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New Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer 'not trying to reinvent the wheel' in Dallas: 'They've been pretty good'

When Dan Quinn left Dallas to take the head coaching job in Washington, Mike McCarthy needed a new defensive coordinator.

He chose experience when selecting Mike Zimmer, a coach who began his NFL career with the Cowboys as a defensive assistant way back in 1994, and is happy to return to Dallas as defensive coordinator following two seasons spent out of the NFL.

"You always miss football," said Zimmer, who was fired as Vikings head coach after the 2021 season, during his introductory news conference on Wednesday. "You miss coaching. You miss the relationships with the players, relationships with the coaches. I probably needed a little time off, just because of some of the things happening with my family. That was important to me, to take some time to help the rest of my family. ... But at the end of the day, it draws (you) back in.

"My dad was a high school coach for 30-some years, and I've been doing this for a long time. I'm excited to try to get where I can try to help players be better, teams be better and groups to be better. That's what I try to do."

Atop the list of players with whom Zimmer will be working is Cowboys star Micah Parsons, a do-everything linebacker who has morphed into a pass-rushing dynamo capable of wrecking games in just a handful of plays. Naturally, Parsons was the first player about whom Zimmer was asked on Wednesday, but the coordinator didn't make any firm declarations about Parsons' role in his scheme.

The reason: Zimmer wants to collaborate with Parsons and the rest of his players before making promises publicly.

"Obviously, he's a terrific player," Zimmer said. "You watch him on tape and he makes some unbelievably athletic plays.

"One of the strengths I've always had is to look at players, have a vision for each player and try to figure out how we can use them in the best way. One of the things I'd hate to do right now is tell you how I'm thinking about playing him without talking to him. ... I don't think I should tell you guys first before I tell him."

Zimmer isn't arriving as a defensive savior for a woeful Dallas defense. The Cowboys finished fifth in total yards allowed and points allowed per game in 2023, serving as a generally reliable unit that complemented the Cowboys' fifth-ranked offense to propel Dallas to an NFC East title.

The pieces are there. All Zimmer needs to do is pick up where Quinn left off.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here," Zimmer said. "I mean, they've been pretty good."

Pretty good indeed. And after spending the last two years as a consultant at the collegiate level, Zimmer is happy to be back in the NFL in the same place where it all began.

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