Minnesota Vikings History of Head Coaches: Who Ranks Best?
When I was putting together the “Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl XI Players: Where Are They Now?” article, there was a video that I watched while conducting my research. In the video were many clips of the Vikings in the early ‘70s and also some video of Bud Grant.
I got to thinking, how many coaches have coached the Vikings, and what are their records and reputations with regards to their importance to the franchise?
Here is an awesome statistic. The Vikings are only on their eighth coach in team history. That’s right, since 1961 and the inception of the franchise. Pretty impressive! Some franchises are on their eighth coach in the last 20 years.
This article covers every single coach the Vikings have had in their storied history. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had writing it.
The order is simply from beginning of the franchise to current man, Leslie Frazier.
Be sure to check out the slide following Frazier's, it contains my rankings.
Norm Van Brocklin: 1961-1966
As an expansion franchise, it’s easy to understand that you would want a big time name to be the face of your franchise and Norm Van Brocklin fit the bill perfectly.
Known for his passing prowess during his playing days, Van Brocklin brought a competitive and fiery spirit to the Vikings organization. Van Brocklin played for two teams, the Rams and Eagles and coached two teams the Vikings and the Falcons from 1968-1974.
His overall record as a Vikings coach was not very impressive, but getting an expansion franchise off the ground is a difficult thing to do. Van Brocklin went 29-51-4 in his six years with the Vikings. He fared slightly better in Atlanta with a record of 37-49-3.
Clearly for Van Brocklin, he was a better player than he was a coach. He was elected to the Hall of Fame, Class of 1971.
Bud Grant: 1967-1983, 1985
Hands down four times over, Bud Grant is not only my favorite Vikings coach, but favorite coach for any sport, period. The man exuded confidence and maintained a demeanor that commanded respect.
Here are just a few accolades the man collected over the years: AP Coach of the Year (1969), NFL Championship (1969), UPI NFL Coach of the Year (1969), and 3-time NFC Champion (1973, 1974, 1976), 11 Division Titles and four Super Bowl appearances.
He is the winningest coach in Vikings history at 158-96-5 for a .635 winning percentage. He also had a 10-12 record in the playoffs, but if the 1975 Wild Card game goes the way it was supposed to go, rather than some bogus pass interference call, he probably has a shot at a better playoff record and perhaps being a 4-time NFC Champion. Remember, the 1969 title was considered a NFL title, not a NFC Championship.
If there is a knock on Grant it would be that he never won the big one. Sure, that hurts and I so much wanted guys like Coach Grant, Tarkenton, Tingelhoff, Marshall, Page, et al to win at least one Super Bowl, but it didn’t happen.
One thing we will remember is the legacy he left. He was an incredible coach, who in my estimation, could still coach today. When he walked away after that 1983 season I was heartbroken. He was only 56 when he walked away from the Vikings. He returned for the 1985 season, but that doesn't really count.
He could have coached at least another 10 years, but he realized there were other things bigger and more important than football. Love you Coach Grant, and miss you even more. I hope you live many, many more years.
Les Steckel: 1984
I really don’t have much to say about this loser. He was like the Josh McDaniel experiment in Denver, but this clown didn’t last more than one year, thank God. He set our organization back a few years, and his eventual successor (Jerry Burns) should have been named the head coach to begin with.
The only thing I admire about Steckel was that he was a Vietnam Vet.
Oh, Steckel’s abysmal record was 3-13 and effectively sabotaged Coach Grant’s return as the Hall of Fame coach couldn’t rescue the damage and the Vikings wound up going 7-9 in Grant’s return.
Jerry Burns: 1986-1991
Jerry Burns was Bud Grant’s longtime offensive coordinator from 1968-1985. When Bud stepped down, Burns should have gotten the job, but the organization was looking for a youth movement, so it hired Les Steckel.
Jerry Burns was an unassuming guy who always looked like he was drunk, and I mean that as a term of endearment. He was funny, engaging and charismatic.
Jerry Burns had a decent career as head coach, compiling a regular season record of 52-43 and a playoff record of 3-3. Burns led the Vikings to the playoffs three times, won the Division Title in 1989.
He also took a Wild Card team to the NFC Championship game in 1987; the game where Darrin Nelson dropped a touchdown pass that was perfectly thrown by Wade Wilson. A touchdown that would have at least tied the game with 52 seconds left. Oh well, we Vikings fans understand, sort of.
When Burnsy, as so many called him, retired from the organization in 1991, he had the longest coaching tenure in the organizations history.
Dennis Green: 1992-2001
The second most successful head coach for the Vikings was probably one of its more controversial ones. When Green came into Minnesota, he proclaimed there was a new sheriff in town. Many of the Minnesota sports writers scoffed at this cocky young coach’s comments, but when he pulled a Division Title out in his first year the writers relaxed their pens.
In 1992, The Vikings went 11-5 and were back in the playoffs for the first time since 1989, an eternity in Minnesota. In fact, in his first six years the Vikings qualified for the playoffs five times. Things were good. We were looking like that team of the 1970’s; however, one glaring miss was that there were no Super Bowl appearances.
Green had an impressive regular season record of 97-62, but a 4-8 record in the playoffs gave fans the impression that Green suffered from the Jim Mora or Marty Schottenheimer syndrome of great regular season coach but not so successful playoff coach.
