Bud Grant was hired as the second head coach of the Vikings on March 10, 1967. Nearly four decades later, the possibility has arisen that Minnesota has been home to the three coaches and managers to offer the least amount of bull slinging in America’s major team sports.
First, there was Grant, who served 18 seasons [1967-1983, 1985] with less preoccupation over how he was perceived by the public than any coach I had witnessed in action.
Then, along came Tom Kelly, who served 23 games as the Twins interim manager in September 1986, and then managed the club for 15 seasons [1987-2001]. He was the second coming of Grant, not in style but with his “this-is-me, take-it-or-leave-it’’ approach to dealing with the public, the media and his athletes.
Grant was 10 days shy of his 40th birthday when he was brought in from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to coach the Vikings. Kelly was a month past his 36th birthday when he got his interim shot with the Twins and turned it into holding the managing job as long as he desired.
Mike Zimmer was 57-plus when he was hired as coach of the Vikings on Jan. 15, 2014. The age difference when he got the job will be the only thing that will prevent Zimmer from wearing as well as did Grant and Kelly with his combination of smarts and candor.
In my view, Grant and Kelly were united with the greatest asset a coach and/or manager can have: logic.
Bud always said, “Don’t make a decision before you have to.’’ Kelly always said, “You don’t have a chance unless you can pitch and make the plays in the field.’’
Yeah, they made some blunders with evaluation, but not all that many. They could both stare across a field and pick out a player – or, as importantly, a non-player.
Bud won when he had the players. Kelly won when he had the players. And the demeanor hardly changed whether things were up or down. Bud still was going duck hunting at 6 in the morning, and Kelly still was going to be throwing early batting practice.
And now along comes Zimmer, and we’re reminded how refreshing it can be to have someone in charge who isn’t dedicated to selling a story to the fans and the reporters.
On Tuesday, Zimmer came up with a quote that will live in infamy (for me, anyway).
Zimmer revealed in his season-ending media session that the contract of offensive line coach Jeff Davidson had not been renewed. Asked why he did not renew Davidson’s contract, Zimmer said:
“I didn’t want to.’’
It was a display of logic so precise that Bud Grant and Tom Kelly would have been proud to have uttered the response.