The Minnesota Vikings have had 8 head coaches in their 51 year history. How do they rank, from best to worst?
1) Bud Grant – An easy choice for the top spot, Grant served the most games as the Vikings’ head coach, from 1967-1985. His 1994 Hall of Fame induction was long overdue; he deserved to be enshrined within two years of his retirement in 1986. Grant’s regular season record of 158-96-5 and winning percentage of .622 ranks 13th all-time among NFL head coaches, ahead of Joe Gibbs, Hank Stram, and Mike Ditka. Grant’s teams won the NFC Central Division 11 times in his 18 years. He once stated, “Offense sells tickets but defense wins ballgames,” and his defenses were often ranked first in the league from 1968-1977, giving up the least points and yardage of any team. Grant’s 10-12 post-season record isn’t great, and the obvious blemish on his credentials is the Vikes’ four Super Bowl losses. Joe Kapp, quarterback of the 1969 team, stated that Grant didn’t have the team well-prepared to face the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. There was also the release of Alan Page in 1978, with Page going on to have three more outstanding years with the Bears. Grant did benefit from some of former general manager Jim Finks’ excellent draft choices (outstanding players such as Carl Eller, Ron Yary, and Chuck Foreman, among others). Still, Grant pulled it all together and the team won games, often dominating their opponents. Successful players loved playing for Bud.
2) Jerry Burns – Grant’s longtime offensive coordinator, sometimes credited with creating the “West Coast offense,” Burns’ record of 52-43 and .547 winning percentage land him in the second spot. Burns worked from 1986-1991, with a 3-3 post-season record. The 1987 team destroyed the Saints and 49’ers in the playoffs before Darrin Nelson’s dropped pass in the NFC championship game against the Redskins ended the Vikes’ season. That was as close to the Super Bowl as the Vikes and been in ten years, and as close as they would get for another eleven. The 1988 team dominated during the season with 9 players being selected to the Pro Bowl, before losing to the 49’ers in the playoffs. Burns was sometimes criticized for being hands-off, not wearing a head-set and delegating too much authority to his assistant coaches, like offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker – but come on Burnsie, even I knew when the offense lined up a certain way that there was going to be a “shotgun draw” running play. (Ironically Schnelker, while a player, scored the Vikings first touchdown on a pass from Fran Tarkenton in 1961). Unfortunately Burns was also stuck with the results of owner/general manager Mike Lynn’s ridiculous Herschel Walker trade, and also should have been named head coach when Grant first retired in 1983 (another dumb move by Lynn, who instead named Les Steckel head coach). Most Vikings liked playing for Burnsie, and his teams’ success can’t be ignored.
3) Dennis Green – Most fans, even his critics, would place Green behind Grant in the number two slot on this list. His 97-62 regular season record, a .610 winning percentage, is certainly impressive. His first season in 1992 saw the Vikings improve to an 11-5 record, which is definitely an accomplishment, considering the shambles the team had been in at the end of 1991. I started to dislike Dennis in 1993 when he dumped offensive coordinator Jack Burns and made his pal Brian Billick coordinator. As the years went on Green surrounded himself with his cronies as assistant coaches, a couple of which were roundly criticized by players as unqualified (see defensive backs coach Richard Solomon). While his teams were playoff contenders every year, Green could hardly be considered a smart judge of talent. Even though he bragged about his “projects” they never amounted to much (offensive lineman Bernard Daffney, defensive end James Harris, among others) and this whole “coach’em up” concept is something I think can be silly and also annoys me about coaches in general. Who knows why, but Green didn’t get along with All-Pro guard Randall McDaniel, which is another thing I don’t get about coaches who never played professionally. If the guy is a great player…what’s your problem? Green dumped quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson, who both went on to have outstanding careers and won Super Bowls with Oakland and Tampa Bay, respectively. Instead Green chose to go with journeyman Sean Salisbury, washed up Jim McMahon, and choker Randall Cunningham as his quarterbacks at various points. (There’s no way Cunningham was going to repeat his 1998 performance in 1999). His drafting of defensive end Demetrius Underwood in the first round in 1999 was absurd, and not being aware of the late Korey Stringer’s physical condition in training camp in 2001 is inexcusable. While he didn’t miss the kick or make any of the stupid plays that cost the Vikings the NFC championship game against the Falcons after the 1998 season, “taking a knee” with the league’s best offense on the field with time left on the clock before halftime is unbelievable. Losing that game…all these years later, it’s still too much to think about.
