EAGAN, Minn. — When the Vikings visited the Cincinnati Bengals to open the 2016 preseason with a pair of joint practices and a game, Minnesota Head Coach Mike Zimmer hosted the entire traveling party at Zimmer Ridge Ranch.
The evening nestled in the hills of Northern Kentucky included barbecue catering from Cincinnati's famed Montgomery Inn, skeet shooting, rides on the quads and tours of the home as it neared its completion.
It was an open house — er, ranch? — allowing Zimmer to offer hospitality to people within the organization that offered him a long-sought coaching position.
The evening also provided an opportunity for a reunion with Paul Guenther, who had been an assistant with the Bengals before Zimmer's hire as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator in 2008. Guenther made the trek to those Northern Kentucky hills to spend time catching up with the man he had replaced in 2014 when Minnesota hired Zimmer.
No word on barbecue, but a prolonged reunion is set to begin with Thursday's announcement that Guenther will be joining Minnesota's staff as a senior defensive assistant.
Zimmer and Guenther built quite the relationship, drawing up defensive ideas and unleashing them for six seasons together — some of the most successful years in Bengals history. Now they'll work together with Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinators Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer to prove that 2020 was an injury-and-too-much-rebuilding-without-an-offseason-induced aberration instead of a new norm for the Vikings defense.
"I've worked alongside Paul before and respect his ability to analyze defenses and his innovative techniques," Zimmer said. "Together, we're all going to get the Vikings defense back to the standard we expect."
Guenther brings 18 seasons of NFL coaching experience to the Vikings, including the past three as the defensive coordinator for the Raiders. He helped Las Vegas become the only team to beat Kansas City (with Patrick Mahomes at QB) in 2020 before Super Bowl LV.
Prior to his time with the Raiders, Guenther totaled 13 seasons with the Bengals, helping Cincinnati win four AFC North titles (2005, 2009, 2013 and 2015) and reach the postseason seven times, including a franchise-best five consecutive trips to the playoffs from 2011-15. Guenther began his NFL career in Washington (2002-03) after working in the college ranks.
The Bengals impressed in multiple cumulative NFL rankings during the years that Zimmer and Guenther overlapped (2008-13). Cincinnati ranked fifth in yards allowed per game, seventh in rushing yards allowed per game, fourth in passing yards allowed per game and sixth in points against.