In Green’s nearly 10 year career with the Vikings, he did manage to get the Vikings to two NFC Championship games. One, a heartbreaking loss to the Falcons at home in 1998 the other, an embarrassing wood shed whooping to the Giants in 2000.
That awful loss basically cost Green his job. The following year, the Vikings were sitting at 5-10, Green’s worst year. The Vikings ownership bought out the remainder of his contract and sent him packing.
Unfortunately for the Vikings second most winning coach in their franchise history, the marriage ended terribly and the divorce was rather ugly.
Mike Tice: 2001-2005
Poor Mike Tice, he always seemed to have that dear in the headlights look, or one that said, “WTF?”
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Tice, but you could clearly tell it was his first gig and that he really wasn’t ready for it. During his tenure, Tice had a 32-33 record, which is fairly respectable. There are a lot of coaches who have been fired for much worse; conversely there are coaches fired for less.
Tice led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2004 and an impressive road win at Green Bay 31-17 in the Wild Card weekend, but in the Divisional Game, the Vikings faced reality against the Eagles and lost 27-14.
The real downfall for Tice wasn’t so much his coaching as it was the Super Bowl scalping scandal. When the truth came out it was only a matter of time that management would fire Tice. The only that could save him was another playoff run and a deep one at that.
It didn’t happen. Even though the Vikings went 9-7 there was no playoff and Tice was on his way to Jacksonville to work with former teammate Jack Del Rio.
Brad Childress: 2006-2010*
If Dennis Green was controversial then Brad Childress was his disciple.
You would find people who loved Childress. They were asking for patience. They were pleading for understanding.
On the other side, you had fans that absolutely loathed this guy. In fact, when you went on to their blogs, the foaming could actually be seen popping through your screen. Well, at least it looked that real.
Childress got a good football education. With some prior head coaching stints in college, Childress’ real education came in Philadelphia. Most of you know the bio, so let’s move on.
Childress’ public perception was twofold. One, he had the personality of a wet mop. Or, he was trying to do his best impersonation of Bob Newhart. The second one was he was often condescending in press conferences, or wanted you to know that he was the smartest guy in the room.
This is football Chilly, not a college debate forum where you can blather on philosophically. No, we like simple metaphors. We get most of it, just get to the point.
Okay, to the record. Childress had a few impressive years sandwiched in between subpar years, the final bringing down the self-anointed 21st Century Confucius.
Childress went 39-36 during the regular season, but 1-2 in the playoffs. I don’t need to remind you all of the last playoff loss.
Childress’ demise was like that of many players, or corporate executives who think they are larger than their profession. Football existed before Childress, and will go on long after the chrome dome is worm food.
*Childress was 3-7 before finally being replaced by current head coach Leslie Frazier
Leslie Frazier: 2010-Who Knows
Frazier was most likely the result of a guy being in the right place at the right time; not that he didn't earn this opportunity. I mean, that it saved the Vikings a lot of searching and time. I always am hesitant about hiring interims to full time head jobs; the history of it does not read well, but I am hopeful about Frazier because the proof is who he brought in, Musgrave and Singletary, just to mention two.
Unlike Tice though, Frazier actually had six games to prepare himself for what being a head coach is all about.
Frazier went 3-3, respectable when you consider they were 3-7 when he took over. For the most part 2010 was a nightmare year for the Vikings. Whatever could go wrong did go wrong. We had enough drama in 2010 for half a dozen teams.
Perhaps in some strange twist of irony, all that went wrong may bode well for what “could” go right from here on out. Stay positive, right?
Anyhow, there’s not a lot to say about Frazier. He was a quality player, has coached various positions from DB’s coach to DC to Assistant Head Coach.
Hang on, there's one more slide to go.
Ranking the Coaches from Worst to Best
We cannot rate Frazier yet, so we have only seven to rank.
7. Les Steckel: Just awful, what more could be said.
6. Norm van Brocklin: Better player than coach
5. Brad Childress: The personality of a fish and an attitude to match. Got lucky in 2009, the other years revealed his inadequacies.
4. Mike Tice: I give him the nod over Chilly because I think had he been given more time, he would have done well.
3. Jerry Burns: Was already old when he took the job and not real sure the organization respected him the way they should have. They always seemed to be looking for his replacement. Burns was the longest interim coach in NFL history. In my opinion, that is.
2. Dennis Green: There is no denying what he did for the Vikings in the 90's. He brought us back to prominence that decade.
1. Bud Grant: Stands alone, no equal even close. Four Super Bowls says enough. The face of the franchise forever.
As we Vikings fans look to 2011, the good news is our front office is still very strong and in the good hands of guys like Scott Studwell, Rick Spielman and Rob Brzezinski. Also, hats off to our scouts from all regions of the US. The Wilf’s have done an admirable job as owners and as long as they keep the team in Minnesota, all will be well.
My hopes are these: One, the Vikings eventually end up with a new stadium in five years or less and two, Frazier keeps himself surrounded by quality coaches and players thereby always having that opportunity for success. I worry that the Vikings are on their fourth coach in 10 years, when it was four in 40 plus years to start.
The Vikings are the most successful franchise to never win a Super Bowl and hopefully that will soon change. We look forward to the future with optimism and hope.