Mike Grant, who has coached Eden Prairie to nine Minnesota prep football titles, was named the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year this morning in New York City.
Grant, who was flown out for the Super Bowl to receive the award, also gets $10,000, and Eden Prairie High School gets $15,000.
This is a great honor for a longtime close, personal friend. And Shula and I have been good friends for just as many years.
Grant, 56, was nominated by the Vikings. The son of former Vikings coach Bud Grant, Mike is 241-24 with 16 conference titles in 22 seasons at Eden Prairie. He has won three consecutive state titles, and was profiled last summer in this Star Tribune article.
Shula, who coached Baltimore and Miami, is the winningest coach in NFL history. He headed the selection committee, which also includes former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy, former Raiders coach John Madden and several other luminaries.
I thought the Vikings had hit the all-time high for blowing leads in losing in the last minutes to the Bears, the Browns and the Cowboys, and letting the Packers tie them late.
Sunday’s game at Baltimore was probably harder to take than the others because the Vikings scored two touchdowns in the final minutes, taking the lead both times. But a very questionable interference call helped the Ravens pull a miracle and win the game in the final seconds, 29-25.
The Vikings' record today is 3-9-1. With a decent defense they could be 8-5, with a good chance to win the NFC North and make the playoffs.
Personally, I think coach Leslie Frazier will return for his final year of his contract next year and won’t become one of three coaches fired by the Wilfs in eight years.
Rest assured, however, there will be some changes in the defensive staff, with both coaches and players.
If you are looking for something positive about today’s game it was the performance of Cordarrelle Patterson, who had 141 receiving yards and also had a great day returning kicks. He has proven to be worth the player he replaced, Percy Harvin. And the player the Vikings got in the draft with Seattle’s pick, obtained in the Harvin deal, has also been very good – that’s cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
In fact, a lot of people think Harvin’s hip injury is worse than he claims.
And if you want my opinion of the quarterback position, you couldn’t judge Matt Cassel today with the snowy field and wet weather, but I thought he did a decent job considering the handicap he was under.
And the loss means the Vikings will get a higher draft choice. They have three games left – Philadelphia and Detroit here, and Cincinnati on the road. They should be the Eagles, but the other two games will be tough ones.
The team has 13 free agents and a lot of holes to fill.
Rob Brzezinski, who negotiates the contracts for the Vikings, has a real challenge if he wants to keep players like Jared Allen, Everson Griffen and Toby Gerhart here. Today’s game showed how valuable Gerhart can be when Adrian Peterson gets injured, which is likely to happen more as Peterson gets older. Gerhart will probably get a chance to improve his market value in the next three games, too, as Peterson might not play.
Vern Mikkelsen, who died last night, was a part of four NBA championship teams with the Minneapolis Lakers. He was a six-time All-Star during his 10 seasons here (1949-59).
The interesting part is that Mikkelsen made history in the NBA with his height. At 6-8, he was the same height as teammate Jim Pollard and, with George Mikan standing 6-10, they made the Lakers the first team in the league to have three players taller than 6-7. That doesn’t seem tall compared to the modern NBA, but in the 1950s, they were giants.
The Lakers had just come off a championship in 1949 when Mikkelsen became available in the draft because, at that time, the NBA had a territorial draft. Any player within 75 miles of the NBA franchise would have the rights to take the best player in that area if they so desired. Mikkelsen, who starred on a great Hamline team, was an easy choice for the Lakers to make.
Lakers coach John Kundla didn’t think that Mikkelsen playing alongside Mikan and Pollard in the front line would work out because Mikkelsen was not a very good outside shooter. He made his reputation as a pivotman and outstanding center for the Hamline Pipers. But Vern become a good outside shooter and paired very well with his teammates, and helped the Lakers dominate the rebounding department during their title seasons.
Mikkelsen played 10 seasons in the league and was the subject of a trade that I, as general manager of the Lakers at the time, had proposed in 1956. Had the deal gone through, the Lakers would have probably never moved to Los Angeles. I made a trade with the Red Auerbach-coached Celtics with Mikkelsen going to the Celtics for three former Kentucky stars -- Cliff Hagan, Lou Tsioropoulos and Frank Ramsey – who were in the Army. By making that trade, we would have been assured of finishing last and being able to draft Bill Russell, who in several of his books verified the fact that he had been contacted by the Lakers while playing for the University of San Francisco. In fact, behind the scenes, negotiations were being made with Russell while he was playing in college. However, Mikkelsen resisted the deal, and the owners sided with him, the deal was called off.
At that point I resigned my position and later the Lakers were sold and eventually moved to Los Angeles. Had that deal gone through, there’s no doubt that one of the owners, Morris Chalfen, was going to build a new arena to house the new powerhouse Lakers team – led by Bill Russell -- here in Minneapolis. Russell went on to lead the Celtics to nine NBA championships.
Getting back to Mikkelsen, he was a great leader on the court, a great person off the court, and was loved by everybody.
Like Mikan, Kundla and Pollard, Mikkelsen is in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. Raised in Askov, he was an outstanding high school player and one of the best players that Joe Hutton, a legendary coach at Hamline, recruited during Hutton’s many years there.
Mikkelsen was a very, very close personal friend. We spent a lot of time together back in those days on the road and at home with the Lakers during the time both of us were associated with the team.
Mikkelsen’s death follows the death last year of Slater Martin, another great Lakers player, a strong defensive guard who had the great Bob Cousy of the Celtics in his pocket every time they played.
Pollard and Mikan also preceded Mikkelsen in death.
There will be a lot of tears at the funeral, at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Hopkins, for this great player, who I will always think of as a young man. He had as many great friends as any athlete in the history of Minnesota pro sports.
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