Hartman: Mike Lynn's legacy was complicated

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2012 - 7:55 AM

Though best remembered for the Herschel Walker deal, Mike Lynn did many great things for the Vikings.

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Mike Lynn is pictured in 1988 when he was general manager of the Vikings.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune file

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It was May 1974 when Jim Finks, who had hired Bud Grant and been a part of the Vikings winning five division titles and appearing in two Super Bowls over a 10-year span, resigned as the team's general manager.

Finks quit because, No. 1, the team refused to award him the stock that fired coach Norm Van Brocklin had held, and No. 2, he was upset that then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had ordered all team owners to have offices at their franchises, meaning that Finks' boss, Max Winter, would be a daily presence.

Winter was a frustrated man at the time; he had 17 unsigned players and little experience with player contracts. He went to a league meeting in Memphis looking for advice from fellow owners for some recommendations on a person they thought would make a good GM.

There was a young man Winter had befriended named Mike Lynn, who while being occupied managing some movie theaters in Memphis was always hanging around NFL meetings trying to get a franchise for the city.

Unable to find anybody to replace Finks, Winter hired Lynn as an assistant to the president with the promise of making him general manager if he proved he could do the job.

Well, the rest is history. Lynn, who died Saturday at age 76, saw the Vikings win the NFC Central and appear in the Super Bowl in his one season as an assistant. Named GM in 1975, the Vikings went on to win division titles each of the next three seasons, appearing in the Super Bowl again after the 1976 season, the last time the team has reached the NFL's biggest game.

While Lynn is being given credit for all the Vikings' top draft choices during his stay, the truth of the matter is that Grant had the final say on personnel under Lynn as per a contract he signed with Finks.

However, Jerry Burns -- who became coach in 1986, following Grant's one-year return after the Les Steckel 3-13 campaign in 1984 -- didn't have that control, and despite the fact that he utterly opposed the famous Herschel Walker trade with the Dallas Cowboys, Lynn made it.

To his dying day, Lynn claimed that his version of the players involved in the trade and those of Dallas owner Jerry Jones were different, but Rozelle ruled in favor of Jones.

Speaking of that trade, Burns recalled Sunday, "Mike was down there in Dallas talking to the people there. He was there two or three days hashing out various segments of the intended trade, and we got him.

"The trade was sort of one-sided relative to the draft choices and players we gave them for Herschel. Herschel came here and I'll say this about Herschel, he was a damn nice guy; everything about him was first class. We might have got him on his downward spinning from being a great back at Georgia, an All-American and everything in that regard, and he might not have fit into everything in our offensive schemes. He was a single back-type of player and we were more of a sweeping, trapping, play-pass, rollout, bootleg-type of offense.

"I don't like to have ... things about Mike Lynn all center around the Herschel Walker trade. Maybe if we did a little better job coaching and Herschel did a little better playing, the thing would have worked out great."

However, Burns who initially was passed over as coach for Steckel in 1984 after Grant's first retirement, had a lot of respect for Lynn.

"I'll say this, and very meaningful, that I think back of my great relationship with Mike and we had a lot of fun together," Burns said. "I respected him in every vein, and one thing was he never tried to coach the team."

Payments to continue

There is no doubt that the Metrodome would not have been built had it not been for Lynn's great ability as a salesman. Nobody thought it would happen, so it was Winter who agreed to give Lynn 10 percent of luxury suite revenue if the Dome was built. And the Lynn family will continue to get the $500,000-plus per year as long as the Vikings play in the building.

As for the relations of Winter and Lynn, at one time they were like father and son, and it was Lynn who named the Vikings complex Winter Park and who provided Winter with a luxurious office. But it came to a sad ending in 1985 when Winter tried to end Lynn's tenure as GM and replace him with a local accountant.

It wasn't a very smart move because Lynn had the backing of all the other stockholders. The result was that in October 1985, Winter ended his long tenure as Vikings president and sold his stock to Carl Pohlad, Irwin Jacobs and Fran Tarkenton, who went to court trying to prove that Winter's stock gave them control of the team, only to lose the case after a long court battle.

On December 16, 1991, Lynn engineered the purchase of the former Winter stock, and shortly after that, a group led by Lynn, Wheelock Whitney and Jaye Dyer put Roger Headrick in charge of the team as president and CEO. Lynn would remain with the club's ownership group until 1992, when he sold his share.

Lynn did a lot of positive things, including bringing the Super Bowl here, but he did a bad thing when he got NFL owners to prevent the selection of Finks as commissioner after Rozelle's retirement in 1989, ultimately engineering the appointment of Paul Tagliabue instead.

Lynn was generous to a great degree with the workers at Winter Park, with big bonuses at the end of every year.

On his last day in tthe Vikings complex, he left a big check on the desk of his great secretary, Roz Sorenson, one of the best ever. He also left a note that read: "This will pay for your car."

Jottings

• Twins catcher Joe Mauer received a $25,000 bonus for making the American League All-Star team. ... If you visited Target Field on Sunday you would have found Twins pitcher Carl Pavano throwing from the mound for the first time since he was put on the disabled list on June 3. Pavano will have to go out and pitch in the minor leagues before he is ready to return.

• With 14 points in Sunday's 97-91 victory over the Grizzlies, Timberwolves swingman Wes Johnson finished as the sixth-leading scorer in the Las Vegas Summer League at 20.5 points per game, shooting 45.4 percent (10-for-22) from three-point range. Derrick Williams finished with averages of 15.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in the Wolves' five games, and he also got to the free-throw line a league-high 56 times.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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