Mike Zimmer and Rodney Harrison: Hypocrisy Exposed

If any of you have graciously taken the time to read some of my work over the past few years, you’ll know that I haven’t held back in scrutinizing / criticizing Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and team defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on the subject of penalties.

I’ve written multiple pieces on the topic, and repeatedly cited statistics about the number of personal fouls and roughing-the-passer penalties called against Fisher-Williams defenses. Their teams play with an edge, push the boundaries and have crossed the line at times.

This isn’t always the case; in some coaching seasons Fisher and/or Williams had relatively low penalty counts on the rough-stuff penalties. But yeah, the coach and his DC encourage aggression. And it isn’t always easy to control aggression.

Over a 10-season period (2001-2010) in Tennessee, Fisher’s defense had at least 10 personal fouls in all 10 seasons. And in seven of those years the Titans finished among the top 5 in the NFL for most personal fouls. In six of those seasons the Titans were in the top 5 for most roughing penalties. The Titans had the league’s highest roughing-the-passer count for three consecutive seasons (2007-2009) and committed the most personal fouls in a season on three different occasions.

Williams ran the Fisher defense in Tennessee between 1997 and 2000, then moved on to become head coach in Buffalo, with subsequent stops as the defensive coordinator in Washington, Jacksonville and New Orleans. Williams’ defenses were on the chippy side in Buffalo, but did nothing outrageous.

With Williams coordinating the defense in Washington (2004-2007) the Redskins had double-digit personal foul counts in all four seasons, and finished sixth in roughing-QB penalties in two of those years.

During Williams’ raucous three years in New Orleans (2009-2011) the Saints twice finished among the top three for most personal fouls, and had the most roughing-QB penalties in ’11. And of course there was the infamous “Bounty Gate” which resulted in Williams sitting out a one-year league suspension.

(For the record: I admire the way Williams served his time, never complained, and used his season away from the game to take a hard look at himself. Given the NFL’s shaky handling of the Bounty case, and the way some of the Saints were railroaded, it would have been easy for Williams to cast himself as some sort of innocent man, given a raw deal by commissioner Rodger Goodell. But Williams didn’t do that; he owned it and took the hit to his rep without protest. I’m not claiming he’s a “changed man” and all of that. But he is more enlightened.)

I don’t think anyone has ever categorized Fisher and Williams as angels; not unless they’ve been described as angels with dirty faces. So when a seething Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer took some post-game shots at Fisher and Williams after the Vikings’ 21-18 overtime win Sunday, there was at least some basis for his complaints.

The Vikings and their coach were offended by a Lamarcus Joyner elbow to the head — intentional or not — that knocked QB Teddy Bridgewater out of action with a concussion. Joyner was flagged with a personal foul and will draw a fine from the league office.

Of course, Zimmer had a chance to directly confront Fisher with his accusations in their brief post-game excchange, but Zimmer gave Fisher the quick, drive-by handshake and peeled off — saving his rippage of the Rams for his media conference.

Speaking to Vikings flagship station KFAN-AM, Zimmer said, “I agree that it was a cheap shot. His (Williams) defenses are all like that.”

And speaking to reporters after the game, Zimmer threw this out there: “If we were out in the street, we probably would’ve had a fight.”

Naturally, the coach spit out the tough talk about fighting in the streets  after  Fisher and Williams were already off the field, at safe distance, getting ready for the team’s flight home.

There’s only one problem with Zimmer’s little fit  …

The coach declined to look at his own team.

Zimmer apparently has no interest in discussing the Vikings’ elevated penalty count for roughing the quarterback and personal fouls in 2015.

Or perhaps Zimmer was busy or distracted and forgot to look up the numbers.

Yeah, that must be it.

Penalties for Personal Fouls, 2015

Minnesota with 9 … only six NFL teams have more.

St. Louis with 5 … which is tied for 20th.

Penalties for Roughing the Passer, 2015 

Minnesota with  4 … which is tied for third.

St. Louis with 2 … which is tied for 13th.

If you add the two categories together, the Vikings’ defense has 13 “cheap shot” penalties this season compared to 7  by the Rams.

It’s OK for an opposing coach to hold Fisher and Williams accountable and air his grievances.

But not this coach. Not Zimmer.

