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Bud Grant, 94, Not Big on Exercise


Bud Grant turned 94 years old on May 20. Awhile ago I interviewed the legendary former Minnesota Vikings head coach who was a superb athlete at the University of Minnesota and after his college career played in the NFL and the NBA.

Grant on living a long life: “The main thing is you gotta have the right parents. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t swear. I don’t believe in a lot of exercise. I think you wear yourself out.”

Grant is still enjoying life including family, who all live near his Bloomington home. “I’ve got 19 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren, and they all live within a half hour of my house. They didn’t go very far. They didn’t want to get very far from their mother.”

Bud Grant (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings.)

Grant’s devoted wife Pat passed away in 2009 from Parkinson’s. Nine years later he lost son Bruce to brain cancer. Grant can occupy a lot of his time attending activities of the younger members of his clan, but he sets limits. The kids are involved with baseball, hockey, soccer and the like. “I don’t go to all those little league games. A lot of grandparents do all that. I’ve done enough practices (games). I don’t have to do that anymore.”

At 94 Grant’s mind is sharp, but his body has limitations. ” I enjoy my lifestyle. I got a place on the lake (in Wisconsin). I fish and hunt; (but) not as much as I used to because my mobility isn’t as good. I can’t go chasing pheasants across a plowed field anymore but I hunt things that come to me. I sit in a deer stand. I call turkeys. I call ducks and things that come to me. Now is that hunting? Well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s shooting instead of hunting. I am not traipsing through the woods anymore.

“Same with fishing. I used to be a trout fisherman, wade down streams. Well, I can’t do that anymore but I can fish out of a boat. I can fish through the ice. I can do things that don’t require the mobility that I used to have.

“But I also enjoy good health except for my aging and body. I am stooped. I got a sore back now and then. I am not as mobile as I used to be, but I am interested (in things) and…I really enjoy doing nothing now days.”

Grant is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Canadian Football Hall of Fame because of his coaching career. He was the first person ever to achieve that distinction. He coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for 10 seasons, winning four CFL titles. He led the Vikings for 18 seasons, establishing the franchise as an NFL power that went to four Super Bowls.

For those who have known Grant, his success is no surprise. Minneapolis sports columnist Sid Hartman, who knew Grant for more than 70 years, used to say his calm and poised friend had more common sense than anyone he ever knew. Hartman was Grant’s presenter at his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 1994, and sometimes the target of Bud’s practical jokes.

Although Grant had a reputation for being cold and calculating during his coaching career, he was a prankster behind the scenes. That sense of humor and how to use it made an impression on Pete Carroll, a Vikings assistant coach who worked for Grant in 1985. Carroll, who has gone on to become a college national championship coach and Super Bowl winning coach, writes of his admiration for Grant in his book, Win Forever.

Carroll said Grant “…taught me more about the art of coaching, leadership, and the importance of observing human behavior than any graduate class ever could.” He observed how Grant had “…an awareness of the signals people give off and understood how to use that information to spur them to play at their best possible level.”

Carroll was struck by Grant’s extraordinary intuition and ability to foresee what could happen in football. In the book Carroll writes about the Vikings preparing for an opponent that had been winning games with ease. Grant told his team that if the game was close in the fourth quarter, the Vikings could win because the other team would tighten up, not accustomed to last minute pressure. Then late in the game Grant instructed his kicker to kick the ball to “No. 26,” predicting the return man would fumble. He did. The Vikings recovered the football and went on to win the game. “Everyone went berserk (after the fumble recovery) except Bud, who just stood there with a satisfied smile on his face, as calm as ever,” Carroll wrote.

“Whatever you do to be successful, I did it, and I worked harder at it than most coaches that I talked to,” Grant said. He recalled once asking a coach what he was doing that day and learned his rival was in the Bahamas. “I was never down in the Bahamas,” Grant said. “I was out recruiting, or looking, and talking, getting an idea of players, and analyzing.”

Then Grant thought about safety Paul Krause who still holds the NFL career record for most interceptions with 81. “We got him for almost nothing from Washington, but I had seen him play in college and I followed him and I knew him. So we got players that played great for us but were not recognized by other teams. We didn’t have one player who went to another team who had any great success. We didn’t miss on any of those and that was just because we (the coaches) spent a lot of time analyzing the best players.

“I’ve always said this, coaches don’t win football games. Players win football games. Coaches are a dime a dozen. You get all kinds of coaches that know X’s and O’s. You gotta accumulate (players), manage and put them in the right places and recognize their talents. That’s what wins football games, not coaches. Lots of great coaches out there.”

When Grant coached he understood the job entailed more than finding talent and instructing players how to block and tackle.  “I think I could probably pass some kind of test in marital relations and drug therapy. You know all the things we dealt with, and they deal with them today, but they have more people to deal with them. At my desk everyday (it) was who is in some kind (of difficulty). …I had many wives come in and talk to me about what they could do to straighten out their marital life and their financials. There’s so many things we dealt with. Well, now, I don’t know that (head) coaches do that so much because they’ve got so much help.”

NFL teams have three or four times the number of assistant coaches that Grant had when he started out with the Vikings in 1967. They also have almost countless numbers of support staff and interns. In Grant’s first season the coaching staff numbered five.

“We did all the work, and all the film work and everything,” Grant said. “And now, God, you got assistant to the assistant. I don’t know what they all do. I mean you gotta be chairman of the board instead of coach now.”

Grant is too smart and too much in the present to contend players of the past can match those of today. “Today’s football players are better than they were 20 years ago, 40 years ago, however far (back) you want to go. And there are more of them. All those kids aspire to be great football players from the time they are 12 years old. Well, some of them make it. I think if I could make $25 million a year, I’d aspire to it too. …They got better coaching. They’ve got 20 assistant coaches.”

Grant talked of his admiration for one of his greatest players, defensive end Jim Marshall who once held the NFL record for consecutive games at 282. “Jim Marshall is the most overlooked player in terms of recognition,” Grant said. “He played 19 years. He never missed a game. He never missed a practice. Even though he would have certain injuries, his recovery period was very short. Some guys with a twisted ankle, they’re out for three weeks. Jim Marshall came in on Mondays, he could hardly walk but he played on Sunday again.”

The 1985 season was Grant’s last as a head coach. He was only 58 but felt it was time to move on. He and Pat had decided when their last child graduated from college he would put away his whistle.

“Not all your plans work out but one of our plans was we wanted to get all of our kids educated,” Grant said. “I got six kids, they all graduated from college. They all got good jobs, and they have all been successful in their lives. …”

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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