A privileged background and a prep dynasty don’t make Mike Grant a bad guy.
The golf cart sits idle on the edge of a football field, a perfect spot for Mike Grant to observe a summer practice without getting in the way.
“I don’t even know who is here,” he says. “We don’t take attendance.”
On this July afternoon, Grant seems more interested in telling stories and sharing his fascination with YouTube than worrying about whether his Eden Prairie High School team can win its third consecutive state championship and ninth under his leadership. Not even a fumble in his favorite quarterback drill can sour his mood.
“You know what quarterbacks who fumble are called?” he asks. “Guards.”
This remains Grant’s sanctuary, high school football practice, still the best two hours of his day, he says. He sought last winter to replace his legendary mentor, John Gagliardi, at St. John’s but withdrew from consideration at the 11th hour.
That job, he says, requires a 10-year commitment and, at age 56, he can see retirement in his near future. One particular idea tugs at him: spending a fall hunting with his father, Bud, the former Vikings coach and a Hall of Famer. Bud turned 86 in May, and Mike wants to do this while his dad is still active.
Grant has nothing left to prove in coaching. In 21 years at Eden Prairie, he’s 229-24 with six undefeated seasons and 15 conference titles. But his competitive spirit still rages on those Friday nights when, according to one former player, the laid-back coach transforms into “a different human being.”
That, in essence, is Mike Grant, a paradoxical personality who doesn’t fit neatly into one box.
Sarcasm as life’s soundtrack
Grant built his football dynasty from scratch and maintains a visible presence in the youth organization because he believes a healthy feeder system is the foundation of a strong program. Rivals snidely attribute his success to large enrollment figures — a city of 62,000 has only one high school.
Eden Prairie remains the gold standard in Minnesota prep football, but the patriarch laments “all the macho b.s. that permeates sports,” so he made humor an underlying tenet of his coaching philosophy.
Sure, he’s a stickler for fundamentals and preparation — his entire coaching staff breaks down film at his house after every game until the wee hours — but Grant insists that practices include jokes, and he concludes his quarterback camp with a stupid human tricks contest. The kid who could swallow his tongue stole the show this summer.
“It freaked out every kid at camp,” Grant says, clearly pleased.
That’s Grant in a nutshell. Beneath a gruff exterior lies a gregarious, aw-shucks character who considers sarcasm the soundtrack of life. Someone once asked him for his favorite travel destination. Otter Tail County, he replied. On that, he’s serious.
A former economics and history teacher, Grant views football as a “mathematical equation” based on a probability of mistakes. He counts a high school English teacher as one of the most influential people in his life because he admired that a man could feel so emotionally inspired by Shakespeare.
Good coaches, he believes, focus more on relationships than strategy. He has a no-cut policy and still runs the same offense he brought from Forest Lake back in 1992, save for new wrinkles he adds each season. He quotes Steve Jobs on leadership and recites Gregory Peck in “Pork Chop Hill” or scenes from “Gettysburg” in explaining why a certain play won’t work.
He has only one rule: If you screw up, the only acceptable answer is, “My fault, Coach.” He has no time for excuses. In exchange, he promises that coaches won’t belittle or swear.