Naturally, the intense Zimmer was upset by the Bridgewater blow. But before he starts flinging those dirty-play accusations in press conferences and taking cheap shots at Williams,  Zimmer might want to talk to his defensive players about doing a more honorable job of playing a clean game. Zimmer might want to address his defense and demand that the players cut down on their penalized abuse of quarterbacks and stay within the rules instead of being so reckless with personal fouls.

When a coach is in charge of a team that has 13 combined roughing-QB and personal foul infractions, he probably shouldn’t be delivering lectures to the coaches of a team that has only 7 such penalties.

As a longtime NFL defensive coordinator before becoming the Vikings’ head coach in 2014, Zimmer’s defenses showed up plenty of times on the league leader boards for most personal fouls and roughing-the-passer penalties.

In his 14 seasons (total) as the defensive coordinator in Dallas, Atlanta and Cincinnati, Zimmer’s defenses ranked among the league top 10 in personal fouls eight times, and finished in the top 10 for roughing seven times.

This includes two appearances among the top five in personal fouls, and six top-five finishes for roughing the QB.

And now we have the 2015 Vikings, who are among the league’s worst offenders in both categories.

So when Zimmer looks at the Rams and begins carping about their dirty hits on quarterbacks, I guess he qualifies as an expert, because his defenses have a fact-based history of frequent cheap hits on defenseless quarterbacks.

Zimmer’s hypocrisy is amusing.

But the undisputed champion of unmitigated hypocrisy is the one and only Rodney Harrison, the dirtiest player I’ve watched since I began covering and reporting on the NFL in 1982.

As you know, Harrison called out Fisher on NBC Sunday night, taking the coach to task for his teams’ history of dirty play.

This is priceless, coming from a guy that rarely hesitated to go cruising for attacks on a defenseless quarterback or receiver during his NFL career as a safety (1994-2008) with San Diego and New England. Harrison’s victims included Rams quarterback Trent Green during the 1999 preseason. Harrison lunged at Green’s knees, and Green suffered a season-terminating knee injury. (Enter: Kurt Warner.)

There is a reason why Harrison was named the NFL’s “Dirtiest Player” in a poll of league coaches in 2004, 2005 and 2008.

After Harrison “won” the award for the third time, Indianapolis receiver Brandon Stokely said, “I would have bet life savings on that.”

Harrison was suspended by the NFL for his vicious and gratuitous helmet-to-helmet assault on Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice in 2002 — and understand that Harrison’s gutless hit came at a time when NFL players could get away with the kind of filthy stuff that isn’t tolerated now.  So his assault on Rice was especially heinous.

According to multiple media reports, Harrison amassed more than $200,000 in league fines for scuzzy play during his career.

Harrison also produced an impressive exacta: getting suspended for his on-field transgressions and for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

In 2007, Harrison admitted to purchasing HGH (human growth hormone) “more than once” when questioned by the Albany (N.Y.) District Attorney’s office during an investigation of an HGH-peddling ring.

Harrison’s dig at Fisher was business as usual. It’s been his media strategy to change the subject — namely, his chronic habit of harming opponents that couldn’t defend themselves at the point of impact.

Harrison has a history of pointing the finger at others instead, and he has no shame or embarrassment about playing the role of victim.

After Harrison publicly called him a “dirty dude” former Tennessee center Kevin Mawae spoke out in a 2009 interview:

“If Rodney Harrison wants to accuse somebody of being dirty, tell him to look at his 16 years of highlights. I guarantee he got fined more in one year than I have in my entire career.”

On NBC, Harrison accused Fisher of laughing on the sideline during a 2006 game after Harrison suffered a season-ending knee injury on a low hit from Tennessee wide receiver Bobby Wade. Fisher vehemently denied this, and called Harrison a “meathead” on Monday night’s Jeff Fisher Show on 101 ESPN.

In that same 2009 interview, Mawae denied that the Titans were laughing at Harrison.

“Maybe it’s just the way to deflect the attention away from himself,” Mawae said. “I think everybody knows that’s been in this league a long time that he may be the dirtiest guy that’s ever played this game …  I think somebody forgot to tell him that that long wide, three foot white line on the sidelines, we play inside those. He spent a lot of his time playing outside of those.”

Earlier this season Harrison predicted that the Miami Dolphins would attempt to cheap shot New England quarterback Tom Brady to take him out. (They didn’t.)

Also this season, Harrison criticized Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr for a hit on Detroit QB.

