Happy birthday, Bud! Today former Vikings Head Coach/Legend Bud Grant turns 95. And of the 10 head coaches in Minnesota Vikings history, he remains the most accomplished. But is he the best?
SPOILER ALERT, yes, yes he is the best. Here are the Vikings Head Coaches, ranked.
12. Les Steckel
It’s hard for a Vietnam veteran to out-PTSD himself, but that’s exactly what Les Steckel did as a head coach. Max Winter and Mike Lynn probably thought they found their very own Sean McVay in the 38-year-old Steckel. What they got was the worst record in team history and the reanimated corpse of Bud Grant back in 1985. At least they got
Bernie Kosar Chris Doleman out of it.
Fun facts about Les: he was the Titans OC when Tennessee lost to the Rams in Super Bowl 34. He now coaches quarterbacks for a Division III college football program in Kentucky, which seems about right.
11. Getting hit by a car
There are actually quite a few terrible things that are still better than Les Steckel is at coaching.
10. Leslie Frazier
This guy just reminds me that the Vikings could have had Mike Tomlin as their head coach. Tomlin’s departure vaulted Frazier to DC under Brad Childress in 2007. For some reason, anyone in the general orbit of the 1985 Bears gets labeled a defensive mastermind.
Hell, I could call a good defense with Pat and Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, and Antoine Winfield. But isn’t it interesting how Leslie Frazier just happened to be nearby when Childress got fired. And look at him now, the coordinator for a Buffalo Bills defense that is similarly stacked. FOOL ME ONCE, LESLIE.
9. Norm Van Brocklin
Van Brocklin only took the expansion Vikings job as a fuck-you to the Philadelphia Eagles (which, I mean, good, same). But that also meant we were his second choice, so fuck him. His .369 winning percentage is the worst in team history, aside from Les Steckel. But unlike Steckel, Van Brocklin stuck around for six seasons—as many as Jerry Burns, and more than Mike Tice, Brad Childress, and Leslie Frazier. It says more about the perpetual ineptitude of the Vikings franchise that Van Brocklin NEVER EVEN GOT FIRED.
He only resigned because he got so sick of Fran Tarkenton scrambling from the pocket. Then, incredibly, the Vikings also got rid of Tarkenton, trading him to the Giants. Only this team could be gifted the winning side of a coach-quarterback feud and still leave empty-handed (Note: Tarkenton did return, and the Vikings drafted Ron Yary and Ed White with the Giants’ picks).
8. Kevin O’Connell
Vikings coaches are so mediocre that KOC, who has yet to run a training camp, ranks eighth. Already we’re drooling over his innovative approach. DALVIN COOK OUT WIDE?! TV AT PRACTICE?!?!?! KOC will be top five before the bye week.
7. Mike Zimmer
Recency bias in full effect here, but fuck this guy. It’s no surprise now that before becoming head coach Zimmer toiled for YEARS as an assistant. Early in the season before he came to Minnesota, Zimmer’s Bengals defense beat the Patriots 13-6. Zimmer got the game ball. They played that game in a monsoon, without Rob Gronkowski, but no, IT WAS ZIM’S DOUBLE A-GAP BLITZ THAT DID IT.
Everyone kneels before Zim’s crazy blitz packages, but every 12-year-old who’s ever played Madden does the same goddamn thing.
Marvin Lewis and the Bengals absolutely erased whatever winning culture Zimmer absorbed as a Cowboys coach in the mid-90s. His Bengals stench never washed off.
A Zimmer Mount Rushmore would be the faces of Blown Leads, Close Losses, Bad Game Plans, and Slow Starts. The only reason we got a Minneapolis Miracle was because his defense couldn’t hold a 17-0 lead. And god, that NFC Championship disaster.
Besides big games and his left eye, Zimmer also lost a seemingly record number of offensive coordinators.
Besides being a deliberate saboteur of his own offense, Zimmer is a raging asshole. Only Norv Turner could tolerate him for more than a season. After that, offensive coordinator was a revolving door: Shurmur, DeFilippo, Stefanski, Kubiak… Kubiak.
Zimmer poisoned the special teams, too. Blair Walsh, Daniel Carlson, Dan Bailey. These men were (in Carlson’s case is), at points in their careers, Pro Bowl kickers. They are now shadows of their former selves, or absolutely KILLING it for another team. This is the Minnesota way.
6. Brad Childress
Putting Chilly ahead of Zim—controversial? Maybe. But they both went to an NFC Championship game, and the 2009 Vikings fared …better, at least?
In Childress, the Vikings plucked another guy from Andy Reid’s Coaching Tree who sucks, which is hard to do. Chilly even did everything he could to LOOK like Andy Reid, short of making a Jared Leto-esque commitment to cheeseburgers. Chilly’s teams did improve year over year. He started 6-10, then 8-8, 10-6, and 12-4.
The Vikings sold Childress as an offensive guru, but his “kick-ass offense” failed to deliver. Who’d have guessed Brooks Bollinger and Tarvaris Jackson throwing to Travis Taylor and Troy Williamson (with check-downs to Naufahu Tahi and Jeff Dugan) wouldn’t work?
The Wilf’s dreaded “Triangle of Authority,” whose influence peaked during Chilly’s tenure, was to blame for the retched roster. A young Rick Spielman, Rob Brzezinski, and head coach essentially split GM duties. Their draft results reflected this chaos, with the exception of Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, and Phil Loadholt.
None of Childress’s seasons would be remotely noteworthy had Green Bay not forced Brett Favre into our open arms. Childress was so desperate to land Favre that he drove to the airport an picked him up. Favre dragged the Vikings to within a game of the Super Bowl, but Chilly was there too, riding sidecar.
