15. Bud Grant: Model of consistency
Vikings fixture created winning legacy despite falling short of ultimate prize
No. 15 - Bud Grant
ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
GREATEST COACHES IN NFL HISTORY
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Counting down to the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth on June 11, 2013, we selected the top 20 coaches of all time, as chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of ESPN analysts and writers.
We've also traced the NFL's evolution with 14 extensive features on the league's most significant coaching trees.
In all, we've profiled 175 coaches in more than 50,000 words, a colossal project befitting the greatest coaches in NFL history.
Harry Peter Grant Jr., called Bud by his mother to avoid confusion in the house, knew how to win football games, on both sides of the northern border. He is the first person inducted into both the CFL Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 28 seasons as a head coach in Canada and with the Minnesota Vikings, Grant's teams reached the playoffs 20 times, played in 10 championship games and won four championships. The biggest knock against Grant is that none of those titles came in the NFL.
After graduating from high school in Superior, Wis., Grant joined the Navy during World War II. At Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago, Grant played on a football team coached by Paul Brown, who would become one of the NFL's greatest coaches.
Grant later attended the University of Minnesota, where he won nine letters in three sports (football, basketball and baseball), before being drafted by the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers and the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. He chose basketball at first and was a member of the Lakers' 1949-50 championship team. After two NBA seasons, during which he averaged 2.6 points per game, Grant changed sports and played both sides of the ball for two seasons with the Eagles. He caught 56 passes for 997 yards and seven touchdowns in 1952 then left to play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
He was one of the CFL's top receivers for four seasons, making such an impression with his on-field adjustments that he was offered the head-coaching position in 1957. It was a smart move by the Blue Bombers, who would advance to six Grey Cups -- winning four -- in Grant's 10 seasons as head coach.
In 1967, the Vikings lured Grant back to Minnesota, where his calm demeanor and purple baseball cap would be a fixture on the sideline for 18 of the next 19 seasons. The Vikings hadn't reached the playoffs and had finished over .500 only once since they joined the NFL in 1961. They went 3-8-3 in Grant's first season, and then everything changed.
The Vikings went 8-6 in 1968 to win the division and make their first playoff appearance. But that was just the start. In 1969, they won the NFL championship and advanced to Super Bowl IV, which they lost 23-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the first of what would be many near misses for Grant.
Starting in 1973, the Vikings went to the Super Bowl three times in four years, but each time, they came up short. Minnesota reached the NFC Championship Game in 1977, but that turned out to be Grant's last, best chance. He took the Vikings to the playoffs two more times but never advanced beyond the second round again.
Grant retired after the 1983 season but made a one-year return in '85 after the Vikings had gone 3-13 under Les Steckel. When Grant was finished for good, only seven coaches had won more games.
-- Kevin Stone
GRANT THROUGH THE EYES OF A PLAYER: PAUL KRAUSE
Bud Grant knew how to pick people. 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. And 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.
When I first came to Minnesota from the Redskins [in 1968], he didn't talk to me for the first couple days I was there. That's because he knew what I could and couldn't do, which was good enough for him. That's the thing about Bud. He could tolerate a player missing a tackle or making some other kind of physical mistake. But he hated mental mistakes.
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.
But Bud also knew how to enjoy life. He would go hunting with the guys. When we went to training camp, we'd have bocce ball tournaments, and he would be my teammate. I know he liked that because he made good money with me as his partner. But that's also one more example of how football wasn't everything for Bud. It was about building a person and having a family.
We were very close in those years, and we had great football teams. I played 12 seasons for the Vikings, and we won the Central Division 10 times. Yes, we went to four Super Bowls and got beat, but that's life. Bud taught you that losing those games wasn't the end of the world. And I played against a lot of guys in my career who all said the same thing: "I would've loved to have played for your coach."
-- Former Vikings defensive back and Hall of Famer Paul Krause, as told to Jeffri Chadiha
ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.
GREATEST COACHES IN NFL HISTORY
ESPN lists the top 20 coaches of all time and examines the most influential coaching trees.