EAGAN, Minn. — In the year before Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota, the Vikings defense was among the worst units in the league. Actually, they were probably the worst defense in all of football.
The unit ranked dead last in points allowed per game (30.0) in 2013, was 31st in yards allowed per game (397.6) and gave up 23 first downs per game, which tied for the second-most in the NFL. Minnesota also stopped its opponents just 44.16 percent of the time on third downs, which ranked 30th.
In the six seasons since Zimmer has been the Vikings Head Coach, those statistics have been slashed, as the defensive mastermind has helped make the Vikings defense a unit that opposing teams have feared.
Even opposing quarterbacks aren't afraid to admit the admiration for what Zimmer has done with the Vikings.
"I have a ton of respect for Mike Zimmer, what he's done in this league," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said before a Week 2 meeting in 2019. "I love his demeanor. I have a lot of respect for him and the way that he and his staff have gone about their business over the years."
Now, with Friday’s news that the Vikings and Zimmer have agreed to a three-year contract extension, the head coach is poised to continue helping the franchise chase its first Super Bowl trophy.
Zimmer, of course, has a Super Bowl ring from his time as a Cowboys assistant in the mid-1990s.
But he made it clear when we chatted in his office in the summer of 2016 that just one ring wasn't good enough, especially since he now wants to win one as a head coach.
"The thing you realize is how hard it is. Once you win, you want to do it again," Zimmer said then at Winter Park. "But you know all the ups and downs you have to go through throughout the season in order to get to that point.
"You realize just how difficult it is," he added. "And I haven't been back since."
Zimmer's tenure in Minnesota has been marked by more success than failure, even though he knows all about those ups and downs he referenced.
While he's led the Vikings to double-digit wins in half of his six seasons so far, he has also endured some tough times.
Remember that he's dealt with plenty of circumstances out of his control, whether it was a missed field goal in the postseason, Teddy Bridgewater's freak knee injury or the tragic and sudden passing of Tony Sparano, his friend and coaching confidant, on July 22, 2018.
But through it all, he has compiled a 57-38-1 record and also has a pair of playoff wins to go with two NFC North titles (2015 and 2017) and three total playoff appearances (2015, 2017 and 2019). The Vikings are 2-3 in the playoffs under Zimmer.
With Zimmer getting a multi-year extension, the focus now turns to the 2020 season and beyond.
There's a chance that Zimmer could face his biggest test as a defensive coach this season. He will try to incorporate a handful of fresh faces on defense, including new starters at cornerback — a position that Zimmer is known for developing and molding young players.
The talent is certainly still there on the defensive side of the ball with the likes of Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris all returning from a year ago.
But Zimmer is a prideful coach, and he will take it upon himself to make sure the unit doesn't fall below his own high standards.
Offensively, the Vikings have an essence of continuity on that side of the ball, something that has been lacking at times under Zimmer's watch. The unit, led by Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook, is now a veteran-laden group that has the potential to take another step forward in 2020.
As he enters his seventh season (and beyond) in Minnesota, Zimmer isn't going to change who he is. He wants his teams to play tough defense, run the ball, win in the trenches and not commit costly penalties.
That makeup of his teams are usually reflections of Zimmer's own personality — gruff, demanding and always reveling in the underdog role.
The 2020 Vikings could fit into that mold just perfectly, something Zimmer would embrace just fine.
And now that he and the Vikings have agreed on a multi-year contract extension, Zimmer's entire focus can now be on leading the franchise to a place they have never been before.
View photos of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer who signed a 3-year contract extension with the team.