5. Bud Grant 1985
Like Wonder Woman 1984, the Bud Grant sequel also sucked. We did this. We dragged him from his cabin and made him play football indoors. I’m stunned he didn’t disintegrate the moment his feet touched the AstroTurf. Bud turned Les Steckel’s dumpster fire into a 7-9 team all while struggling to breathe the Metrodome air. Make a movie about that miracle.
4. Jerry Burns
Obligatory RIP. I’m disappointed that someone this painfully average is in the Vikings Ring of Honor. “Bernsie” was a shitty college coach at Iowa before he got GOAT cred from Vince Lombardi. Burns was a positional coach for Green Bay’s first two Super Bowl titles. That is reason enough to hate him, but Bud Grant thought better of it, making Burns his offensive coordinator. Burns stayed on through the dark days of Les Steckel, and through Grant’s 1985 return, too.
Burns won only one division title, but had a winning record, which earns an automatic spot in the top five. Despite his record, Burns is best remembered for saying “fuck” 18 times during a four-minute press conference after an overtime win. There’s nothing more Minnesotan than a room full of local reporters being absolutely TICKLED by someone saying swear words. THAT’S BERNSIE FOR YA, HE’S A STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ LOOSE CANON, THAT GUY.
3. Mike Tice
This poor bastard just flew too close to the sun. Tice is a solid O-line coach whose only fault was being the only guy left standing after Dennis Green got fired. DC Emmitt Thomas took a job with the Falcons. OC Sherman Lewis took two years off. Willie Shaw, Tice’s fellow assistant head coach, just straight up retired. That left Tice, who must’ve impressed Red McCombs enough in a Week 17 loss to win the job.
The Vikings of the early aughts were considerably talented on the offensive side of the ball. Despite that, and being a Player’s Coach (i.e., lovable idiot) Tice never rallied his players to a winning record. In four seasons he finished 32-33, and 1-1 in the playoffs. That playoff win was a doozy, though. A 31-17 victory over the Packers in the 2004 NFC Wild Card (Joe Buck’s favorite TD celebration). Tice’s signature loss? That devastating season finale against Arizona the previous year.
Mike Tice will always be remembered more for off-field shenanigans than on-field performance. He famously scalped his allotment of Super Bowl tickets in 2004 and received a $100,000 fine from the NFL, followed by the Loveboat Scandal in 2005.
Tice wasn’t actually on the boat, but you can’t convince me he wasn’t the inspiration for Rob Riggle as Captain Jack on The Office (S2 E11). Twenty Vikings were arrested under Tice, which was pretty on brand for the Vikings at that point, as they tied the Bengals for most arrests from 2000-2013.
If you want a good barometer of how Dan Campbell will fare in Detroit, look to Tice, who was essentially Campbell with less cocaine and fewer steroid injections. I mean, Tice definitely did some steroids. Forehead ridges don’t lie.
Tice discovered Twitter a few years ago, which is excellent. Definitely worth a follow. He clearly loves Minnesota, the Vikings, and he absolutely roasted Mike Zimmer for losing to the Lions, a team that Tice, unlike Mike Zimmer, managed to sweep every year.
2. Dennis Green
Denny Green will always be my Vikings coach. The same way that Michael Keaton will always be my Batman and John Paul II will always be my Pope, Denny is just the first coach I remember. Not only that, Denny was fucking great. His voice sounded like a gas-powered string trimmer and he made the fucking playoffs.
I was dumb enough as a kid to think that making the playoffs was normal. That’s just what Dennis Green’s teams did, 8 out of 10 seasons. Dennis Green’s teams also lost in the first round or wildly disappointed in Championship games. But Green’s Vikings were fun to watch, even with a menagerie of average/aged quarterbacks—Jim McMahon, Sean Salisbury, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Todd Bouman, Jay Fiedler, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Bubby Brister, Dante Culpepper. And even though he was never a GM, he had the sense to draft Randy Moss in 1998, which almost makes up for a decade of truly terrible drafts.
1. Bud Grant
The GOAT. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bud Grant was a finalist for the Vikings’ Head Coach search this year. Maybe we could cryogenically freeze him as a backup plan in case Kevin O’Connell doesn’t work out. He’d probably like that, actually.
Putting Bud Grant on this list is honestly unfair to the other coaches. Even if O’Connell wins a Super Bowl in Minnesota there’s a good chance Grant stays at the top. In 17 seasons (1967 to 1983) Grant had four Super Bowl appearances, 10 playoff wins and 11 division titles. Vikings coaches since have zero Super Bowl berths, 11 playoff wins, and 10 division titles combined. And even though he was born a dirty Wisconsinite, Grant chose to play for the Gophers over the Badgers, thereby and absolving him of past sins and becoming One Of Us. Kevin O’Connell could host 1,000 Vikings garage sales and he’d still be an Appalachian-SoCal interloper.
Bud will outlive his fellow Vikings coaches, too—KOC included. For years we’ve marveled at Tom Brady’s longevity—the pliability, the diet, the TB12 Method. But Bud Grant is 95 fucking years old and was a professional two-sport athlete before he became a coaching legend. I would subsist solely on venison and Grain Belt if he told me to. I like to imagine Bud in his TCO office, throwing darts at photos of the other men on this list, washing down Walleye filets with Ensure. The man is an immortal Norse god, which should at the very least entitle him to publish his own lifestyle-slash-cookbook. The BG95 Method. Happy birthday, Bud.