I call it Bud Grant Syndrome, or BGS. Minnesota joined the NFL in 1961 and Norm van Brocklin was the coach for the first six years. He has a tough assignment as the coach of a new franchise. The NFL has a history of teams that struggled in their early years. Only a few have avoided this pitfall. Minnesota was not one. Van Brocklin went 29-51-4 in his tenure, which equates to a winning percentage of .363.
Bud Grant, a local hero from both the Gophers (football, basketball, baseball) and the NBA Minneapolis Lakers, had coached the previous ten years in the Canadian Football League (CFL) for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He originally started as a member of the Lakers, and was a part of the 1950 NBA Championship team. After two years as a reserve in the NBA, Grant changed careers and joined the NFL's Eagles in 1951. Grant had been drafted in the first round after college by the NFL, but chose to stay in the area and play for Sid Hartman's Lakers. Grant had nearly 1,000 yards receiving in 1952, a year after leading the team in sacks in 1951. Grant would hold out for more money and leave the Eagles for the CFL in 1953. There he had a great career cut short by a move to coaching in 1956. He coached there for the ten years, winning four championships (ended up in the CFL Hall of Fame) before Minnesota lured him away to replace Van Brocklin.
Grant had a rough first year, going 3-8-3 in 1967. And then the transformation occurred. From 1968 to 1978 Grant won the division ten times. After his 8-6 year in 1968, he was 35-7 the next three years, including the Vikings first Super Bowl visit. After a mediocre 7-7 season in 1972, Grant reeled off six straight division titles and three more Super Bowl visits. Minnesota was consistently one of the best teams in the NFL every year in the 1970s. Minnesota fans grew accustomed to his winning ways, as Grant compiled a lifetime record of 151-87-5, or a winning percentage of .634.
But all good things must end, and Grant was replaced in 1984 by Les Steckel. Steckel went 3-13 in what many felt was the worst season in Vikings history. It was so bad, they talked Grant out of retirement, and he coached the team in 1985, compiling a 7-9 record. But then he left again.
Jerry Burns followed, sporting a 52-43 (.547) record from 1986 to 1991. He was followed by Dennis Green, who coached the team from 1992 to 2001. Green had better success than any other coach not named Grant, and led the Vikings to their best regular season record in 1998 at 15-1. Green's lifetime record was 97-62, a winning percentage of .610. But Minnesota could not seem to get back to the Super Bowl with him despite good talent. Mike Tice took over in 2001 and struggled to a 32-33 record, Minnesota's first losing coach since Steckel. Vikings brass removed Tice before the 2006 season and brought in Brad Childress.
Childress has been a work in progress. It is interesting to note that he has improved by two games every year, from his first in 2006 (6-10) to last year's fourth season of 12-4. Childress is a lifetime 36-28, or .563. Last year Childress returned the Vikings to the NFC Championship, but as we all know, fell short to the Saints.
So how does BGS affect Childress? For one, Minnesota fans consider any season short of the Super Bowl a failure. Moreover, since Grant, fans have pointed a finger at the head coach more than the owners, GMs, or players when the season ends short of the Super Bowl. Dennis Green had great success for a period, but fans were constantly upset with his decision-making. Jerry Burns suffered the same fate. Neither did well in the PR part of the job, struggling with reporters keen on asking why they made the coaching decisions that they did. Minnesota Nice did not apply to questioning and criticizing head coaches for the Vikings. Mike Tice and Les Steckel were given shortened assignments because Minnesotans do not tolerate losers coaching the Vikings. BGS has insured that this will always be.
For the last twenty-five years I have watched as friends, strangers, and those in-between bemoaned the poor coaching in Minnesota. I heard complaints in the 15-1 season in 1998. I heard complaints last year regarding Childress and the 12-4 season that was a play or two away from a Super Bowl visit. I guarantee Childress will be criticized if he continues his trend and goes 14-2 this year. It has to be. It is BGS.
We loved stoic Grant sitting on the sidelines in the cold of the Met. Our eighteen season love affair ended in 1985. Since then Minnesota fans have been sure that their coaches are basically morons. I do not think I have watched a single game in the last twenty years where some arm-chair, drunk, athletic has-been does not call me or talk to me about the lack of good coaching. Any mistake, from fumbles to penalties, falls on the leader of the team: the coach. Never mind that management won't draft offensive linemen early, or that we refuse to add a needed free agent. Come that first loss of the season people begin to call for the coach's head.
Can we cure BGS? Yes, definitely. But getting to the Super Bowl won't cut it, Grant did that four times. The only known antidote for this disease is a Super Bowl win. And it would not surprise me if even that didn't do it.
We really liked Bud.