4) Mike Tice – Tice did a decent job with the players he had, posting a 32-33 record and .492 winning percentage with a 1-1 playoff record that included a huge win against the Packers in 2004. Although he did make some questionable decisions in terms of player personnel, he probably would have gotten better with experience if he had stayed on the job. While maybe he wasn’t the right fit for the Vikings at the time, Tice seemed to be open with the media, and also reminded fans to “enjoy the season.” He seemed pretty organized and I think he’d make a good head coach somewhere, even though former Vikes punter Mitch Berger reportedly referred to him as a “meathead” and he was implicated in a ticket scalping scam that cost him a $100,000 fine.
5) Brad Childress – most fans would probably place Childress fourth on this list, after Grant, Green, and Burns. To me he doesn’t deserve to be ranked any higher, only lower. His 39-35 record and .527 winning percentage is misleading. The only reason the Vikings won a lot of games in 2009 is because Brett Favre had a great season. I knew the Vikes were in trouble when a few weeks after Childress was hired in 2006 I read in an interview that he’d rather draft a quarterback from a smaller school, “knock the edges off, and then in a few years you’ve got something.” Good grief. These coaches and their projects. It’s ridiculous. Childress was not a keen judge of talent; a lot of the players he had a hand in drafting or signing were not very good. Just look at the mess the team is in at the end of the 2011 season. He referred to the offense he designed as a “kick-ass offense” but it was usually more like the Vikings kicking themselves in the ass. I should probably blame the Wilfs, the owners who hired Childress in the first place. They brought him in to “clean things up and restore order” after the Love Boat scandal and other shenanigans going on the clubhouse, but in the end there was more turmoil and chaos with Childress in charge (see the Randy Moss trade/release and loss of a draft pick). In an interview former quarterback Gus Frerotte stated that Childress absolutely refused to allow his quarterbacks to call an audible at the line of scrimmage; Frerotte noted that now, as a high school coach, he even lets his quarterbacks call audibles. The thing that bothers me a lot though is the 12th man on the field fiasco at the end of the NFC championship game against the Saints after the 2009 season. Yes, the coaches don’t miss the blocks and tackles, fumble the ball, throw the interceptions, or miss calls like the referees do. But the penalty for having 12 men on the field…12 men on the field? That was just too much. How could that happen? Not to mention, you’ve got 23 assistant coaches helping you…and there’s 12 guys on the field? That is still unreal to me. To Childress’ credit, he did take responsibility for that disaster at a press conference in the days following the game. Oh well. So close to going to the Super Bowl, and yet another missed opportunity. In retrospect, the Wilfs could have went after Sean Payton or Mike McCarthy – both of whom became head coaches in 2006 as well and later went on to win Super Bowls with the Saints and Packers, respectively. Nice.
6) Norm Van Brocklin – the first Vikings coach, his 29-51-4 record and .363 winning percentage don’t impress. Didn’t seem to be much of a judge of talent. Especially since he had a good quarterback in Fran Tarkenton but didn’t utilize him in the right way, or maybe just refused to. I’m assuming Van Brocklin’s in the Hall of Fame based on his career as a NFL quarterback in the 1950’s. Can’t be for anything he did with the Vikings, since he did nothing.
7) Leslie Frazier – doesn’t seem fair to even have Les on this list, as he’s only been in charge a little over a year, with a 6-16 won-loss record. He came into a chaotic situation, had little talent on the roster, no offseason to work with the team, and unfortunately had a number of players get injured during the season. I do think if he stays in the job for a few years he could get as high as number two on this list. I think he’s got potential as a head coach.
8) Les Steckel – probably the only worse season than 2011 in the Vikings history is 1984. Steckel’s old-school coaching methods turned off players from the start. Yelling like a marine drill sergeant didn’t work with professional football players. Players were worn out before midseason from all the hitting in training camp and practices. Steckel also made many questionable player personnel decisions, starting guys who wouldn’t have made other teams’ rosters. His 3-13 record included the Vikings being completely blown out on the field in some games. Les gained some measure of redemption in an odd way the following year in 1985. After being fired as the Vikings head man he became receivers coach for the New England Patriots – and went with them to Super Bowl XX. Seems like everyone gets a chance to go to the Super Bowl, except for the Vikings.