CINCINNATI -- Chris Crocker, the Cincinnati Bengals' venerable on-again, off-again retired defensive back, spent parts of the past seven seasons playing for Mike Zimmer, the now former Bengals defensive coordinator who on Wednesday became the Minnesota Vikings' next head coach.
Zimmer was the reason Crocker pulled himself out of retirement the past two seasons and filled in when early-season injuries forced the Bengals to shore up their secondary. Because of that, a still rejuvenated Crocker feels like he owes his career to Zimmer, the 57-year-old who at long last has accepted a head-coaching gig.
So it was a no-brainer to reach out to Crocker on Wednesday to see what he had to say about the opportunity his friend, mentor and coach has waited so long to achieve.
When asked what Vikings players ought to expect when Zimmer officially starts the new job, Crocker said "attitude."
"First and foremost, it's about no nonsense behavior with Zimmer," Crocker said. "It's strictly business when you're around him. He cares about his guys, and he's fair. He holds people accountable. But when those guys meet Zim, they'll see it's definitely about attitude. That team will have attitude. I don't know what all they plan to do or how they'll try to change things, but I know they'll be a tough team."
Crocker first encountered Zimmer in 2007 when the two were in Atlanta for an abysmal 4-12 season that Zimmer tries to pretend never happened. (In 2010 he told writers in Cincinnati that he "never was even there" for the 2007 season because of the way then-Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino -- someone he referred to by three different variations of curse words -- left the team for a college coaching opportunity with three games left.)
A year after that lone dysfunctional season in the Peach State, Zimmer was hired by the Bengals. Crocker, who spent the first part of that season in Miami, came on board when Zimmer stepped up and told the Bengals' staff he thought Crocker could play.
"He took a kid who most people might have thought had a little talent, and turned him into something better," Crocker said. "I didn't put it all together until I got to Cincinnati."
Other Bengals have echoed those sentiments, calling Zimmer an effective teacher and a coach whom they don't want to let down. After a loss or boneheaded play, players would claim they felt like they disappointed Zimmer.
"It's true, that really happens," Crocker said. "It's like when parents get disappointed in their kids. You can feel that with Zim.
"You know, there aren't very many loyalties in this business. It is a business first. But if you play hard and are a good teammate, he goes to bat for you. That's why he has so much respect among players. That's why so many guys want to play for him."
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, a Cincinnati native, has been tracking Zimmer's career since he arrived in town. He was among the first on the team to welcome Zimmer and express excitement about playing for him.
Fired up about Coach Zimmer! As a Cincy kid he's been fun to watch there and can't wait to work with him! Welcome to the @Vikings!
— Kyle Rudolph (@KyleRudolph82) January 15, 2014
According to ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling, Brian Robison said players told general manager Rick Spielman after Leslie Frazier's firing that they wanted a coach who wasn't afraid to show emotion and challenge players when they needed to be.
"From the sounds of it, he's a guy that's very passionate about his job," Robison said. "He will yell and cuss at you if you need it, and at the same time praises you when you deserve it. He sounds like the kind of the opposite of Frazier -- a lot of passion, excitement and emotion."
Robison's absolutely right. Which is why Bengals players such as linebacker Rey Maualuga and cornerback Adam Jones weren't too upset about Zimmer's departure. In fact, they might have been among the most happy tweeters when Wednesday's reports regarding Zimmer first surfaced:
Gonna miss you coach Zimmer! Wish you nothing but the best in Minnesota. You brought out the best (cont) http://t.co/6ytnHtHJ5C
— Rey Maualuga (@maualuga58) January 15, 2014
I told you'll Zimm would be the Head Coach , that was a good move for the Vikings congrats to coach !!!
— ADAm Pacman Jones (@REALPACMAN24) January 15, 2014
Crocker, who is spending the offseason at home in suburban Atlanta with his family, called the day a "bittersweet" one for the city of Cincinnati. He knew there were a lot of people who were sad to see Zimmer go, but he believes many are excited to see him finally realize a career goal.
"He's been through so much in Cincinnati," Crocker said, mentioning the sudden death of Zimmer's wife, Vikki, during the 2009 season. "After that, the city really got behind him. People there really respected him and felt connected to him. Another part of the reason it was so hard for him to actually get another job and leave Cincinnati, to me, was because of that. It was just hard for him to leave because he had all of that outpouring of support from the city.
"He'll be sorely missed."
Cincinnati's loss will be the Twin Cities' gain.