Mike Zimmer embarks on his 24th season at Columbia with eyes of pushing the Lions further up the ladder among the nation’s elite. Zimmer heads into his ninth season as head coach of the heavyweight crew, after previously serving as both the Columbia lightweight and women’s head coach.
Zimmer's success with the heavyweights was highlighted in 2010 after all three Columbia boats finished among the top 12 at the 2010 IRA Regatta. The Lions earned four trophies that season and compiled eight victories over their opponents.
From 2007-09, Columbia’s varsity eight won 15 Cup races, five in each season. The Lions strung together consecutive victories in the first five events of the year in 2009, including a win at the prestigious Childs Cup over Princeton for the first time in 46 years.
Columbia followed that performance up with a second consecutive win at the Blackwell Cup the following week, where it triumphed last season for the first time in 67 years. The Lions also earned a Maxwell Stevenson Cup win for the second straight year after a 45-year hiatus, and finished up the year ranked 11th in the nation.
When Mike Zimmer was named head coach of heavyweight rowing at Columbia in 2005, everything began to look up for the heavyweights. As someone said then, Mike Zimmer will turn the corner with the heavyweights, you just don’t know when.
“When”, it turns out, was the spring of 2008. That’s when Zimmer’s varsity heavyweight eight won five cup races, its most ever. The Lions went on to compile a 10-1 record and make the Grand Finals of both the Eastern Sprints and the IRA National Championship Regatta, the former for the first time since 1955, the latter for the first time in the IRA’s modern format. It had taken four years, but Mike Zimmer’s team truly had turned that corner.
Prior to becoming heavyweight coach, Zimmer had spent eight years as head coach of the Lion women’s crew. Under his direction, the Lions were ranked in the nation’s top twenty each of the final four years, and were considered for a berth in the NCAA Championships in 2004, his final season.
That year was concluded with one of the best showings in the season-ending EAWRC Sprints in Columbia rowing history. The varsity eight made a great move to seize the lead in the Petite Final, while the novice four earned a Sprints medal by finishing third.
The winner of the Petite Final would finish seventh of all the varsity eights in the East’s strongest conference. And Columbia gained that seventh spot. Although the Light Blue varsity eight had made the Petite Final four times in the previous six years, it had never finished higher than fourth in the race.
The previous season had marked another step in the development of the women’s team; it posted a 7-3 record in 2003, its best since the late ‘80s.
Prior to becoming the women’s coach, Zimmer enjoyed six years as head of the Lions’ lightweight men’s team. He was voted lightweight rowing’s EARC Coach of the Year after his 1996 team posted a 10-1 record and earned a bronze medal for third place at the IRA. At the time, it was the lightweights’ best season in their history.
He has vast experience with men’s rowing, much of it with the United States Men’s National Team. Most recently, he guided the U.S. Men’s Lightweight Four to eighth place in the 2005 Nations Cup, the Under-23 World Championships, in Amsterdam. In 2003, he led the U.S. lightweight eight to a silver medal at the 2003 World Championships. The preceding year his lightweight eight won a bronze.
He also served as a coach of the U.S. Under-23 National Team in 2000 and 2001. He led the men’s lightweight four without cox to a fifth place in 2000 and the men’s pair to fourth place and men’s eight to second-place finishes in 2001.
For his efforts that year, Zimmer was selected as rowing’s Developmental Coach of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee’s Coach Recognition Program.
For many years, he coached the New York Athletic Club, which he led to more than 25 national championships and 15 titles at Canadian Henley, winning the Barnes Trophy as the top men’s club three times.
Zimmer was an accomplished lightweight rower at Princeton. His lightweight eight won the collegiate national championship in 1988. He competed in the U.S. National Championships and the Pan American Games Trials, as well as the 1988 Koninklijke Regatta on the Bosbaan in Amsterdam.
Following his 1988 graduation with a degree in English, he taught and coached in Connecticut for a year, and then became freshman lightweight coach at Princeton. His initial college coaching effort resulted in an undefeated season and an Eastern Sprints championship for his first boat, a 6-1 record and third place in the sprints for his second boat, and another third place, in the IRA Regatta, for the Tiger freshman four with coxswain.
Zimmer lives on Morningside Heights, near the Columbia campus.