This will be the Bud Grant Bowl, and not just because of temperatures that may have forced him, in his prime, to don a windbreaker.
In Sunday’s game between the Seahawks and Vikings, one coach is a longtime Grant disciple; the other may prove to be his long-awaited successor.
Mike Grant knows the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll and the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer. Bud’s son may also the foremost connoisseur of Minnesota football coaching greatness.
Mike Grant played for St. John’s legend John Gagliardi. He has won 10 state titles in the past 20 years at Eden Prairie High. And he has known and observed every Vikings coach since Bud flew in from Winnipeg.
Bud hired Carroll to coach Vikings defensive backs in 1985. They remain close, talking at length before every Seahawks game of import. During the weeks preceding the past two Super Bowls, Carroll has invoked Grant’s name and teachings frequently during news conferences.
Mike first met Carroll in 1985. “I was working at a junior high teen center in Bloomington and my dad said we hired this new young coach and he’s looking for a place to play hoops,” Mike said. ‘We would play every day. Pete joined us. He couldn’t go left, but he was highly competitive — a young, enthusiastic, great guy.”
When Carroll took the head coaching job at USC, he visited Mystic Lake Casino for a coaching clinic. He asked Mike to meet him there. Grant thought he might be getting a job offer — “My ego got the best of me” — but Carroll wanted to talk philosophy.
Mike remembers the conversation this way: “He said, ‘I know you played for Coach Gagliardi. My natural inclination is to have fun at practice and be relaxed, but every axiom of pro coaching is it has to be a military exercise. But that’s just not me. How did Coach Gagliardi do that, make it fun and relaxing?’ So I had to take a deep breath and realize I wasn’t going to USC.”
While coaching the Trojans, Carroll came through Eden Prairie High on a recruiting trip with then-USC assistant Lane Kiffin. Carroll wandered into the gym.
Later, a father who had been exercising near the basketball court told Grant that an older man had started playing one-on-one with his 10-year-old son. Grant told him not to worry — that was the USC football coach.
In 1985, Carroll showed up early for an offseason practice and found himself the only person at Winter Park. He kept waiting for the pre-practice meeting. Eventually Bud walked into the locker room. Carroll rushed up to him, asking what the practice plan was.
“Bud stopped and looked at him and said, ‘I hired you to coach the defensive backs. Go out on the field and coach the defensive backs,’ ” Mike said. “He said it in the way only my dad could. Like: What kind of question is that? I use that story a lot. You can overexplain everything. Just do your job.”
Mike figures that if the Seahawks were playing a cold-weather game against anybody other than the Vikings, Carroll would fly Bud to Seattle for a speech. Probably the Alaskan Pipeline speech, wherein Bud talks about companies hiring lower-48 Americans but eventually turning to Alaskans, who completed it efficiently and without complaint.
“The moral of the story is, if you’re used to it and you have the right attitude, cold is not a problem,” Mike said.
Zimmer reminds Mike of a Bud Grant story, too. After Vikings General Manager Jim Finks hired Bud, he sent an assistant to pick him up at the airport.
The assistant didn’t know Bud. Finks told him to bring back the guy who looked like a sheriff.
“Zimmer has that look,” Grant said. “He has that command, where you wouldn’t know what to say to him. It’s good to keep the players guessing. It’s not good when they think they’ve got you figured out. They never figured out my dad, and I doubt they’ve figured out Zimmer.”