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Mike Zimmer's authenticity won over Vikings' locker room

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Mike Zimmer had just completed another interview for another head-coaching job, and at long last, the accomplished but perpetually passed over defensive coordinator felt he'd finally nailed it.

"The GM walked me down to the car afterwards and he said, 'Man, the owner loves you,' " Zimmer recalled last week while standing on a platform above the indoor practice field at the Minnesota Vikings' Winter Park training facility. "So I was feeling really good about it. It was a guy I used to work with, too -- he knew me and what I represent.

CHARGERS AT RAIDERS

"Well, they didn't bring me back [for a second interview]. I called and said, 'Tell me why.' He said, 'You didn't tell me your core values.' I'm like, 'My core values? I didn't know this was IBM, you know ... but whatever.' "

Welcome to the unvarnished universe of the most blunt football coach in America. It's quite likely that Zimmer -- who, after finally getting a head-coaching gig before last season, has the 8-4 Vikings in a first-place tie with the NFC North rival Green Bay Packers heading into a "Thursday Night Football" clash with the Arizona Cardinals -- would have fared better in head-coaching interviews with at least six NFL organizations (Rams, Browns, Dolphins, Bucs, Chargers, Titans) and the University of Nebraska had he been a tad more political, but the 59-year-old Peoria, Illinois, native knows no other way.

"I'm guessing he's probably not the best interview, whether that be on TV or in front of some owners," veteran linebacker Chad Greenway said of his head coach, breaking up the sentence with a hearty chuckle. "But I'm just so happy that this organization did a great job of finding him ... and I really think that his personality fits this football team."

Added veteran cornerback Terence Newman, who previously played for Zimmer during stints with the Cowboys and Bengals: "I think probably he's way too blunt in the interview process. If he tells you something, he's not going to hold back, he's not going to bite his tongue. I think for maybe some owners or some GMs who make the decisions, that might have been too much. But definitely him getting a head coaching job was way past overdue."

Zimmer's words may sometimes sting, but his lack of tact hasn't prevented him from being very good at his job. He's not only one of the sport's shrewdest strategists, but he also has a knack for getting players to buy into his teachings -- largely because they don't doubt his authenticity.

"Coach Zimmer doesn't care who you are," said second-year pro Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings' quarterback. "He feels that everyone is equal and no guy is bigger than the next person. To see him get after Adrian [Peterson], it opened some eyes, like you know this guy is for real."

Last May, amid reports that Peterson -- who spent the bulk of the 2014 season on the commissioner's exempt list while facing child-abuse charges -- wanted out of Minnesota, Zimmer declared in a press conference, "He's really got two choices: He can either play for us, or he cannot play." Peterson conceded last week that "initially [those comments] rubbed me the wrong way," provoking a phone call to Zimmer, but the superstar running back has since become one of the coach's staunchest supporters.

"He's definitely a guy that I would take in a dark alley with me," Peterson said. "You want that coach that has your back."

Zimmer certainly doesn't hold back: When Newman, after being released by the Cowboys in March of 2012, paid a free-agent visit to the Bengals, he was called into his former and future defensive coordinator's office.

"He sat me down and was like, 'Your technique is horsecrap.' Well, not in those words ..." Newman recalled. "He was brutally honest -- like, wait, you want to sign me? -- and it wasn't what I wanted to hear. I needed it, though. I didn't play worth a crap that last year in Dallas, and my technique was terrible.

"So I was like, 'Help me fix it. Get me back to right.' And when I signed with Cincinnati, my mindset was that he went out on a limb to get me here, so I've got to do everything in my power to make this the right decision. I can't let him down. And that's the same mentality I brought to Minnesota when I came here this year."

Newman, at 37, has been a key player for a Vikings defense that has performed at a high level, last Sunday's 38-7 thrashing by the Seattle Seahawks notwithstanding.

This continued a somewhat troubling trend: Though in the thick of the playoff mix, the Vikes have yet to register a signature win, a deficiency that Zimmer predictably had no desire to sugarcoat when it was broached last week.

"We probably don't [have one]," Zimmer said, then pointed to the rafters of the practice bubble. "When we hang one of those banners, we'll start having signature wins."

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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