The profession of coaching, with its long hours and frequent travel, has a way of severely limiting the amount of quality time a person can spend with family.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer knows the strain well after missing countless holidays, birthdays, school functions and other celebrations during his 34 years on the sideline.
But this season promises to be different.
On Feb. 5, the Bengals hired Adam Zimmer, Mike’s 29-year-old son, as an assistant defensive backs coach, and during the last four months the two have spent more time together than they have in the eight years since Adam broke into the NFL as an assistant linebackers coach with the New Orleans Saints.
“It’s been really good,” Mike said. “We spent a lot of time with football, obviously here, but then we’ll go out and have dinner and stuff like that. It’s good for my family for him to be here.”
Mike’s oldest daughter Marki, 26, also moved to Cincinnati, and he is expecting his youngest daughter Corri, 23, to spend a lot of time in town as well after graduating from Texas State.
“They all worry about me a little bit,” Mike said.
That’s because it’s been less than four years since Mike’s wife Vicki died suddenly at the age of 50 in October 2009. Devastated by the news, the family grieved together before eventually returning to their lives, spread out across the country.
While Mike and the Bengals were making a run to the playoffs, Adam and the Saints were on their way to winning Super Bowl XLIV.
“It was a heck of a run,” Adam said. “The best part was celebrating on the field afterward. My sisters came down to the field and my dad was on the field and we’ve got some great pictures. It was an ‘Everything is going to be all right’ type of atmosphere.”
The following season Adam took a job as an assistant linebackers coach in Kansas City, where he would experience tragedy again in 2012. In December linebacker Jovan Belcher committed suicide at the team facility after killing his girlfriend. One month later, Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel got fired, along with Zimmer and the rest of the staff.
“It really feels like I’ve seen everything in eight years of coaching,” Adam said. “Won the Super Bowl, went 2-14, we played in the Hall of Fame game, we’ve coached in the Pro Bowl, we’ve coached in London, just about everywhere you can coach. I’ve seen a lot.”
As Adam was contemplating his future following the purge in Kansas City, longtime Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson retired and was replaced by assistant defensive backs coach Hue Jackson, leaving an opening on the staff in the secondary.
And after purposely looking for jobs away from his father his entire career, Adam flew in for an interview with the Bengals.
“I didn’t want to be that guy that was just there because my dad was there,” he said. “I’ve been on staffs where that was the case, and they had no credentials to be a coach but they followed their dad around from here to here to here. I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I wanted to learn how to do things my way, kind of get my own personality as coach before I got on the same staff with him.”
Adam knew Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and many of the assistants and players from coming to town for primetime games and bye weeks, and also from spending time with them during the Senior Bowl each year.
It’s all made for a smooth transition on the field, even as Adam learns how to coach a new position group.
And being close to his dad and Marki has helped make life easier during his free time away from the stadium.
“I don’t know a lot of people here in Cincinnati, so I can call up my dad or my sister and go to lunch or just go hang out,” he said. “I know Corri’s going to be up here a ton because she’s the biggest Bengals fan there is. She probably owns more (gear) than is in the pro shop.”
One trip to town Corri is expected to make will come in December, when Mike will get to celebrate Christmas with all three of his kids for the first time in nine years.
“It’s good,” he said. “I get to spend a lot of time with them. We do a lot of things together. I think it’s good to have family around.”