Now, Zimmerman will get a chance to apply what he learned on the collegiate level as the new coach at Mount Vernon Presbyterian.
Zimmerman replaces Reggie Burnette, who resigned in February — soon after being arrested Jan. 29 in an east Cobb subdivision for allegedly exposing himself to an adult female.
He was introduced to the school community at the Men of Mount Vernon meeting Thursday.
It will be the first head coaching job for Zimmerman, who served as the defensive coordinator at Fellowship Christian this past season after his three-year stint at Georgia State.
“It’s exciting,” Zimmerman said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity that I wake up every day and I’m shocked that it’s been bestowed on me, because I stepped on Mount Vernon’s campus and I was blown away by how dynamic the school is and the direction the school is going in.”
For Zimmerman, the school itself was as much of a selling point for him as its football program.
“I had been on the campus of Mount Vernon and seen the exterior of Mount Vernon and just to think that they’re building a great campus there in Sandy Springs,” Zimmerman said. “But, once I actually walked into the school and saw the mindset that [Head of School] Dr. [Brett] Jacobsen had and the rest of the school have in training and creating global leaders, that, to me, might be the biggest selling point.
“Because, in my coaching career, I do want to be known as someone who works to create great people and I feel the opportunity of Mount Vernon is just so attractive to someone like me.”
Zimmerman inherits a Mount Vernon team that went 2-8 in its first year in GHSA after moving over from GISA.
“We’re a young team,” Zimmerman said. “We haven’t had a lot of success yet. It’s a young program, just coming from GISA this last year to GHSA. I think there were growing pains in the program as a whole. I think we have some talented players in high school, but we don’t have enough players.
“We need to do a great job of running the halls and getting guys and bringing them on board to play with us. What [athletic director Mark] Heiser has already put into place in the middle school program and lower school program just makes this job a gold mine in the long term.”
Zimmerman was among about 200 applicants for the job, and then was one of the 20 who made the initial cut and was one of four finalists who were brought in for interviews.
“We had an extensive search,” Heiser said. “It was a great applicant pool and we knew we would hire somebody good. But, obviously, the most important factor is that they needed to fit into our community and really be a part of the community once they got here. So, we were looking for someone that was A, a great, experienced football coach, and B, a guy who understood the values of what we were about as a school and would be able to adhere to that and run a program, run a true football program.
“It’s important for me, as an athletic director, to have a great football program. We don’t have to win a state championship every year, but we need to be competitive. We need somebody who’s going to be a leader of the program, to be the face of the program and there’s no doubt in my mind that Ryan Zimmerman fits all that.”
Zimmerman, a native of Gainesville, played linebacker at West Hall High School — where he graduated in 1999 — before his playing career was cut short with a torn ACL in his senior year.
He began his coaching career as an assistant at West Hall from, 1999 to 2002, while attending Piedmont College in Demorest.
After graduating from Piedmont in ’04, he served as an assistant coach at East Hall in ’05 before leaving the coaching ranks to establish a career in the investment banking field as well as helping out with a number of family owned businesses in Gainesville.
While pursuing a post-graduate degree at Georgia State — which he eventually discontinued to focus on his coaching career — Zimmerman joined the school’s new football program as it embarked on its second season in ‘09
Coaching linebackers and special teams at Georgia State from ‘09 to ’11 gave Zimmerman a chance to experience the creation of a Division I program up close.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity to be able to build something that, obviously, wasn’t there before,” Zimmerman said. “There were different things you had to think about as far as the structure. It was all open to be created and I think anyone on that staff will tell you, what you can take from that program, is different nuances of ‘Where are we going to practice’ and ‘How are we going to run out on the field.’ — ‘What our traditions are going to be?’ These kinds of things were special and only a handful of guys ever get an opportunity to experience that.”
Zimmerman said he received a valuable education in coaching under Curry, who established himself as one of the top college coaches in the nation during his stints at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky.
“It was a great opportunity to work for a man that truly represents what the legend says about him, about being a high-character guy,” Zimmerman said. “And, he was really that at all times. It was great to have a mentor like that. It was great to develop a relationship like that, especially being a younger coach.
“You see the wrong directions that coaches and people in general make in their lives and so having someone there who had seen all of that, to mentor me as a young coach and make sure I was going in the right direction at all times — I’m so grateful for that.”
Zimmerman moved over before the 2012 season to Fellowship Christian, where he served as defensive coordinator under coach Hunter Chadwick.
“Ryan did a great job at Fellowship,” Chadwick said. “He was headed in the head coaching direction and we are proud that he will lead the Mount Vernon program. His knowledge of the game will be demonstrated quickly to all those he comes in contact with. We hope he has lots of success in the future.”
Now, Zimmerman is focused on getting ready for the 2013 season and continuing the building of the Mount Vernon program.
“We have long-term goals and we have short-term goals,” Zimmerman said. “The short-term goals are to be a consistent program that’s competitive against all of our opponents. I had a chance to watch a lot of film and we’re going to focus on being aggressive, but being very consistent and that’s going to put us in position to have a lot of success against programs that, last year, we might have struggled against. It doesn’t mean we’re always going to come out with the win. But, I believe that as we work into the fall. We’re going to create a level of discipline that will allow us to be consistent against some of the bigger teams.
“We’re going to take our games one game at a time, one play at a time, and build that into our players. I believe, no matter what the record reflects at the end of the season, we should come out of it with a lot of momentum — where we can have a whole offseason to develop our team.”