Bud Grant, stoic coach of powerful Vikings teams, dies at 95

Grant, who was born in Superior, Wis., in 1927, coached the Vikings from 1967-1983, then one last season in 1985, retired with a career record of 158-96-5.

Dignified, steely coach Bud Grant always had a life outside of football
In 1967, Minnesota Vikings General Manager Jim Finks -- formerly in the front office of the CFL's Calgary Stampeders -- hires Bud Grant to replace Norm Van Brocklin as head coach for three years at $108,000.
Donald Black / TNS file photo

ST. PAUL -- Bud Grant, the hall of fame coach who led the Vikings to four Super Bowls and became an icon in Minnesota, died Saturday morning at his home in Bloomington. He was 95.

Before Grant coached the Vikings from 1967-83 and in 1985, he had been a star athlete in football, basketball and baseball at the University of Minnesota, starred in the NFL at wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles and in the Canadian Football League, played for the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA and and won four Grey Cups as a CFL coach. But the no-nonsense, stoic Grant really made his mark with the Vikings, leading them to a 158-96-5 record and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

“It was a life well-lived,’’ said Stu Voigt, a Vikings tight end from 1970-80 under Grant and a radio analyst who hosted Grant’s coach’s show in the early 1980s. “He lived life on his own turns until the end. He was an icon. It was an honor to be close to him.”

Grant’s son, Mike Grant, the football coach at Eden Prairie High School, said his father had begun to feel ill in recent days, and a doctor’s appointment had been scheduled for him for Saturday morning. But Mike Grant said that he collapsed about 9:30 a.m. Saturday and was officially declared dead by paramedics at 10:14 a.m.

Mike Grant said there is no official cause of death and that there won’t be an autopsy, but that his father’s death was related to his heart.


Former Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant leads a "Skol" chant to the fans during a half-time event honoring the 1969 Vikings team during a game against the Oakland Raiders at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. Grant, who coached the Vikings to four Super Bowls and the team's only NFL championship, has died at age 95, the team said Saturday, March 11, 2023.
John Autey / St Paul Pioneer Press file photo

“He was awake and he was up and just had a heart attack,’’ he said. “His heart stopped working. I think it just got wore out. He was not in pain. It could have happened anywhere and he wouldn’t have recovered. Paramedics did everything they could to a point.”

Mike Grant called it a “tough day for everyone.”

“This was not expected,’’ he said. “It was a shocker. We knew at 95, anything can happen. We weren’t naïve. But we were talking with him about when we were going up to the cabin (the family has a place in northern Wisconsin), and he was going to be at the (Minnesota) Deer and Turkey Classic (on Saturday).’’

Grant canceled going to that event on Friday. He also had been planning Thursday night to go to a retirement party for Vikings public relations official Bob Hagan at the Vikings Museum but didn’t end up attending.

“We were blessed to have him for 95 years,’’ said Chuck Foreman, a Vikings running back from 1973-79. “That’s a long time. I actually saw him a couple of weeks ago (at an NFL Alumni event in February at the Omni Vikings Lake Hotel) and he was still sharp. He always was sharp. He had that unique ability. He might have been 95, but he was still making appearances.”

In recent years, Grant had been getting around on a motorized scooter. Mike Grant said it was a case of his “body just failed.”

Grant’s death prompted reactions from all over the sports world. Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement that Grant was “legendary, determined, successful.” The Los Angeles Lakers, who moved from Minneapolis in 1960, put out a statement calling Grant “a legend of multiple sports.”

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf said in a statement that “no single individual more defined the Minnesota Vikings than Bud Grant.” Kevin O’Connell put out a statement in which he talked about having Grant “warmly greet me when I walked through the doors of this facility” when he was named Vikings coach in February 2022.


O’Connell developed a close relationship with Grant, and the two often talked about football. O’Connell told the Pioneer Press shortly before last season he was “just so lucky that he’s so willing to spend those times with me.’’ And Grant joked with the Pioneer Press then that O’Connell is “a good guy, but if he wins a couple of ballgames then he gets to be a better guy.”

Grant, who was born Harold Peter Grant in Superior, Wis., on May 20, 1927, was actually offered the Vikings’ head coaching job when they entered the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1961. However, he turned it down.

In his first season as Winnipeg coach, 30-year-old Bud Grant drew up a play for quarterback Ken Ploen, right. At left is assistant coach Wayne Robinson, a former University of Minnesota center. Grant spent 10 seasons coaching in the CFL, winning four titles.
Star Tribune / file photo / TNS

At the time, Grant was in the midst of a 1957-66 stint as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League in which he won four Grey Cups. He was wary of taking over a first-year team.

“I said, ‘Call me the next time you need a coach,’’’ Grant once said.

The next time came in 1967 when Minnesota’s first coach, Norm Van Brocklin, stepped down after six seasons. Grant then arrived from Canada.

“When he came from the Canadian Football League, the Vikings offered him a five-year contract, but he said, ‘No, I’ll take a three-year contract. If I can’t turn this team around in three years, I probably can’t do it,’’’ said Bobby Bryant, a Vikings cornerback from 1967-80.

Grant sure did turn the Vikings around. He led them to their first playoff berth in 1968 and to Super Bowl appearances after the 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons. Alas, the Vikings lost all four of those games. In his 18 seasons, the Vikings won 11 Central Division titles.

Dignified, steely coach Bud Grant always had a life outside of football
The Minneapolis Lakers sign Bud Grant less than a week after he quit school at Minnesota and he is in uniform for the Christmas Day game versus Fort Wayne.
Minneapolis Star Tribune / TNS file photo

“He brought order to the team after they had disorder and chaos,’’ said hall of fame defensive tackle Alan Page, who played for the Vikings from 1967-78. “He was the key to what we as a team accomplished.”


Grant coached with a stoic face that looked as if it had been frozen by Minnesota winters. He always seemed to be in total control.

“He was an exceptional leader of men,’’ Foreman said. “He told you everything you needed to be successful.”

After his first 17 years as Minnesota’s coach, Grant retired after the 1983 season. But after replacement Les Steckel went a disastrous 3-13 in 1984, Grant returned for one more season in 1985.

Grant remained a visible figure in the community for the next 38 years. In the previous decade, he annually held a garage sale at his Bloomington home where he sold primarily football and outdoors items. He was an avid hunter and fisherman.

Bud Grant with a lake trout he caught in Lake Superior on Aug. 17, 2022.
Dennis Anderson / TNS file photo

“He became so much more than a football coach,’’ said Mike Grant. “After he was done coaching, you would go to a little town with him and he would go in and get a bite to eat and everybody there wanted a piece of him, wanted to shake his hand. He didn’t like the fanfare, but he recognized how they saw him.”

Mike Grant said many of his father’s fans were of an older generation. But a new generation of fans got an idea of what Grant was all about when he attended a Vikings outdoor playoff game at then-named TCF Bank Stadium on Jan. 10, 2016, against Seattle. The temperature was minus-6, but Grant walked out for the coin flip wearing a short-sleeve shirt.

“I thought, ‘What could I do to juice this thing up a little bit?'” Grant had said. “So I took my coat off and put on a short-sleeve shirt. It wasn’t a grandstand play. It was more of an acknowledgment of the weather and this is Minnesota.”

In his later years, Grant regularly attended Vikings events, and his players embraced him. Voigt also was at the NFL Alumni event and said it was a thrill to speak to him for about five minutes.


“He was 95, but it was still unexpected,’’ Page said about Grant’s death. “I thought he was going to live forever. He had a great run.”

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