Lessons from a legend boost Frazier

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2011 - 6:32 AM

A recent sit-down with Bud Grant gave Vikings coach Leslie Frazier encouragement.

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Former Vikings coach Bud Grant

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The Vikings had just lost to the Lions the day before and Leslie Frazier was back on his feet and rushing off to yet another meeting with who knows how many thoughts racing through his mind.

He was three games into his first full season as Vikings head coach. And yet he already carried the scars of having coached the only team in NFL history to blow three consecutive double-digit halftime leads at the start of a season.

"I was walking down the hall here at Winter Park," Frazier said. "And Bud was in his office. I stuck my head in to say hello, and he said, 'Hey, come on in, sit down, let's talk.'"

Bud is Bud Grant. And when Bud says come on in, sit down, let's talk, you go in, you sit down, you talk.

Grant knows what Frazier is going through in what has now become a 0-4 start. Forty-four years ago, Grant started his Hall of Fame Vikings career by opening the 1967 season 0-4.

Grant's Vikings lost to the 49ers, Rams, Bears and Cardinals by a combined score of 117-55. Entering the fourth quarter, they trailed the 49ers, Rams and Bears by a combined 76-0. Then they blew a 17-13 fourth-quarter lead against the Cardinals. And, oh yeah, three of the losses were at home.

"Bud told me all about it," Frazier said. "He said, 'I know you're discouraged. Try not to get disappointed.'"

Grant politely declined an interview request for this story. It's not his style to upstage current coaches.

"It was helpful," Frazier said of the talk. "He started telling me about how he finally got it started in the right direction. He said, 'I got my first win against Vince Lombardi.'"

Oct. 15, 1967, in a cold drizzle at Milwaukee County Stadium, Grant's Vikings beat Lombardi's Packers 10-7. They came from behind with 10 fourth-quarter points, including the game-winning 12-yard field goal by Fred Cox late in the game.

The Packers hadn't lost in 11 games, going 10-0-1, including a victory against the Chiefs in Super Bowl I. The Packers also would go on to win Super Bowl II.

At the time, Grant didn't care who the Vikings beat, just that they finally won a game. The defense finally came up with big plays, intercepting Zeke Bratkowski to set up both fourth-quarter scores. The offense rushed 45 times for 158 yards, including Bill Brown's 1-yard touchdown run, to offset quarterback Joe Kapp's franchise-record low two completions.

"It was important that we win today," Grant was quoted as saying in the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "It didn't make any difference if it was the Packers or the Little Sisters of the Poor. It was the timing [of the win]. We're not that bad. ... Now, we should start moving forward a little."

Today, Frazier sounds a lot like Grant did back in 1967. He still sounds convincing when he says he believes the Vikings aren't as bad as their record indicates. All he needs now is to finally win a game. Sunday's game against the 1-3 Cardinals at Mall of America Field might be his best chance for a while.

This isn't to suggest that Frazier is the next Bud Grant. But this does point out that even some of the great coaches in NFL history have struggled at the start of their careers.

Chuck Noll went 1-13 with the Steelers in 1969. Bill Walsh started 0-7 with the 49ers in 1979. Jimmy Johnson started 0-8 en route to 1-15 with the Cowboys in 1989. Bill Belichick was 6-10 with the Browns in 1991. And none of those great coaches ever started their first full season with a league lockout that prevented them from having contact with their players from March until late July.

Grant wishes he had better news for Frazier about how the rest of that 1967 season went. But he doesn't. The Vikings went 3-8-3 and finished last in the Central Division of the NFL's Western Conference.

However, a year later, the Vikings won the first of Grant's 11 division titles. A year after that, they played in the first of Grant's four Super Bowls.

This isn't a prediction that Frazer will win the NFC North next year and reach the Super Bowl the year after. It's just a reminder that even some of the great ones have needed a benefit of the doubt in Year 1 on the job.

"Bud's a tremendous resource, a great sounding board," Frazier said. "He's trying to encourage me, which I truly appreciate. But it's still tough when you lose. We got to get a 'W.'"

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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