Flashback Friday: Minnesota Vikings hire Bud Grant as head coach 53 years ago

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In the video above, KSTP Sports' Joe Schmit sits down with Hall of Famer Bud Grant to discuss Vince Lombardi, the NFL today compared to when he coached, his wife, love of the outdoors and his family on Feb. 2, 2020. 

The Minnesota Vikings hired Harry (Bud) Grant as their head coach on March 11, 1967. He succeeded the franchise's first head coach, Norm Van Brocklin, who resigned from the team a month earlier.

The Minneapolis Star reported when Grant was hired, he told a staff writer, "We can be a contender in a short while. The Vikings have been going through a growing stage. Now they are ready to assert themselves." 

Grant's statement held true, as the Vikings went on to win the 1969 NFL Championship game (before the AFL-NFL merger the following season) and led the team to four total Super Bowl appearances (1970, 1974, 1975 and 1977). Grant's "Purple-People Eaters" would make the playoffs 12 times, including 9 out of the first 10 seasons he was head coach.

"You know as well as I where we need help but I feel there is a fine nucleus," he said about the team ahead of the 1967 season.

The Superior, Wisconsin native enlisted in the Navy during World War II after he graduated from Superior Central High School in 1945. He went on to be a nine-letterman athlete at the University of Minnesota, where he was a two-time All-Big Ten defensive end in football, a two-year baseball star and a three-year basketball regular, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Grant went on to be drafted in the first round of the 1950 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. However, his pro-football-playing career would be put on hold as he was drafted in the fourth round in the NBA draft by the then-Minneapolis Lakers. There, he played two seasons, winning two championships as a reserve. Sid Hartman, a close friend of Grant and noted columnist for the Star Tribune, was the general manager at the time and may have influenced Grant's decision to remain with the team, according to the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune.

The gridiron would not be ignored by Grant, who retired from the NBA after two seasons. In 1951, Grant turned to pro football with the Eagles. He led the team in sacks (an unofficial statistic at the time) in his first season as a defensive end. In his second pro season, he made the switch to offense as a wide receiver, where he ranked second in the NFL for receiving yards (997). He snagged 56 passes and hauled in seven touchdowns that season.

Above: Bud Grant's journey leading up to the NFL, from starring on the football field at the University of Minnesota, to playing in the NBA with the Minneapolis Lakers, to eventually coaching a four-time champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team in Canada. Photos courtesy of the Star Tribune Archives.

Grant played two seasons in the NFL, then four seasons in the Canadian Football League (CFL) with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. After his tenure as a player, Grant coached the Blue Bombers from 1957 to 1966 before the Vikings gave him a call.

"There were a number of coaches available who probably could have adjusted quicker to the Viking personnel and the NFL," said Jim Finks, then-general manager of Minnesota. "But the deciding factor was Grant's record as a winner at Winnipeg."

Grant's record in Winnipeg was heavily decorated. The Blue Bombers were Grey Cup champions four times (1958-1959, 1961-1962) under Grant and tallied a 102-56-2 record (.644 winning percentage) overall. Although the Vikings went 3-8-3 in Grant's debut season, the team turned it around in his second year, placing first in the NFL Central Division and earning a playoff berth.

Grant's overall record with the Vikings accounted for 158 wins (17th all-time) and a .621 winning percentage (15th all-time with at least 10 years of coaching), according to Pro Football Reference. Grant currently is the franchise's leader in every coaching category, including:

  • Games: 259
  • Wins: 158
  • Winning percentage: .621
  • Playoff games: 22
  • Playoff wins: 10

Since retirement, Grant has focused on hunting, fishing and supporting environmental reforms. He has been a spokesperson against Native American hunting and fishing treaty rights in Minnesota, according to historical archives.

He is still listed as a consultant for the Vikings and maintains an office at the team's headquarters at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.