EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer wasn't the one to draft Chad Greenway, but he's saying goodbye now to the type of player he would have hand-selected.
Zimmer was just one of 77 people that Greenway thanked during his retirement press conference on Wednesday. The two have spent three seasons together, since Zimmer joined the Vikings in 2014, and Greenway credits the coach for his success during that time.
The journey wasn't always an easy one.
Greenway felt like he was back at square one when Zimmer took the reins, but his competitive nature welcomed the challenge.
"When Zimmer came in, the whole defense changed," Greenway recalled. "Everything was thrown off that I'd known for eight years, and his mentality's completely different [than previous coaches] – for a linebacker, how you take on blocks, what they're asking you to do, it's just completely different."
After 116 games, including four playoff appearances, Greenway was re-invigorated by the new approach and new system that accompanied Zimmer, whom the Vikings hired three days after Greenway's 31st birthday.
With Zimmer, what you see is what you get.
"He was going to be a hard ass from the jump, and he had a lot of expectations," Greenway said. "And in some ways, I think that at that point I needed that.
"I felt … that I needed to have the best offseason I'd had in eight years," Greenway added. "I had to have the best approach, the best mentality. I needed to get in the playbook."
The former linebacker recalled the Vikings first day of organized team activities under Zimmer.
"It was like you're a kid again," Greenway said. "It's like you're 22 years old coming in from college, and you're just trying to make the team. You're trying to impress everybody.
"The morning of our first OTA, it was a sprint," he continued. "Everybody was running; everybody's heads were spinning, we didn't know how to line up […] just chaos. I can remember thinking like I was 21 years old, like I had never played football before."
Through all his levels of playing football, Greenway will tell you he's never had a coach quite like Zimmer. The first time Zimmer yelled at him for being six inches off his mark, Greenway didn't know how to respond.
It's an attitude he quickly appreciated.
"He has this intensity that's rare," Greenway said. "He has colorful language, but he uses it well. He uses it in terms of – you find out later – to motivate you, to make you better, to be on point and to do your job."
Greenway is grateful for the younger Zimmer, as well.
Adam Zimmer joined his father's coaching staff in 2014 as the Vikings linebackers coach. While most coaches are older than the players they're directing, Adam is 366 days younger than Greenway.
Adam received some good-natured ribbing from Greenway during his retirement announcement, but he also received a lot of respect. Greenway said the position coach handled the age difference "so graciously."
"He only chewed [me out] once a day, rather than three," Greenway quipped before adding, "But it was so fun to play for him because he was learning just as much as we were."
Greenway continued: "He let me lead that room. He let me be the captain of that room, and I certainly appreciated that."
Under the direction of both Zimmers, Greenway adapted his playing style and played a revised role not only on the field but in the locker room.
"I got to learn so much about defense," Greenway said. "I learned more about defense the last three years than I knew my entire life, and that's the truth. It has been fun to kind of change your game and understanding of the game you've known for so long in such a short period of time."
As he transitioned from being the every-down player that he had previously been, Greenway found an opportunity to become an even stronger leader for his teammates – a value he said he observed from his own mentors such as Jim Kleinsasser, Steve Hutchinson and Ben Leber.
Zimmer, during Greenway's press conference Wednesday, thanked him for assuming responsibility of that role and taking it seriously.
"Chad, for the three years that I've been here, has been a tremendous help to me, to this team, to this organization," Zimmer said. "Any time I had any kind of message with this football team or the organization, he was always there to sell it and help in any way possible. He was a guy I could lean on an awful lot in the locker room. A guy I would come in and talk to a lot about things going on throughout the course of the football team.
"Like I've said before, I wish I would've had him when he was younger," Zimmer added with a chuckle. "Actually, when we were both younger, right?"
Zimmer's message from the podium meant a lot to Greenway, who didn't think he would have drawn the coach's attention early on in his playing career.
"I love the fact that I was able to kind of become the player that he wanted," Greenway said. "Even though I wasn't one that he probably would have picked out of the draft."
As Greenway hangs up that purple No. 52 jersey, he's grateful for the time he spent with Zimmer and confident he's leaving his teammates in good hands.
"He is one hell of a football coach," Greenway said. "He's the right coach for this football team and our organization. I'm so excited that he's here. I'm so happy that I got a chance to play for him. It was truly an honor."