With the search for a new Vikings head coach now at full throttle, I thought it would be a good time to peer into the past and examine the careers of the team’s eight previous sideline generals. Considering they have never won a Super Bowl, it would be hard to see what these former coaches did right. But as fortune would have it, the coaching history of the Minnesota Vikings is overflowing with examples of what not to do. Let’s take an in-depth look at each former head coach and find their flaws that led them to ruin. When we are finished, we can then use the opposite of these flaws to create a perfect coach template that Vikings GM Rick Spielman can utilize to finally find a Super Bowl winning coach for our cursed franchise.
Here are the men who have captained the ship of purple fools throughout the years:
1. Norm Van Brocklin (1961-1966)– Being born in 1976, I never had the opportunity to watch a Van Brocklin-led Vikings squad lose a big playoff game. Fortunately, I didn’t miss out on any purple-tinged disappointment, as the Vikings never even made the playoffs once during Normie’s tenure. His teams stumbled their way to an awful .363 winning percentage over six years. Missing out on this period of putridity provides me with yet another reason to be grateful I’m not older than I am.
Fatal Flaw-What’s weird about Van Brocklin is that he sucked at managing the QB position despite being a former star NFL QB himself. As a player, Norm won two NFL titles, was named NFL MVP, set the record for most passing yards in a game (554, which still stands) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971, yet he had no idea how to use his rising star QB Fran Tarkenton. The QB and coach butted heads as Norm wanted Fran to be a pocket passer, but Fran wanted the freedom to scramble. In other words, Norm was ordering the QB who would go on to become the best scrambling QB in NFL history to stop scrambling. What a moron.
2. Bud Grant (1967-1983, 1985)-When Bud arrived in 1967, he took over a 4-9-1 team that had just traded away future Hall of Famer Tarkenton. After a rough first season, Bud would get the Vikings into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1968 and then in 1969 he coached his squad to the Super Bowl. Grant would re-acquire Tarkenton in 1972 and the Vikings would go on to be one of the NFL’s best teams for the next decade.
Bud led the Vikings to the playoffs in 10 of his 17 years and got his team to four Super Bowls. Sadly, all the Super Bowls were losses, but Bud had established himself as one of the best coaches in league history. He would return for a one-off year in 1985 following the Les Steckel debacle before finally retiring for good.
Fatal Flaw-It’s hard to criticize a man who had so much success, but that’s what we less successful people do: criticize others. What Bud unintentionally did by creating a culture of winning was that he forged a mold of “never quite winning the big one” that to this day no Viking team has been able to break free from. Yes, at least he got his teams to the big dance, but it was also he who first indoctrinated Vikings fans to believe that greatness will always be just out of reach. This seemingly genetic pessimism that today pervades every cell of a Viking fans’ body can be traced directly to Bud.
3. Les Steckel (1984)-After their longtime leader Grant left, the Vikings promoted 37 year-old receivers coach Steckel to the top job. He went 3-13 to instantly become the worst coach in franchise history, a distinction he continues to carry today.
Fatal Flaw-The entire 1984 Minnesota Vikings season.
4. Jerry Burns (1986-1991)-Burns was the Vikings offensive coordinator for an astounding 17 years before he was given the top job in 1986. He got the Vikes to the playoffs three times in his six years, including the magical run of 1987 where Anthony Carter and Wade Wilson carried the team to the NFC Championship Game. Sadly, Darrin Nelson would drop a pass near the goal line that could have kept the Vikings alive in their quest for the Super Bowl. Burns finished with a respectable 52-43 record during his time at the helm, and actually was never fired from the Vikings; he simply chose to retire in 1991.
Fatal Flaw-Because I can’t really find one distinctive idiotic football moment or tendency to pin on Ol’ Burnsie, I’ll just find personality flaws. First of all, he had perennial “bed head”. His tussled gray locks were always unkempt during the game; it was as if he slumbered peacefully on a roll-away bed on the sideline during pregame warmups until an assistant coach would wake him up 5 minutes before kickoff. In addition to everyday being a bad hair day for Jerry, he also cursed like a sailor with Tourette’s. He let loose in front of the media on more than one occasion, and I imagine NFL Films simply stopped miking him up for games as three hours of taping Burns likely yielded only two minutes of airable, curse-free audio.
5. Dennis Green (1992-2001)-The Vikings next brought in Denny, who was then the head coach at Stanford, and immediately the team’s fortunes began to improve. Over the next ten years the Vikings would only have a losing record once (Denny’s final season), they would reach two NFC Championship Games, and Green would finish his Vikes tenure with an excellent career winning percentage of .610.
Fatal Flaw-Denny just couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. His career playoff record was a weak 4-8, and his two title game losses were a 41-0 blowout to the Giants and the to-this-day-heartwrenching overtime loss to an inferior Falcons team. The latter game featured the colossal “take a knee” gaffe that came to define Denny’s Vikings career. To refresh your memory, the score was tied at 27 with 30 seconds left in the game, the Vikings had two timeouts left, and were facing a 3rd and 3 at their own 30 yard line. Instead of giving the greatest offense in NFL history a chance to drive the ball into game-winning field goal range, Denny had Randall Cunningham take a freaking knee to run out the clock and let the game go to overtime, which, as we all know, didn’t end well. What a moron.
