Jim Souhan analyzes the phenomenon of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s popularity:
Mike Zimmer is becoming so popular that someday he may be able to charge Vikings fans to clean out his garage.
It’s worked for Bud Grant. He holds an annual “garage sale” that is the modern-day equivalent of (Warning: Old-guy reference coming up) Tom Sawyer tricking kids into paying him to paint a fence for him.
Grant and Zimmer are of a like mind, and a like kind. Grant is a Minnesota hero because he wore short sleeves in freezing temps and used a subzero glare as his primary form of communication. Zimmer’s personality is a hybrid of Grant’s bluntness and Jerry Burns’ creative use of blue language.
Ask a Minnesota sports fan what they care about, and they’ll say “championships.” Yet Grant’s image survived four Super Bowl losses, and Zimmer seems to be the most popular Vikings coach since Grant even though he has yet to win a playoff game.
Grant and Zimmer are proof that when it comes to Minnesota sports fans, bluntness is revered above all else.
Zimmer is not a Minnesota native and did not attend a Minnesota college. He had no ties to the state until he took a job here. Anecdotal evidence suggests he’s wildly popular, and yet he has not established that he is one of us.
In our highly-provincial state, where being local is prized above all else, where natives spend most of their time with their former high school or college classmates, how did an outsider who cusses a lot and has yet to win big become so well-liked?
The answer: By not trying.
Minnesotans are highly suspicious of slickness, and salespeople. They mistrusted Norwood Teague long before they had evidence he was evil, because he always sounded as if he was telling people what they wanted to hear.
Minnesotans don’t want to be told what they want to hear. In our state, the best public relations tactic is not sounding as if you’re engaging in public relations.
Zimmer has become popular with Zen PR. By not telling people what they want to hear, he has given them what they want to hear.