Harrison — imagine this — simply wouldn’t tolerate such a cheap shot on an NFL quarterback … yeah, even though Harrison was guilty of many such QB bombing runs in his days as an irresponsible missile-safety.

Harrison said he would have “punched that young guy right in the face” for the “cheap shot” on Stafford.

Barr was penalized for a personal foul.

And just to add some additional humor to this … the same Mike Zimmer that was so high and mighty in criticizing the Rams claimed that Barr’s hit was clean.

Sure, coach. You betcha.

Your players are saints.

A pure as that Minnesota snow.

Speaking a guest on Boston radio station WEEI on Tuesday, Harrison was asked if he’d like to rebut Fisher’s lengthy criticism. Earlier Monday at Rams Park, a prepared Fisher dismissed Harrison by citing Harrison’s prolific penalty count as a player.

Harrison initially begged off, saying “I would love to really go in like I really want to do in my heart and soul but the guys at NBC, the higher-ups told me, ‘Please don’t respond to it,’ so they’re the guys that sign my check.”

But of course, Harrison immediately contradicted himself by responding to Fisher — seconds after saying he wouldn’t respond to Fisher.

“But I will say this, if anybody knows about a dirty hit, it’s me,” Harrison said.

(Rodney should have stopped right there. Finally, some truth.)

“And that’s all it was. It was about addressing the issue,” Harrison continued. “It was a dirty hit (on Bridgewater.) That’s what I said. And I referenced to back what I experienced with his teams and what other players have told me coming from his team, and other people. People around the league know the truth, bottom line. I’m not going to get into any details because I’m just not going to go there. I was asked not to go there. But the bottom line is, if you’ve been in the league, you know the truth.”

Later, Harrison whined, “They always want to bring out the negative. It’s not because I didn’t do it to personally attack (Fisher.) I didn’t do it to evoke a response. I said it because it was in my soul, it was in my spirit and it was something that I experienced, first hand. I knew that it was a dirty hit, what Bobby Wade did to me. I looked up and saw on the sidelines guys laughing and joking, OK?

“(Fisher) can point out all the dirty things that I’ve done or the penalties, but the bottom line is this, you can’t take away what I’ve accomplished in my career. And the funny thing about it, when you play against those type teams, afterward coaches come up to you, ‘Man, I wish I had you on my team. Man, I wish you could bring that physicality with us. We need a guy like you.’ It’s the same coaches. It’s the same coaches on the staff coming to me wishing that I was on their team.”

(Harrison has a point there. Is there any doubt that Coach Fisher loves defensive players that intimidate and rattle opponents with wicked hits?)

True to his nature, Harrison played the victim card on WEEI.

Fortunately, sports-talk radio stations do not use polygraphs during interviews.

“There have been times where I really crossed the line, no doubt about it,” Harrison said. “But there are other times when I felt like I’ve been targeted. When you get a reputation with the NFL, they’re going to look at you, everything single thing you do, from uniform, I’d jog out on the field, ‘Hey Harrison, we’re watching you.’ Man, leave me the hell alone. You’re watching me? We’re in warmups, and you’re telling me. All of sudden, I know that you’re talking about me in New York, so I have no leeway.”

Harrison was targeted?

(Laugh track). 

“At times, I didn’t think it was fair, but I understood,” Harrison said. “It was just one of those situations where I understood that the NFL was after me and they were going to fine me for everything and use me as an example and I was just going to play football. If they take 20, 30-thousand dollars from me, I grew up with nothing, so trust me, whatever I’m making above that, I’m OK.”

There’s no question about that. Despite the more than $200,000 in NFL fines for cheap shots, for all of the legitimate stains on his reputation, for the times he was named the league’s dirtiest player, for all of those instances where he showed no respect for the health and safety of a fellow NFL player, and for his suspension for buying and using HGH …

Harrison retired and was rewarded with a great gig on NBC. He spends Sunday nights in the studio where he gets the chance to take whacks at NFL players and coaches for misconduct that doesn’t come close to matching Harrison’s own history of rotten behavior.

The NFL is truly a special habitat, isn’t it?

As for Fisher, he shouldn’t take offense so easily. His teams aren’t exactly meek.

Zimmer and Harrison weren’t wrong to cite the Fisher-Williams reputation. Sometimes the roughness is necessary.

But given their odious histories, Zimmer and Harrison lack the credibility to deliver sermons on unsportsmanlike conduct.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie