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NFL: HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ could be in Vikings’ future

MINNEAPOLIS — Before he finally became an NFL head coach, Mike Zimmer already had become a bit of a celebrity. He can thank HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ for that.

Zimmer, entering his first season as Vikings coach, was on the NFL reality TV show in three of its first eight seasons — as Dallas’ defensive coordinator in 2002 and Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator in 2009 and 2013.

“Zim was a big star,” said Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson, a Bengals player in 2009. “People loved what he brought to the entertainment world, with how he never shied away from anything.”

Zimmer’s popularity stemmed from his no-nonsense approach and salty language. “Everybody talked about him as the most-cussing coach,” Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said.

After the announcement Thursday that the Atlanta Falcons will be featured on “Hard Knocks” at this summer’s training camp, Zimmer reflected on his experiences with the show.

“I didn’t try to be a star, really; I just was who I am,” he said. “They can actually portray you any way they want to, because they film all day long. So I don’t know — maybe they just liked me.”

Zimmer soon discovered a lot more football fans liked him, or at least knew who he was.

“I would be out of town and (people would) say, ‘I saw you on “Hard Knocks” ’ and this and that,” Zimmer said. “So, yeah, I guess it’s like all the reality shows.”

Could Zimmer be back on “Hard Knocks” as a head coach? He said he could be open to the Vikings doing it one day.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to it if our organization … discussed it and we all decided to do it,” he said. “It was actually a very good experience for (his previous teams). … I think you have to be the right kind of team; you have to have guys that are more concerned about working instead of being celebrities.

“The people (doing the show) are very professional, and I think all the people at NFL Films are. And it’s really great for the fans.”

As for Ponder, he doesn’t think it would be so great. His preference is to never be on “Hard Knocks,” which gives cameramen nearly unrestricted access at training camp.

“You’ve got so much going on during training camp already; it’s hard to have cameras around and then just doing all those interviews all the time,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of the guys that have done it. They did like some things, but they said at the end of the day, when it’s 9 o’clock and you’re tired and you’ve got to do an interview, it gets pretty tough.”

In addition to Simpson, Minnesota players who have been with teams featured on “Hard Knocks” include guard Vlad Ducasse, a New York Jets rookie in 2010, and guard Josh Samuda, a Miami rookie in 2012.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Simpson, who was in playing his second NFL season in 2009. “We had some entertaining people there with Chad (Johnson and others), so it was definitely good TV. People want to see football.

“But I could see how some coaches really wouldn’t want to do it, because it can become a distraction, especially when you’ve got to discipline a team.”

Getting on players while on camera, though, never was an issue for Zimmer. Simpson said he was “great for ratings for TV.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.