Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has a lot of respect for Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, and vice versa.
No wonder: They are kind of the same guy.
Rivera and Zimmer were longtime defensive assistants who had to wait their turn for a head coaching job. But once they got it, each has made the most of it.
Zimmer will bring his undefeated Vikings to Charlotte on Sunday to face the Panthers (1-1) in a Week 3 matchup that could impact playoff positioning three months down the road.
The Vikings made the playoffs last season, Zimmer’s second, and the Panthers are in the midst of the franchise’s most successful stretch in Rivera’s sixth year. Rivera said he’s happy to see Zimmer do well after getting passed over for a number of head coaching vacancies.
“He just worked hard. He went through a lot of the things that I went through. And that’s you’re coming in second place. ‘Well, you’re not sexy,’” Rivera said Friday. “That’s OK. I’ll take the homely ones once in a while. He’s just one of those guys. He’s a hard-working guy that put in the time, as well.”
Rivera interviewed for nine head coaching jobs before the Panthers hired him in 2011. Despite his success as a defensive coordinator in Chicago and San Diego, Rivera was always the bridesmaid.
It was a similar story for Zimmer, who spent 14 years a defensive coordinator for Dallas (2000-06), Atlanta (2007) and Cincinnati (2008-13). Zimmer says he respects coaches such as Rivera who worked their way up the coaching ladder.
“I’m always happy for guys that put in the work and put in the time, that have results and then they get the opportunity as opposed to a guy who is the new hot young guy,” Zimmer said in a conference call with Charlotte reporters. “I think I have a respect for people that try to do things the right way. I don’t think Ron was a big politician and neither was I. I think it’s good when people get promotions based on what they’ve done.”
There are a lot of coaching ties that connect the Panthers and Vikings.
Rivera and secondary coach Steve Wilks worked under Minnesota offensive coordinator Norv Turner in San Diego. Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner was the Panthers’ offensive quality control coach in 2011.
His cousin, Cameron Turner, is Carolina’s assistant receivers coach after spending two years in Minnesota in 2011-12.
“It’s probably like a little bit of a rivalry game,” Zimmer said of the familiarity of the staffs. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Ron Rivera and what he’s done. Defensively, Sean McDermott does a fantastic (job). ... It’s good to have friends, but when you’re playing on Sunday, you don’t have any.”
Rivera says McDermott falls into the same “bucket” as Zimmer – a successful coordinator who is biding his time. McDermott has interviewed for three head coaching positions in recent years, including at Cleveland and Tampa Bay this year.