Bud Grant, Vikings coach who built strong teams in the 1970s, dies aged 95

Bud Grant, the stoic and demanding Hall of Fame coach who led the Minnesota Vikings and their powerful Purple People Eaters defense to four Super Bowls in eight years and lost them all, has died. He was 95.

The Vikings announced Mr Grant’s death in a statement on Saturday. No further details were given.

Wearing his signature purple Viking cap and stony demeanor, Mr. Grant’s steely sideline gaze became synonymous with his teams. He led the Vikings from 1967 to 1985, with a year-long hiatus in 1984, on his way to a 158-96-5 record with 11 division championships in 18 seasons. He went 10-12 in the playoffs.

When he retired, Mr. Grant was eighth on the NFL’s all-time winning list.

“The only reason I see a head coach getting credit for something good is that when something’s bad, they get so much blame,” Mr. Grant once said. “The whole secret, I think, is not reacting to either the good or the bad.”

After replacing another Hall of Famer, Norm Van Brocklin, Mr. Grant assembled the revered line of defense dubbed the Purple People Eaters. The line — whose motto was “Meet at the Quarterback” — was complemented by a powerful offense that helped Minnesota reach the 1970 Super Bowl, the last edition of the big game before the AFL and NFL merged.

The heavily favored Vikings lost 23-7 to Kansas City and set the tone for the perceived smaller conference’s infamous streak of title game losses to Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland after the 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons.

“If you want to succeed, maybe surviving is a better word,” said Mr. Grant during his 1994 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. “You have to deal with losing. You die every time you lose, but you have to get over it.”

A keen outdoorsman who spent many offseasons fishing in Alaska or hunting in Arizona, Mr. Grant was also a successful coach in the Canadian Football League, being first inducted into both the CFL and NFL Halls of Fame. During his 10 years in Canada, he won four championships.

Harry Peter Grant Jr. was born on May 20, 1927 in Superior, Wisconsin and was nicknamed Bud by his mother. As a child, he overcame a battle with polio to become a three-sport high school star. He got into the coaching business early after enlisting in 1945, playing on a team at the Great Lakes Naval Station outside of Chicago that was managed by Paul Brown, who later became an NFL Hall of Trustee coach, manager and owner Fame entry.

From there, Mr. Grant played football, basketball, and baseball at the University of Minnesota, a nine-time letterman who was drafted by both the NBA and NFL. He first pursued basketball, playing two seasons for the Minneapolis Lakers and winning a title with them in 1950.

But it was football that Mr. Grant really excelled at, first for the Philadelphia Eagles. In 1952, he finished second in the NFL with 56 receptions and 997 yards before a contract dispute brought him to the CFL in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

After appearing as a two-wayer for the Blue Bombers and once catching five interceptions in a playoff game, he became their coach and guided them to six Gray Cup games – winning the 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962 Title. Mr. Grant won 102 games as a CFL coach.

This piqued the interest of the Vikings, who lured him back across the border in 1967. Starring the likes of Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller, Alan Page, Paul Krause and Ron Yary – all members of the Pro Football Hall of Famers – Mr. Grant led the Vikings to 10 Central Division titles in 11 seasons.

Disciplined to the core and insisting on sharp mental focus, Mr. Grant went so far as to have his players practice standing to attention during the national anthem. He took the Vikings outside to train in the cold winter and banned sideline heaters during games at the Metropolitan Stadium.

On January 10, 2016, when the Vikings hosted the coldest game in franchise history in the first round of the playoffs against Seattle at the varsity outdoor stadium while their building was being constructed, Mr. Grant served as honorary captain.

Strolling out to the pregame coin toss in a Vikings cap and purple short-sleeve polo shirt, he looked ready for a round of golf despite the minus 6 temperatures and minus 25 wind chill.

Mr. Grant retired after the 1983 season and was replaced by Les Steckel, whose fiery approach was the opposite of his quiet predecessor, going 3-13. Mr. Grant returned for a season with a 7-9 finish before longtime offensive coordinator Jerry Burns was promoted to the top job.

Although Mr. Grant was done coaching by then, his influence on his team and his city lingered. Mr. Grant continued to live in the same suburban home he bought when he arrived in 1967, in Bloomington, less than 10 miles from Metropolitan Stadium. He became something of a Viking ambassador in the community, sometimes lending his voice in lobbying to replace the Metrodome where the team played from 1982-2013.

He went on hunting and fishing trips with friends and family as often as possible. On a particularly harrowing hunting visit to Canada in 2015, Grant’s pilot dropped a twin-engine plane safely on its stomach after the landing gear and dashboard instruments failed.

Mr. Grant also showed more of his softer side. At the university’s return to campus football in 2009 at TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers named him and eight other former players honorary captains. His face trembled and his eyes watered as fans cheered his name at the pre-game ceremony.

There were also Mr. Grant’s famous garage sales, where he would sign autographs to those who bought at least $25 worth of his items, including memorabilia from his playing and coaching days and even used outdoor gear. Custom bobbleheads in his likeness were available for purchase for the three-day 2017 event. Mr. Grant sat in a chair outside his house signing for an unbroken line of admirers, some of whom came from overseas to look through the old coach’s things.

The Vikings maintained a spacious office for him at their suburban headquarters and continued to list him as an advisor on all team rosters. Whenever a new coach or manager was hired, Mr. Grant was usually one of the first the Vikings introduced.

When he turned 95 on May 20, 2022, the team arranged a Zoom call for him and several of his former players. Jim Marshall led the group in the virtual “Happy Birthday” singalong.

The survivors include six children; 19 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren as of 2021. His 59-year-old wife, the former Patricia Bellew, died in 2009. A son, Mike Grant, built a powerful football program at Eden Prairie High School, a 15-minute drive from his father’s on home and won 11 state championships in a 22-year span from 1996 to 2017.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/obituaries/2023/03/11/bud-grant-vikings-coach-dies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage Bud Grant, Vikings coach who built strong teams in the 1970s, dies aged 95

Ian Walker

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