with his players either, but he also knows he must find a way to make them want to play for him.

One of Childress' biggest problems when he got the Vikings job, was that he appeared to want to emulate Belichick without understanding the savvy nature Belichick uses from situation to situation.

None of this is to say that Zimmer's demeanor or message on Friday was phony or insincere.

But it is to say that if the Vikings want their fans to point to Jan. 17 and think of Zimmer's hiring instead of the NFC title game loss to the Falcons, they had better hope their new coach's best first impression is made with a group of players sitting in front of him at Winter Park.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Brad Childress
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