Zimmer, 57, coached on the collegiate level for 11 years before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1994. He had stints with the Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals as defensive coordinator.
He was defensive coordinator for the Bengals for the last six seasons, putting together a defense that has consistently ranked among the Top 10, including No. 3 overall in 2013, in several defensive statistical categories. Minnesota was 31st in total defense last season.
There was no mention of the hiring on the Vikings' website late Wednesday but the Bengals' site said Zimmer was headed to Minnesota and named his replacement as defensive coordinator.
Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis lost both of his coordinators this year. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was hired as the Washington Redskins head coach last week. Lewis promoted linebackers coach Paul Guenther to defensive coordinator and running back coach Hue Jackson was made offensive coordinator.
Zimmer replaces Leslie Frazier who was fired Dec. 30. He is the third Vikings head coach since Zygi and Mark Wilf bought the franchise in 2005. The team had six coaches in the previous 44 seasons.
Frazier went 21-32-1 with one playoff appearance in four seasons while leading the Vikings. Minnesota was 5-10-1 in 2013. Frazier has since been hired as defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.