No critique of Denny’s reverse genius would be complete without mentioning his autobiography: No Room for Crybabies. Not only did the book not win a Pulitzer, it also contained a passage where he threatened to sue Vikings’ ownership and take over part of the team. This may seem like no big deal, until you realize Denny wrote his book in 1997, while he was still coaching the team. Publicly threatening to sue your employer while you are still employed? What a moron.
6. Mike Tice (2001-2005)– After five years as Denny’s offensive line coach, Tice became the first former Vikings player to coach the team. (He played TE for the Vikes in the early 90’s.) Big Mike only got the team to the playoffs once in his four seasons and finished with a .492 winning percentage. Most players and fans seemed to like Tice as a coach, but he was swept out the door when the Wilfs bought the team.
Fatal Flaw-The “Love Boat” scandal. Although it’s hard to blame Tice for the over-the-top live sex party that several Vikings players took part in on a rented boat on Lake Minnetonka, it was a sign of the lawlessness he presided over and even participated in. To wit: Just three months before the boat bacchanal occurred, Tice himself had been heavily fined by the NFL for being the ringleader of a Super Bowl ticket scalping scheme. What a moron.
7. Brad Childress (2006-2010)-The Vikings thought they had the right man for the job when they snapped up the Eagles’ offensive coordinator right after firing Tice. Childress’ name had been floating around as a possible candidate for a head coaching position for a while as teams looked at Philadelphia’s offensive success and figured the guy running that machine must be a great coach. However, there was one big problem with such an assessment: Andy Reid called all the Eagles’ offensive plays, not Childress. This led skeptics to ask the question, “If an offensive coordinator isn’t even calling the plays for the offense he is supposed to be coordinating, then what the hell good is he?”
The skeptics were right. Chilly couldn’t develop his young QB (T-Jack), his playcalling was atrocious, and his offenses in general were all horse crap until the team finally signed Brett Favre. Chilly would finish his tenure with a .527 winning percentage and two playoff appearances.
Fatal Flaw-Being a control freak. Instead of letting a surefire Hall of Fame QB play how he knows best, Chilly tried to force his constipated offensive mind upon #4. Not only did every QB that played for Chilly comment on how he wouldn’t let them do what they were best at, he also cut Randy Moss without consulting his bosses. (A necessary move, for sure, but not one to be undertaken unilaterally.) It is no surprise that when the losing started in 2010, the team completely quit on Chilly; nobody liked him and his overcontrolling ways. What a moron.
8. Leslie Frazier(2011-2013)-Once Chilly had been run out of town, defensive coordinator Frazier filled in as interim coach for the rest of the season and was given the gig full-time during the offseason. After a Steckel-esque 3-13 inaugural campaign, the next year Frazier joined the rest of the Vikings and rode the back of Adrian Peterson to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance. Unfortunately for Leslie, the team spiraled right back down into the outhouse hole this season, leading to his firing. He finished with a career .409 winning percentage.
Fatal Flaw-Frazier was too loyal. Instead of giving superiorly talented players such as Cordarrelle Patterson, Audie Cole, Matt Cassel, and Xavier Rhodes more playing time, Frazier stuck with familiar players Erin Henderson, Jerome Simpson, and Christian Ponder far too long. With as many close games as the Vikings lost this season, an extra playmaker or two could have easily put the team in position to win the shoddy NFC North, something that would have saved Frazier’s job.
Also, it was hard at times to detect if Frazier had a pulse. Perhaps showing a little fire could have given his team an extra boost.
The Interview Questions-So, now that we have reviewed the career of each Viking coach and highlighted their fatal flaws, let’s compile a list of questions that GM Rick Spielman can ask potential candidates in order to screen out the losers and find a perfect head coach, one who will be so successful that he will make Vince Lombardi look like Les Steckel. The questions are as follows: (The coach associated with each question is in parentheses.)
1. Have you ever tried to force a Hall of Fame QB to stop doing what he does best? (Van Brocklin, Childress)
2. Can you win a Super Bowl? (Grant)
3. Can you at least reach a Super Bowl? (All Viking coaches other than Grant)
4. If hired, will you prove to be a terrible head coach? (Steckel, Childress)
5. Are you certifiably crazy? (Green, perhaps Childress)
6. Have you ever allowed your players to transport hookers across state lines and proceed to have an out-of-control sex party on a rented houseboat in front of teenage boat workers? (Tice)
7. Do you have a soul? (Childress)
8. Have you ever been the mastermind of a Super Bowl ticket-scalping cartel? (Tice)
9. Have you ever had a facial expression? (Frazier)
10. Do you own a comb? (Burns)
There you have it. Any potential head coach that can pass through this gauntlet of inquisition without error is the man Spielman should hire. I emailed this list to Spielman and I’m sure he is using it in interviews, which makes me so confident that the next Vikings coach will take the team to the top that I’m already shopping for tickets to next year’s Super Bowl. Does anybody have Tice’s phone number?