Mike Zimmer, Terence Newman have unique player/coach bond

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Mike Zimmer's voice lives in Terence Newman's head.

When the Minnesota Vikings cornerback is backpedaling and his feet are in the wrong spot, Zimmer's words of correction immediately arrive through an internal monologue. When Newman was covering receiver Mike Wallace during a practice last week, and put himself in a position Zimmer didn't like, the coach approached Newman and said, "Why were you doing that?"

The answer came through Zimmer's love for nuance, which by now is so hard-wired into Newman that he can see things develop that the coach won't recognize until he's reviewing film.

"He said, 'Well, he raised up a little bit as he was running down the field,'" Zimmer said. "I said, 'Did you tell Wallace that?' He said, 'Not yet.' I said, 'Make sure you tell him.' I have to replay the tape to see that. He can see it while plays happen."

The player/coach relationship between Zimmer and Newman is like few in the NFL. The two are now in their third stop together, after Newman signed a one-year deal with the Vikings in March to reunite with his defensive coordinator from Dallas and Cincinnati, and they have a history that dates back to Newman's days as a heady rookie, playing for Bill Parcells and learning from a coordinator that would adopt many of the Hall of Famer's mannerisms throughout his own coaching career.

Newman turns 37 on Sept. 4, and has played six of his first 12 NFL seasons for Zimmer. When the former Bengals coordinator was in the running for a head coaching job in 2014, Newman tweeted there was no better candidate in the league. He only wanted to play for Zimmer this season, and if he ever decides to get into coaching, he says, it'd have to be on Zimmer's staff.

A conversation with both men on Tuesday provided a window into the deep respect one has for the other.

"If you could just be in the Hall of Fame for what you've done for teams, he'd be in there for sure," Newman said, as Zimmer turned away and muttered, "Oh, my God."

"That's serious, though," Newman said. "We had a conversation the other day where, a team lines up and he calls out the play. They just line up and he calls out the play -- and they run the play. I've seen him do it countless times. It's just amazing. He knows everything about the game."

The bond between the two men was forged in the Texas heat and the refining fire of Parcells, who made Newman his first draft pick in Dallas and retained Zimmer from predecessor Dave Campo's staff, running Zimmer's 4-3 defense for a year before shifting to his preferred 3-4. Newman -- the fifth pick in the draft out of Kansas State -- was a spitfire as a rookie, and Zimmer saw he could do more with the competitive corner than he could with most rookies. Soon, Zimmer was teaching Newman some of the techniques he'd worked on with Deion Sanders as a defensive backs coach.

Overseeing all of it was Parcells, who even at age 62 was prodding players -- and coaches -- to see how much they could take.

"It was a lot more psychological," Newman said. "He would break you down, and I had no idea what the heck was going on. There was a point where he was getting on somebody, and he asked them, 'Well, if you're going to get all upset at me, and I'm just here talking to you, what's going to happen in the game?' I realized it was more than just him trying to be, for lack of better terms, an a-hole. It goes deeper than that. And he (Zimmer) is kind of the same way -- gets on you, gets on you, but when you do a good job, you get a pat on the shoulder.

Said Zimmer: "I think some of it, you (pick up from Parcells). He had, really, a good way with the players -- he would get after them, but he didn't let it linger. Sometimes, with me, I would let it linger. It would bother me for a couple days. But he was always , whether it was a player or coach, he was poking you with a stick. It was the lion in the cage; he wanted to see what he was going to get out of you. If you back down, then good luck with that. ... There were lots of times where he upset me. But the one thing I noticed about him was, when we'd go back and play the Giants, so many of his players would come back and talk to him, and say, 'Hey, I miss you.' It was pretty special, really -- and I know he didn't treat them differently."

Zimmer carried some of those methods with him to Minnesota, coaching young players hard but letting them know he cared about them off the field. When he parted ways with Cincinnati, Newman wanted a chance to be part of that with Zimmer as a head coach.

"The guys on defense, I talked to a bunch of them when I first got here," Newman said. "(Defensive end) Everson (Griffen) was one of the first guys. He said, 'I don't care what he asks me to do. I love that guy. I'll do whatever it takes to please him.' They had one year together. I think that's throughout the locker room. I understood that it was pretty young over here, and I wanted to help out some of the young guys."

Ask the two to recall their most memorable wins and losses together, and the defeats come to mind much sooner than the victories. The best win?

"Didn't we beat Peyton?" Zimmer asked Newman. "Were you there when we beat Peyton?"

"Oh, yeah," Newman said.

"Manning was (9-0 in 2006)," Zimmer said. "We beat them when they were undefeated." Added Newman: "That was pretty sweet."

And the worst loss?

"Carolina in '03, in the playoffs," Newman said.

"That was a rough one, because we had the No. 1 defense in the league," Zimmer said. "We beat them earlier in the year, too."

Parcells' final game as head coach, when Tony Romo botched a hold on a 19-yard field goal that would have given Dallas a playoff victory, still stings, as does Zimmer's final game in Cincinnati -- a 27-10 loss in the playoffs to the San Diego Chargers, whom the Bengals had beat in California a month earlier.

What stuck with Newman, though, was the fact he and Zimmer are 0-4 in the postseason together. "We don't have a playoff win yet," Newman said, when asked the best-victory question. "So I'll hold off on that one."

Until then, they'll keep going, welded together by a mutual love for an exacting style of work. Even on Tuesday, Zimmer interrupted an answer to a reporter with an aside to Newman -- "That reminds me; I've got a couple things I want you to work on."

After this long, Newman wouldn't have signed up for anything else.

"I don't ever want to do anything to disappoint him," Newman said. "When I play, I try to play to help my teammates out, help the team out. But also, I have a level of respect for him that, I want to be able to do the good things he's coached us to do."