Vikings: Bud Grant, legendary coach, dies at 95

Obit Bud Grant Football
Minnesota Vikings coach bud Grant holds up chart containing Dallas Cowboys' offensive plays during NFL football practice in Minneapolis, Dec. 29, 1977. Grant, the stoic and demanding Hall of Fame coach who took the Minnesota Vikings and their mighty Purple People Eaters defense to four Super Bowls in eight years and lost all of them, has died. He was 95.
Larry Salzman | AP

Updated: March 12, 9:02 p.m. | Posted: March 11, 8:20 p.m.

Bud Grant, the legendary Minnesota Vikings head coach who brought four teams to the Super Bowl, died Saturday morning at age 95, the team said in a statement.

Grant was the Vikings head coach from 1967-1983 and in 1985. According to team records, he had an NFL regular season coaching record of 158-96-5. His Vikings teams played in Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX, XI, losing all four.

With such stars as Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller, Alan Page, Paul Krause and Ron Yary — all Pro Football Hall of Famers — Grant led the Vikings to 10 Central Division crowns in 11 seasons.

Grant was the first person to be elected to both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame. He coached in the Canadian league prior to joining the Vikings.

Overall, as a football coach he won 290 football games over 28 seasons, the Vikings said.

Born May 20, 1927, in Superior, Wis., Grant became a multi-letter athlete at the University of Minnesota, according to his NFL Hall of Fame profile. He was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, but Grant chose instead to play first for the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA. He played two years with the Lakers, winning an NBA title in 1950.

Joining the Eagles in 1951, he played defense as a rookie and then became the No. 2 pass receiver in the NFL with 56 catches in 1952, according to his hall of fame biography.

Obit Bud Grant Football
Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant breaks into a rare on-field smile as he heads toward the dressing room with linebacker Matt Blair after Minnesota's last-second 28-23 victory over the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game in Bloomington, Minn., Dec. 14, 1980.
AP Photo | File

As Vikings coach, he was famous for his stoic demeanor and steely gaze as well as for his opposition to heaters on the field sidelines. He required his players to practice outside during the winter so they'd become acclimated to the cold.

Chuck Foreman was drafted by the Vikings in 1973 – coming from the University of Miami. Early in the winter of his first season, he remembers Grant holding him back when the rest of the team headed inside.

“He says, ‘hey, come over here, let me talk to you a minute.’ And he starts throwing the football,” Foreman told MPR News. “I’m like, why’s he throwing the football at me? I’m throwing it harder and he’s throwing it harder and I’m getting keyed off.”

By the time Foreman got back to the locker room, he was a little annoyed – why hold him back just to toss a football around? But one of his teammates explained it to him.

“He said, ‘don’t you know what he was doing? He was getting you ready. He was concerned that you came from Miami and we’re about to play in 30 below zero.’ He did simple, little things that you didn’t know that he was doing,” Foreman said. “Bud was very strict, he was very meticulous, he was very fair, he expected a lot, you know, and that's all you can ask for in a coach.”

Team General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in a statement that he was “fortunate to have been able to spend the last year getting to know Bud Grant. He was one of the most innovative, talented and wise people in the history of the NFL. His commitment to diversity, while not talked about enough, was ahead of his time and provided so much opportunity for others.”

Head coach Kevin O’Connell said in the same statement released by the Vikings that Grant took time to guide him.

“Bud was one of the first people to warmly greet me when I walked through the doors of this facility. I didn’t realize at the time I would be so blessed to build a close friendship with him over the next year. Bud was gracious with his time, meeting in his office weekly to discuss football and life. I will forever cherish those conversations because they made me a better coach, a better husband and father and a better person,” O’Connell said.

Former Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen tweeted about the news, saying “Love you Bud, so thankful for every conversation we have had over the years!”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Tim Walz also praised Grant on Twitter. Klobuchar called him a “beloved coach and a dedicated outdoorsman” and Walz said the coach “made a generational impact on Minnesota sports.”

“There are so many adjectives appropriate to describe Coach Bud Grant: legendary, determined, successful. Underneath his outwardly stoic demeanor that some misunderstood as a coldness laid the warm heart of a man who truly loved his players and the sport of football,” Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said.

In an interview with MPR News, Grant remembered joining the team in 1967.

"I knew the players enough to know that the Vikings had a pretty good nucleus of a football team,” Grant told host Gary Eichten. “I knew that's a good place to start and just some additions and we could be in contention. So I just didn't take it as an ego trip or for more money. I took it only because I knew we could have a good opportunity to win."

Bud Grant
Former Vikings coach Bud Grant blows his whistle for the last time at the Metrodome.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

After replacing another Hall of Famer, Norm Van Brocklin, Grant assembled the revered defensive line dubbed the Purple People Eaters. The line — whose motto was “Meet at the quarterback” — was joined by a powerful offense that helped Minnesota reach the Super Bowl in 1970, the final edition of the big game before the AFL-NFL merger.

The heavily favored Vikings fell 23-7 to Kansas City, setting a tone for the infamous run of title game losses to Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland from the perceived lesser conference following the 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons.

“If you’re going to succeed, survive is maybe a better word,” Grant said during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in 1994 in Canton, Ohio. “You’ve got to handle losing. You die every time you lose, but you’ve got to get over it.”

Grant in the 1990s became one of the most prominent opponents to a hunting and fishing pact between the state of Minnesota and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe allowing Native people exclusively to net and spearfish on Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota’s iconic walleye lake.

The United States Supreme Court sided with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe treaty rights in a 1999 ruling.

In the 1997 interview with MPR News, Grant said he had no regrets about becoming the public face of opposition on the matter despite the criticism and a death threat he said came his way.

"I've been called all kinds of names for a lot of things, mostly because I didn't kick a field goal and cover the point spreads or … didn’t win an office pool or something,” he said. “For lots of reasons why, you got to be a little thick-skinned to be in, you know, in the public life and in athletics, or whatever it is."

Grant also stayed close to the team after retiring, keeping an office at the team headquarters in Eden Prairie and later in Eagan.

And he was there when the Vikings played their last outdoor game in 2016 against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs.

Grant walked onto the field at what was then called TCF Bank Stadium in short sleeves in below zero temperatures for the coin toss, sending a message that thrilled the crowd and echoing the toughness he and his teams first became known for decades ago.

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