EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Mike Zimmer, meet Mike Zimmer.
The Minnesota Vikings saw enough during a tryout earlier this month to bring second-year linebacker Mike Zimmer to camp this season. And Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says it has nothing to do with the linebacker’s name or background.
The coach and the player are not related. But in an uncanny coincidence, they both have the same name and both went to college at Illinois State.
“It’s been funny because all through college some of the old Illinois State people have told me about him,” the linebacker said with a smile on Thursday after practice. “It’s tough because I can’t even Google myself. Other than that it’s been a real pleasure working with coach. He’s such a great defensive mind. It’s been really nice.”
Mike Zimmer the player graduated from Illinois State in 2013 and spent the preseason last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Vikings, who are in need of depth at linebacker, brought him in for a tryout a couple of weeks ago to get a closer look.
Zimmer, the first-year head coach who played defensive back in his college days, grinned when he was asked if the sky is the limit for a player named Mike Zimmer with an education from Illinois State.
“I don’t know,” the coach said. “Illinois State is a good school so I don’t want to be negative on that, so we will see.”
Mike Zimmer the linebacker led the Redbirds in tackles as a senior and had 4½ sacks.
“He’s a good, smart, instinctive player,” the coach said. “He needs an opportunity like everybody else that is here.”
The younger Zimmer, who is 23, said he’s received a few sideways glances and a couple of jokes from his new teammates, but other than that it’s been a smooth transition to Minnesota. He met the coach he’d heard about so often in college for the first time earlier in May and said he feels comfortable with Zimmer’s straight-forward, no-nonsense coaching style.
“He talked a little about how he was athletically at Illinois State,” Zimmer the player said. “He was actually No. 10 and I was No. 9. So it adds to a little of the craziness. He joked a little about it.”
All the fun and games are done now. As a free agent with little pro experience, Zimmer is a long shot to make the team. If he does find a way onto the team out of training camp, he will be one step closer to stepping out of his coach’s shadow and becoming the most famous Mike Zimmer to ever come out of Illinois State.
“That might be tough, with coach,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not really worried about that. Just keep working hard every day.”
There’s no way a coach named Mike Zimmer could cut a player named Mike Zimmer, is there?
“Hey, they will cut me,” the coach cracked. “I’m not worried about cutting him.”
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