As the Cowboys search for their next defensive coordinator, one of the biggest names among the candidates is the vastly experienced Mike Zimmer. With a long history in Dallas, plus several years working against Mike McCarthy in the NFC North, Zimmer feels like the favorite based on his relationships with the decision-makers.
After three successful years with the Cowboys, Dan Quinn has moved on to become Washington’s head coach. He’s also taking Joe Whitt Jr., the leading internal candidate to replace him, to be his defensive coordinator. So unless a position coach like Aden Durde or Al Harris is going to make a surprising jump into a bigger chair, it feels like we’re headed to an outside hire. But going outside, at least in one case, doesn’t mean you have to talk to a stranger.
The 67-year-old Zimmer has a rich history with the Cowboys organization. He was pulled into Barry Switzer’s first staff in 1994 as an assistant, helping Dallas win their last Super Bowl the following year, and worked his way up the ranks to defensive back coach and eventually coordinator. Zimmer’s value was evident enough for him to survive the change from Switzer to Chain Gailey in 1998, and then Dave Campo promoted Zimmer to his old job of defensive coordinator when he became Dallas’ head coach in 2000.
Even when Bill Parcells arrived in 2003, bringing some big changes with him, Zimmer survived the transition and adapted to coaching a 3-4 defense. He remained coordinator until 2007, when Wade Phillips came in and wanted heavy control on that side of the ball. In total, Zimmer spent 13 years with the Cowboys.
After a brief stop in Atlanta and then six years as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator, Zimmer became head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. For the next five seasons, his team would battle Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers for dominance in the NFC North. The Vikings won two division titles during that span and had a 5-4-1 record against Green Bay before McCarthy was fired near the end of 2018.
Comparatively, outside of his recent stint in the NFC East with the Commanders and some time as the Eagles’ linebackers coach from 1999-2003, there is little connecting candidate Ron Rivera to the Cowboys or McCarthy. While he was the Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator at one time, his last season there was McCarthy’s first in Green Bay. He’s spent most of his recent history with the Carolina Panthers.
While the decision facing Dallas this week will come to many factors, the Cowboys organization is known for leaning on familiarity and past relationships. No candidate they interview will be able to touch Mike Zimmer in that area. Between that and his proven ability to adapt over decades of experience, he feels like the favorite to become the team’s next defensive coordinator.