Bud Grant, the stoic, no-nonsense Hall of Famer coach who managed the Minnesota Vikings for 18 years and built a team that went to four Super Bowls and was one of the best of the 1970s, died Saturday at his Bloomington home, Minn He was 95.
The Vikings announced Grant’s death
A man of genius in his private life, Grant often seemed taciturn and aloof at work. Wiry and lean, with a prematurely graying flattop haircut, he looked like an austere field general in an era when many coaches were known for their uncompromising and often theatrical personalities.
In 1967, after a successful 10-year coaching run in Canada, Grant took over an abandoned franchise that had hobbled through the first six seasons of its existence. He quickly built it into a winner, teaming with the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams to dominate the National Football Conference almost into the 1970s.
He had a regular season record of 158-96-5 for a .621 win ratio, the second-highest wins for a Vikings coach. His Vikings won 11 division titles and made it to four Super Bowls but never won; They lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1970, the Miami Dolphins in 1974, the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975, and the Oakland Raiders in 1977.
His teams were led by the famed Purple People Eaters defensive line, led by Alan Page and Carl Eller, and by an offense that included quarterback Fran Tarkenton and running back Chuck Foreman. He was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1969 and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994. Between 1969 and 1976, he won ten or more games seven times.
Grant was popular with his players because, unlike his contemporaries, he rarely shouted. “They start getting yelled at when they’re in little league,” he said of his team. “The ones that make it this far are pretty good at turning it off.”
Back then, the Vikings were playing outdoors in Bloomington, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis, and Grant took advantage of the winter weather to gain home advantage. There he let his team train and play games without gloves or sideline heaters. The players were not enthusiastic, but they understood his reasoning.
And he often trained lightly so his players could save their physical and mental energy for games. Other coaches did two and sometimes three drills a day during camp; Grant got his team together a week later than most, and they rarely fought. If an older player looked tired, they might get a day off.
Grant’s laissez-faire attitude extended into the regular season. He left the office in time to get home for dinner, an abomination in a league full of workaholic overseers. An avid hunter and fisherman from an early age, he got up at 4am, was in a duck blind 20 minutes later, stayed until 7:30 or 7:45, and then went to his office.
“A good coach needs a patient wife, a loyal dog, and a great quarterback, but not necessarily in that order,” Grant wrote in the New York Times in 1984. I happen to have extra time that I didn’t spend with the quarterback.
However, some players viewed Grant as distant and cold. He had a reputation for only telling players what he felt he needed to know, and he didn’t think they needed to know much. For example, some of them learned that they were going to start on a Sunday, not from Grant but from reporters.
“Bud was a coach who didn’t get too close to players, but he was a player’s coach,” Paul Krause, the Vikings’ longtime safety man, wrote in The Times in 1990. “We loved playing for Bud because he knew when it was time for us to work hard but let’s have fun at the same time. The current players miss out on such experiences with their coaches and teammates because the big money has made it a bitter business.”
Unlike the most well-known coaches of his day, including Don Shula, Tom Landry, and Chuck Noll, Grant walked quietly. After the 1983 season, he retired at the age of 56, apparently eager to find out what life was like beyond football.
“I’ve spent every August in training camp since 1951,” he said. “August is a blank. I have absolutely no idea what people are doing in August, but I’m going to find out.”
But after his successor Les Steckel led the team to a disastrous 3-13 finish the next year, the team’s longtime owner Max Winter persuaded Grant to return, offering him a lifetime contract and control of football operations. Grant said he didn’t come back because he missed the coaching or needed the money, but because he wanted to fix the Vikings image he had built over two decades.
After finishing 1985 with a 7-9 record, he retired a second time. He ended his career eighth overall as a coach.
Although Grant retired with the dubious distinction of losing four Super Bowls, he said he had no regrets. “I’m not sure it bothers me as much as it might bother some other people,” he said.
Harry Peter Grant Jr. was born on May 20, 1927 in Superior, Wisconsin, the eldest of six children. His father, a firefighter, trained with the Duluth Eskimos, an early NFL team. His mother, Bernice Evelyn (Kielly) Grant, a homemaker, named her son Buddy Boy to distinguish him from her husband. Over time, the nickname was shortened to Bud.
After contracting polio as a boy, Bud strengthened his legs by shooting baskets and catching passes. In the seventh grade he organized soccer games between the neighborhoods; In high school, he was a football, basketball, and baseball star. Between high school and college he served in the Navy. At Great Lakes Naval Training Station, he played football for Paul Brown and basketball for Weeb Ewbank, both of whom went on to become coaches in the NFL
At the University of Minnesota, Grant was a two-time football All-Big Ten receiver, a two-year baseball star, and a three-year basketball regular. He never finished his studies, instead choosing to pursue a career in sports.
Although Grant was a first-round draft for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1950, he delayed his NFL debut to play for the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA mid-senior year. He played as a backup for two seasons and was part of a title-winning team in his rookie year.
In 1951 he joined the Eagles. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Grant played defensive end as a freshman and became a receiver in his sophomore season. In 1952 he caught 56 passes, the second most in the league.
After a contract dispute, Grant joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League and was the first professional player to exercise his option and transfer to another team. As a receiver and cornerback for the Blue Bombers, he led the Western Conference in pass receptions in three of his four seasons with the team. He intercepted a record five passes in a playoff game.
At 29, Grant was named Winnipeg’s head coach, and in 10 seasons (1957-66) he compiled a 102-56-2 regular-season record and won four Gray Cup championship games. He was voted CFL Coach of the Year in 1965 and was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 1983.
Grant’s wife Pat died in 2009. He is survived by their two daughters, Kathy Fritz and Laurie Tangert, and three sons, Harry (known as Peter), Mike and Dan. Another son, Bruce, died in 2018. He is also survived by a brother, Jack; 20 grandchildren; and 21 great-grandchildren.
In a sport dominated by technocrats and strongmen, Grant showed there was another way to becoming a coach.
“I don’t know Bud can sketch five plays, but for heaven’s sake, does he know people?” Fran Tarkenton was quoted in Bud: The Other Side of the Glacier, a biography written by Bill McGrane and published in 1986. “He excels at leading people and making decisions. He’s where the buck stops.
“There is no committee; there is only Bud. He makes more sense than anyone I know.”