Zimmer was the defensive coordinator at WSU from 1989-93 under Mike Price, leaving behind two legacies — the Palouse Posse defense, and the inspiration for what has become the “Cougar Chomp.”
RENTON — The question caused Mike Zimmer to pause.
“It was 30 years ago,’’ Zimmer said of his stint as the defensive coordinator at Washington State University. “Maybe it’s more than that even.’’
Zimmer was just a little off.
Now the coach of the Minnesota Vikings, who host the Seahawks on Sunday, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator at WSU from 1989-93 under Mike Price.
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Zimmer left after the 1993 season for a spot on the staff of the Dallas Cowboys, where, two years later, he won a Super Bowl ring and started down the road to his current job.
But he didn’t leave WSU before also leaving behind two indelible legacies — the Palouse Posse defense, and the inspiration for what has become the “Cougar Chomp,” the rhythmic hand clap, performed in unison by WSU fans to the tune of the “Jaws” theme, that accompanies key defensive possessions.
“That was his idea,” said Price, who was WSU’s coach from 1989-2002. “He put that in.”
As Price recalls it, Zimmer felt the WSU defense needed a little pick-me-up one day and showed them a piranha he had in his office gobbling up some goldfish.
“It was just something to get the defense going,’’ Price recalled, before laughing. “I think all the fish ended up dying.”
But not before giving life to the Cougar Chomp.
The defense hardly needed inspiration by the time Zimmer left. In 1994, the bulk of the defense he left behind turned into maybe the best in school history, allowing fewer points than any team in the nation — 11 per game.
“The big memories at Washington State were about when I got there, they weren’t very good defensively and we kind of turned it around,” Zimmer said this week.
Zimmer, a native of Peoria, Ill., also coached for Price, 69, at Weber State before both went to Pullman, and Price said he always knew Zimmer had a bright coaching future.
“He just tells it straight out,’’ Price said. “He’s very honest, very straightforward, and the players just respond to him.’’
After stints as the defensive coordinator with the Cowboys, Falcons and Bengals, Zimmer got his first head-coaching shot in 2014 with the Vikings at age 57.
The Adrian Peterson saga — the running back was suspended for all but one game after pleading no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless assault for the manner in which he disciplined his 4-year-old son — contributed to a 7-9 record in 2014.
But the seeds of this season’s breakout were sown with a defense that went from being the worst in the NFL in 2013 to allowing nine points fewer per game in 2014.
The Vikings are even better defensively this season, allowing just 17.6 points per game, second in the NFL, en route to an 8-3 record.
Though some of what they do is different, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says the Vikings’ overall philosophy — a strong running game and a stingy defense — mirrors that of the Seahawks.
“We’re going to see a team in the Vikings that has a real similar formula to us,” Carroll said.
“They run the ball, they play good defense, they’re focused on their special-teams stuff. They don’t turn the ball over much. They take the ball away pretty well. There’s a lot of really cool things that match this thing up.’’
That’s no surprise to Price, who is retired and splits his time between El Paso (he coached UTEP from 2004-12) and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and says he spends most Sundays rooting for Zimmer and the Vikings.
Zimmer’s son, Adam, is the Vikings’ linebackers coach; Minnesota’s defensive-line coach is Andre Patterson, who coached the same position at WSU in 1992-93 under Zimmer and Price.
“I learned a lot of things from (Price), obviously about coaching, but also about the way you treat people and just really all kinds of things,” Mike Zimmer said. “ … We had great players back then. It was a lot of fun to be there.”