Mike Zimmer’s ‘fingerprints are all over’ Cardinals’ new coaching staff – ESPN – Arizona Cardinals Blog

TEMPE, Ariz. — For years, Arizona Cardinals linebackers coach Rob Rodriguez listened to his old boss — former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer — tell players that if they got fined for breaking team rules it wasn’t Zimmer’s fault.

It was their own.

“I don’t fine you,” Zimmer would say. “You fine yourself.”

So when Rodriguez heard his new boss, Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon, tell his players something similar this offseason, he knew where it came from.

“I was like, ‘Oh, s—, there you go. We’re coming from the same spot,’” Rodriguez remembered.

Rodriguez and Gannon are two of seven members of the Cardinals’ new staff who worked for Zimmer in Minnesota, spanning eight seasons from 2014 to 2021. Three of the coaches — offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, Rodriguez and strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus — overlapped with Gannon, who was in Minnesota from 2014 to 2017 as a quality control coach and assisting with defensive backs.

Now that they’re together on Gannon’s staff in Arizona, Zimmer’s fingerprints and influence can be felt all over, from the schemes on both sides of the ball to how flexible and open Gannon has been to adapting as a first-time head coach, and beyond.

“He’s a good football coach,” Gannon said of Zimmer. “He taught us a lot of things, so we use that. Anybody you’re around, you try to take all the good from it and see why those people that you’re working for are successful, so, hopefully, every coach on this staff has done this a little bit. I know I have.

“But, obviously, he is one of my greatest mentors, and I learned a lot of ball from him and also how to run a team.”

This week Gannon returned to Minnesota for the first time as a head coach, a path that Zimmer helped him forge, when the Cardinals and Vikings spent two days practicing together ahead of Saturday’s third preseason game. Gannon downplayed the nostalgia of going back to the North Star State with Zimmer (who was fired after the 2021 season) no longer there, but his impact hasn’t been lost on those who worked for Zimmer.

Each of the seven — Gannon, Petzing, Rodriguez, Marcus, defensive coordinator Nick Rallis, linebackers coach Sam Siefkes and tight ends coach Ben Steele — has their own unique Zimmer experience. It didn’t matter what side of the ball they coached on, even if Zimmer was a defensive-minded coach.

What he taught his coaches has stuck, whether it was Steele learning how to combat Zimmer’s various exotic looks and schemes, Rallis finding out how to prepare for an opponent or Petzing having a front-row seat to how Zimmer ran a team.

“Saw him manage easy situations, tough situations, both with players and staff, and was always really impressed with him,” Petzing said. “So it had a big impact on who I am as a coach.”

Rodriguez sees Zimmer’s influence on the Cardinals’ staff “all over the attention to detail.”

He saw Zimmer switch to a different, intense mode when he walked into the Vikings’ facility. Rodriguez recognizes that now with his coworkers in Arizona.

Steele said Zimmer was a defensive innovator — “the magician behind the screen, kind of thing.” He sees Zimmer’s defensive philosophies and emphasis on discipline all over the Cardinals’ defense, although they don’t show in exactly the same ways.

Siefkes, who was essentially Zimmer’s right-hand man as a defensive quality control coach before becoming the assistant linebackers coach, saw Zimmer as an ever-evolving coach, always trying to grow and learn regardless of his age or experience.

In Gannon, Siefkes sees the product of watching a master at work for four years. Gannon first worked with Zimmer in 2007, when Zimmer was the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator, and was brought to Minnesota by Zimmer in 2014 as the assistant defensive backs coach.

“I think J.G. definitely has his own personality,” Steele said. “The accountability and discipline part of him as a head coach, and so many young coaches are falling into this mode of being a players’ coach. Not to say Coach Zim was not, but he was, first and foremost, ‘We’re gonna play disciplined football and we’re not gonna necessarily let guys get by from not toeing the line and letting the standard be the standard.’”

Steele saw that in Gannon from their first day working together. When Zimmer’s disciples are on the field, they can hear their former boss in their head.

Siefkes thinks about all the coaching cues Zimmer taught him. Rodriguez thought about Zimmer last season, when he was the defensive line coach at Arizona State, and the Sun Devils needed a call on third-and-12 with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter against Stanford. Rodriguez remembered Zimmer telling him to run a certain blitz in that exact situation. ASU dialed it up and got a sack.

“He was right,” Rodriguez said. “Zim was right again.

“His fingerprints are all over.”

Under Zimmer in Minnesota is where Gannon and Petzing became close friends as young assistants doing the grunt work of checking scripts and doing breakdowns. It’s where Rallis was molded into the defensive mind that helped him land a coordinator’s job before he hit 30.

Zimmer is who they all have in common and who they, in some ways, can thank for bringing them all together in Arizona.

“You know what? It’s kind of like a fraternity,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a fraternity of guys who know how to do right and guys who know how to treat this game right because one of the things that Zim demands is you do have to love the game and you do have to show it through your work.

“It’s not really one of the things that’s negotiable.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *