In 2003 the Nebraska Cornhuskers were looking for a head coach and decided Mike Zimmer should be that man. For reasons I'm not completely clear about, Zimmer turned the job down.
He continued working with the Dallas Cowboys under then coach Bill Parcells and showed himself a versatile coach. He always ran the 4-3 defense, most notably under previous Dallas coach Dave Campo, but when Parcells came aboard, he wanted to run the 3-4.
And Zimmer did that with little trouble. Parcells retained him as the defensive coordinator which says something of Zimmer's versatility and the respect he commanded. When Parcells departed Dallas in 2007, Zimmer also left.
He went to Atlanta under Bobby Petrino. Yeah, that didn't last. Petrino literally quit on the team before the season was over and the entire coaching staff was left hanging.
The Bengals hired Zimmer in 2008 to be their defensive coordinator.
To sum up how Cincinnati players feel about Zimmer, all I have to say is that players gave him the game ball when he coached the week his wife passed in October of 2009. The Bengals beat the Ravens 17-14 that week.
Zimmer backs his players and he doesn't mind doing it in the face of apparent pressure. In the preseason after the Bengals' defense laid an egg against Detroit in a 34-3 loss, Zimmer was disappointed and upset. But a day after the game, after watching film, he was put on the spot by owner Mike Brown about the unit.
In that tough moment Zimmer put himself on the line and told the owner something he probably didn't expect to hear: He told Brown he believed in his players and promised they'd be pretty good in 2011, which hardly seemed possible at the time.
The Bengals, despite the defection of cornerback Jonathan Joseph, did just fine. They were ninth in the NFL in points allowed this season. (The Dolphins were tied for sixth, which makes you wonder why Mike Nolan isn't being interviewed but that's another matter.)
So now Zimmer, at age 55, is on the head coaching radar. He's reportedly interviewing with the Dolphins on Tuesday and is also expected to interview other places this week. His dream to become a head coach is alive.
"It's still alive, but sometimes you get frustrated over the course of time,'' Zimmer told Sports Illustrated recently. ""I go back and think about what they said about Tony Dungy and guys like that. You kind of wonder sometimes, like what else can I do? What does it take? You wonder why some guys get interviewed or get a job over you, but you just end up going with it, and still keep hoping for that opportunity to run your own team.
"All I can do is say, 'Here's what I've done, this is my track record, and this is my reputation as a coach.' I'm a coach who can get a good nucleus of guys and make them into a good team, I think."