Bud Grant, the Hall of Fame coach who led the Minnesota Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances, has died at the age of 95, the Vikings announced Saturday.
In Grant’s 28 seasons as a head coach in Canada and with the Vikings, his teams reached the playoffs 20 times, played in 10 championship games and won four titles. However, none of those titles came in the NFL, as he became the first coach to lose four Super Bowls.
Grant was the first person to be inducted into both the CFL Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He had a career regular-season record of 158-96-5 in the NFL and 102-56-2 in the CFL and went a combined 26-20-1 in the postseason between the two leagues.
“No single individual more defined the Minnesota Vikings than Bud Grant,” Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf and their family said in a statement. “A once-in-a lifetime man, Bud will forever be synonymous with success, toughness, the north and the Vikings.”
Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter remembered Grant for his continued connection to the Hall “well into his 90s.”
“There are so many adjectives appropriate to describe Coach Bud Grant: legendary, determined, successful,” Porter said in a statement. “Underneath his outwardly stoic demeanor that some misunderstood as a coldness laid the warm heart of a man who truly loved his players and the sport of football.”
We are absolutely devastated to announce legendary Minnesota Vikings head coach and Hall of Famer Bud Grant has passed away this morning at age 95.
We, like all Vikings and NFL fans, are shocked and saddened by this terrible news. pic.twitter.com/z2NNlNAY44
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) March 11, 2023
Born Harry Peter Grant Jr., Grant joined the Navy during World War II after graduating from high school in Superior, Wisconsin. 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 Minnesota, where he won nine letters in three sports (football, basketball, 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.
“I am so saddened by today’s news. Before joining the Vikings, I had long known the legacy of Bud Grant, the Minnesota icon who carried himself with class and integrity. From afar, I admired his impact on the Vikings franchise and the NFL,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said in a statement. “And then I got here, and Bud was one of the first people to warmly greet me when I walked through the doors of this facility. I didn’t realize at the time I would be so blessed to build a close friendship with him over the next year.”
After two NBA seasons, during which he averaged 2.6 points, 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 CFL’s 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 coach.
“He impacted so many lives on and off the field,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie tweeted. “What he accomplished in his playing and coaching career was legendary and inspiring.”
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 above .500 only once since they joined the NFL in 1961. They went 3-8-3 in Grant’s first season — and then everything changed.
“I am so fortunate to have been able to spend the last year getting to know Bud Grant. He was one of the most innovative, talented and wise people in the history of the NFL,” Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in a statement. “His commitment to diversity, while not talked about enough, was ahead of his time and provided so much opportunity for others. His amazing life was one of a kind, being a multi-sport athlete at his beloved University of Minnesota, getting drafted in both the NFL and the NBA, playing in both leagues and ultimately becoming a hall of fame head coach in both the CFL and NFL. What’s truly inspiring is that he accomplished all of that while also being committed to his family and to helping others.”
The Vikings went 8-6 in 1968 to win the division and make their first playoff appearance. In 1969, they won the NFL championship and advanced to Super Bowl IV, which they lost 23-7 to the AFL’s 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 good 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 1985 after the Vikings had gone 3-13 under Les Steckel. When Grant was finished for good, only seven coaches had won more games.
“We cherished the times we had together, listening to his tremendous stories and soaking up his knowledge of the game,” the Wilfs said in their statement. “Most importantly, we are thankful we were able to get to know Bud on a personal level and see first-hand his love for his family. We join members of the Vikings organization, the generation of players Bud impacted, the people of Minnesota and the entire NFL in mourning this monumental loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bud’s family and friends in this difficult time.”