Mark Wilf and Bud Grant (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
Bud Grant checked in at No. 15 overall among the all-time NFL coaches, according to ESPN. His coaching success started in the CFL and transferred to the NFL.
As part of a month-long countdown of the 20 greatest coaches in NFL history, the Old Trapper Bud Grant checked in Tuesday as the 15th greatest head coach of all-time.
Ostensibly surrounding the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi – the presumptive No. 1 selection since the list ends on June 11, which would have been Lombardi’s 100th birthday – the list salutes coaches that were “innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions.”
This list, which began counting down last week, has already included Tony Dungy, Mike Shanahan, Sid Gillman, Marv Levy and Hank Stram before Grant checked in at No. 15.
Listed in his inclusion as the model of consistency, between the CFL and NFL, Grant’s teams made the playoffs in 20 of his 28 seasons. One of the greatest athletes Minnesota ever produced, Grant was drafted by both the Minneapolis Lakers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Grant initially chose to play basketball and was a member of the Lakers’ 1949-50 championship team. After two years in the NBA, Grant played both offense and defense for two years with the Eagles. After leaving Philadelphia, he became one of the Canadian Football League’s top wide receivers with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
When his playing career ended in 1956, he was offered the Winnipeg head coaching job. Over the next 10 years, he advanced to the Grey Cup (the CFL equivalent of the Super Bowl) six times, winning four of them.
Former Vikings co-owner Max Winter wanted Grant to be the first Vikings head coach in 1961, but Grant was enjoying incredible success in the CFL and declined the invitation to coach an expansion team that, in those days, was all but guaranteed to struggle until they were able to draft enough talent to make the team viable.
When he finally acquiesced to Winter’s coaching offers, Grant joined the Vikings in 1967 and the change in the franchise was almost immediate. Within three seasons, the Vikings won their only NFL championship – in the final year the NFL and AFL were separate leagues. It would be the first of four Super Bowls the Vikings would play in and, in the 37 years since, the Vikings haven’t returned to the Super Bowl.
While the Vikings of Grant’s era were defined by the oppressive defenses led by the Purple People Eaters front four, Grant and offensive coordinator Jerry Burns developed what would become known as the West Coast Offense years before Bill Walsh was credited with inventing it.
Former Viking Paul Krause summed up Grant’s greatest skill as being able to identify players that could fit in his system and get their own job done. Great teams crumble when players freelance and don’t fit into the scheme. Grant found players that would fit – even if not viewed as superstar talents – and got the most out of them.
“Bud Grant knew how to pick people,” Krause told ESPN. “A lot of teams will just gather players and they wind up with some who don’t fit what the coach wants. Bud knew what kind of player he wanted at all times. There wasn’t any confusion. He told you how it was, what you were going to do and how he wanted you to perform. If you couldn’t handle that, you were gone.
“In fact, he would rather play a guy with lesser talent who would do what he was supposed to do than somebody who would screw up.”
Known to outsiders as the Great Stone Face because he appeared to be emotionless on the sidelines – if the cameras caught him, you couldn’t tell if the Vikings were winning by 14 points or losing by 14 points – he became beloved to multiple generations of Vikings fans and if there was a Vikings version of Mount Rushmore, the first face to be chiseled in stone would be Grant’s.
When one considers his contribution both as an athlete in two sports and a winning head coach in two leagues, it’s hard not to argue Grant’s inclusion among the all-time greats. The only sad part to his story is that, had his resume included one or two Super Bowl titles, he would have been in the top 10.
The panel that made the selections for ESPN’s top 20 coaches of all-time include former coaches Mike Ditka, Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini, along with ESPN on-air personalities Chris Berman, John Clayton, Suzy Kolber, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Adam Schefter and Ed Werder.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.