The program that Mike Grant inherited upon arriving at Eden Prairie in 1992 had a record of 6-45 the previous six seasons.
Those numbers don’t do justice to the state of the program.
“It was terrible,” said Matt Norman, a junior at the time. “Command and control. Fear-based,” he said of the program’s culture pre-Grant.
“Utter disrepair … a program that had become a laughingstock,” said Rob Evert, also a junior.
So bad, said Tom Anderson, a sophomore when Grant arrived, that he contemplated not going out for football after experiencing fall camp the previous season.
“We knew Grant had success at Forest Lake,” Evert said. “But honestly, we figured no one would be able to fix this program. It was just so bad.”
And then Grant and his staff hit the practice field with what Evert described as “a weird, unstructured way.” The players soon learned that while it might appear unstructured, everything had a purpose.
Grant said he assembled a coaching staff of ‘‘teachers, not the screamers, yellers.” Three of those coaches — Mark Ritter, Dan Hennen and Jack Gaughran — are still with Grant today. A fourth, Steve O’Toole, joined in 1993 and remains on the staff.
Grant, after being told he had been named the Star Tribune’s Sportsperson of the Year, immediately requested that he be allowed to assemble his assistants, past and present, for a group shot.
“I kind of see myself as the architect of this, but the workers have been the coaches who have been willing to learn, willing to work hard,” he said. “Our coaches have relationships with players that are changing lives.”
Examples: Evert was molded into a Division I player who attended Air Force Academy, and is currently a lieutenant colonel. Norman is a business consultant and motivational speaker who says he often uses what he experienced in his years with Grant. And Anderson has been a 15-year assistant coach on Grant’s staff since his own playing career ended.
For that, he credits Grant and two assistants he brought with from Forest Lake: Hennen and Todd Fultz.
“It was those three that made me want to become a coach,” Anderson said. “The passion they showed. How hard they worked to make every kid feel a part of something. That was something I had never seen before in sports. I immediately felt part of something unique.”
In Grant’s first game, Eden Prairie upset highly ranked Minnetonka, going on to an 8-2 record that season. The rest, as they say, is history, one that goes beyond just winning games.
“There was always this confidence from him that if I do my best, then I’m going to be successful,” Norman said. “In my job now I talk to leaders about finding the strength in their people. I wouldn’t be in that seat if it weren’t for Mike Grant.”