Youth camp reveals softer side of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer

EAGAN, Minn. -- The image of Mike Zimmer laughing and smiling on a football field isn't seen often (if ever) aside from the fleeting moment after a win when the Minnesota Vikings coach allows himself to take a breath before moving on to the next opponent.

Neither is the sight of Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr throwing touchdown passes, or 350 elementary-aged kids running amok on the practice field inside Minnesota's gigantic new team headquarters.

And don't think for a second that you'll ever catch Zimmer trying his best attempt at the "floss" dance after one of his own players scores a touchdown. Moves like that are reserved for a time when the stakes aren't so high and the 61-year-old coach is able to kick back and enjoy himself, surrounded by his three children, a handful of Vikings players and assistant coaches during an event aimed to benefit those his foundation hopes to influence most.

The kids.

Such images serve as a snapshot into Zimmer's second annual free youth football camp for boys and girls in grades 1-8 that took place over the weekend at the Vikings' facility in Eagan. After a successful first year in 2017, the Mike Zimmer Foundation expanded the camp to a two-day affair where over 700 kids received hands-on instruction while learning the fundamentals of football with a lot of fun and games sprinkled in.

One glimpse at the Vikings head coach in action would lead some to believe that Zimmer was having just as much fun as the campers, if not more.

"He smiles a lot more when he's out here," said Zimmer's son Adam, who is also the Vikings' linebackers coach. "I don't see him smile much when he's on the field, normally. It's good. He likes to interact with the kids, and I think it's good for him, too."

"He's acting a little soft today," Barr joked. "I don't really know who I'm seeing today. It's not something I'm used to. It's good. All the points that he gives us, I think they apply across all age groups. He's a good leader of men and leader of children so I think they picked up some qualities of him."

This is where the elder Zimmer gets to cut loose and relax while honoring the person who motivated him and his children to give back and inspire the community's youth: His late wife, Vikki. The Zimmer family's MVP.

Vikki died suddenly at the age of 50 in Oct. 2009 when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati. The Mike Zimmer Foundation was formed to honor the matriarch of the family who spent her free time volunteering at children's hospitals, brought bags of groceries to the homeless and once baked cookies for Zimmer to take to work during Bengals training camp after she told her husband he was being too hard on his players.

"She had a huge heart," Adam Zimmer said. "That's who she was."

Seeing the way her dad's face lit up around the camp's participants revealed a softer side to the Vikings coach that his daughter Corri Zimmer White, the foundation's executive director, gets to see more often than most. Knowing how much seeing him in this environment would have meant to her mother made the weekend hold extra special meaning.

"My mom would've loved to stand out here and watch these kids play and watch my dad interact with them because he's completely different," Corri Zimmer White said.

"The reason why we do it is because Vikki loved kids, loved being around sports, and I think that's a big part of it. It's able to bring all of us together. Even though she's not here, she's still part of it." Mike Zimmer

"I've always joked that he's always been a kid himself. It's just fun. He's out here and he's not worried about winning or losing and all the stress of the job. I think he just really enjoys that it honors my mom as well and it's something that our family can do together. It's a good bond for us."

The defensive-minded coach boasted that he was "all offense" during the camp, making sure to spread the ball around so everyone in his group could be involved. Like Barr, safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Eric Kendricks, Zimmer also got to test his luck under center.

"I saw him get in there and he played quarterback and he threw an interception," Adam Zimmer said. "I told him I'm glad my grandpa wasn't here. He's enjoying himself and getting into the drills."

Even in the carefree environment, the Vikings' head man sometimes found himself reverting back to his tactics as a coach; teaching experiences that were as rewarding for him as those who received instruction from the head coach of their favorite team.

"Some of them get in their stance and they have the wrong foot back," Mike Zimmer said. "I would help them do that, things like that, that maybe they haven't done before."

The importance of education and sports is a pillar of the Mike Zimmer Foundation. This June, the foundation will bestow two to three $10,000 scholarships on outgoing high school senior athletes who have dedicated ample time to their communities.

It's just another way the Zimmer family hopes to honor their late mother by doing things she would have been proud of, strengthening the bond between the Vikings coach and his children and making Vikki's memory live on through their impact in the community.

"The reason why we do it is because Vikki loved kids, loved being around sports, and I think that's a big part of it," Mike Zimmer said. "It's able to bring all of us together. Even though she's not here, she's still part of it."