Mike Zimmer first came to light as a candidate for the Bucs' coaching job when the Tampa Bay Times listed him as "on the radar". Whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually see him as a valid prospect is impossible to say right now. They haven't asked permission to interview him, which they need as long as the Bengals are in the playoffs. At the same time the Bucs haven't asked permission to interview any assistant coach currently in the playoffs - at least as far as we know. They may be waiting until those teams are eliminated. Which in the case of the Bengals really shouldn't take all that long.
Mike Zimmer has a good track record, at least. He has had a lot of experience as a defensive coordinator and has consistently produced quality defenses. He's spent time with three different teams this past decade as a coordinator, coaching the Cowboys' defense from 2000 to 2006, the Falcons' defense in 2007 and the Bengals from 2008 until now. Most impressive might be his work with the Bengals defense, where he turned a terrible defense into one of the best in the league - despite having limited organizational support in Cincinnati. As always, though, the question is whether that translates to being a good head coach.
Cincinnati Bengals Profile
QB, LB, Illinois State, 1974-76
Assistant Coach, Missouri, 1979-80
Assistant Coach, Weber State, 1983-88
Defensive Coordinator, Washington State, 1989-93
Assistant Coach, Dallas Cowboys, 1994-99
Defensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys, 2000-06
Defensive Coordinator, Atlanta Falcons, 2007
Defensive Coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals, 2008-present
Why Mike Zimmer should be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Head Coach
- Has had consistent, sustained success as a defensive coordinator
Mike Zimmer started his job as a defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys in 2000, taking over a decent but very old defense. He would spend the next years overhauling that defense, and had them performing as one of the best units in football in 2003. That defense collapsed in 2004, but he had them back playing at a respectable level in the following two years. While he didn't get much of anything done in Atlanta, that was just one season in the trainwreck that was the Bobby Petrino-led Falcons. Most impressive may be his work in Cincinnati, as that team has managed to get to the playoffs twice in four years on the strength of his defense.
All that to say that Mike Zimmer is a very good defensive coordinator who could probably turn around a pretty disastrous Tampa Bay defense fairly quickly.
- Experience on different staffs gives him a large network to hire from
Mike Zimmer has coached under a lot of different head coaches, but his record as a coordinator there may be most important. Coaching under Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Bobby Petrino and Marvin Lewis with a lot of different coaching staffs gives him access to a lot of good coaches. That's key in putting together a coaching staff, and that should be no problem for Zimmer.
- Runs a 4-3 defense
The one place on defense where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have managed to stockpile talent has been along the defensive line. With four first- and second-round picks invested over the past two seasons, whoever walks into the head coaching job will have a lot of talent there and how they handle that talent could make or break that defense. If the Bucs move to a two-gap 3-4 or otherwise change the responsibilities of that defensive line, they could end up throwing away all that talent. That would necessitate another three or four seasons of re-building - and that could spell doom for the coach. With Mike Zimmer running an aggressive 4-3, there's no need to worry about any of that.
- Has no previous head coaching experience
This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, but if you're looking for someone with experience to lead a young team, this is not the man you want. He has no head-coaching experience and while his record as a coordinator is impressive, there's a lot that comes with being a head coach that being a coordinator doesn't teach you. Can he learn to be a good head coach? That's a question that can't be answered except through trial and error.
- Is a defensive coordinator, not an offensive-minded head coach
Priority number one for the Bucs should be to get Josh Freeman back on track. Hiring a defensive coordinator as head coach doesn't fit with that. Defensive coordinators tend to be conservative in calling games and the way they want to build their offenses, which doesn't mesh well with the modern NFL either. And then there's the troubling fact that defensive coordinators have not had a lot of success as head coaches.
- He hasn't a head coaching opportunity before
And there's certain to be a reason for that. Zimmer even noted that he was frustrated with his lack of opportunity and compared his situation to Tony Dungy's in the mid '90s: being passed up time after time. Mike Zimmer has an excellent resume, so why has he been passed up? Yahoo!'s Jason Cole noted that there's a perception that Zimmer has hit his ceiling. Evidently there are concerns with Zimmer, but are they legitimate, or is this just a self-perpetuating myth?
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