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Q&A With Bud Grant

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Q: What is your philosophy on staff management?

A: Philosophy is something you are asked about a lot, but I am not so sure everybody has a philosophy or that I have a philosophy. Your coaching staff is vitally important; there is no successful team that doesn't have a good staff. As much as coaching might be overrated, your assistant coaches certainly can't be or shouldn't be. They are really the backbone of the team, because they do most of the work. I think it is important for staff to get along with one another. One of the things I look for in a staff is stability. Football is not a very stable business and there is no job security. If you want to embark on a coaching career you are taking a very big step in insecurity. For example, as many as 30 percent of the coaches in the National Football League get fired every year and that includes all of the assistant coaches. When I looked at filling a coaching position, the people I hired on my staff had to have a couple of things- including stable family lives. Many of my coaches had large families: Jerry Burns, offensive coordinator (1969-1985), had five children. John Michels, offensive line coach (1967-1985), had four children, Bob Hollway, defensive coordinator (1967-70, 1978-85), had six children, Bus Mertes, offensive backs (1967-1983), had five children. I had six children. Most of my staff were all stable, married people who had things other than football to help balance their lives, and I think that worked out. The younger coaches (Pete Carroll, Marc Trestman, Les Steckel, Paul Wiggin, and Floyd Reese) that were added to my coaching staff had the same stable family backgrounds and have proven to be successful. I think that staff is important, but they need to get along and have common interests.

Q: How did you manage the staff once they were assembled?

A: When I started coaching, I did everything. With my first job as a head coach in Winnipeg (Blue Bombers), I did it all from the kicking game to the offense and the defenses. One of the reasons I was involved in all of it was because as a player I played every position on a football field with the exception of an interior lineman. As a pro player, I played tight end, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive end, safety, and cornerback. In high school, I was a running back and was able to call the plays. I had some experience at every position on a football team with the exception of the interior line. As I went along in my career, we acquired more and more assistant coaches, and then you turn over more of that to them, but with my background, I always had an understanding of what they were doing.

As long as they do what they do well, then there is no reason to interfere. I did not feel they had to have my stamp on everything they did. You get people like a John Michels, who coached offensive linemen for 35 years (1958-1993) and coached All-Pros from a Ron Yary to Randall McDaniel. I knew John well enough to know that he was doing a better job than I could do because that was his specialty, but I still had understanding of what he and the others were doing. I feel that if you have confidence in your staff, then you can just let them do their work. You can talk about things as the season is ongoing, but they don't have to account to you for every decision made in the course of a preparation for or during a football game.

Q: How much input did you have with the X's & O's?

A: When I started out I did it all, I drew up everything, had my own ideas and borrowed. When I was at Winnipeg I would have Jerry Burns (then an assistant Iowa football coach) up as a guest coach and we would sit down and discuss football for two or three weeks, and certainly I learned a lot and got better ideas and exchanged ideas with Burnsie and other coaches like George Allen (then with the LA Rams). I started doing that right from the beginning. I have done all the Xs and Os, but as we got into larger coaching staffs- and the responsibilities of the head coach become more divided into many, many segments including: public relations, press conferences, player personnel decisions, players' personal lives, and things that cross your desk- you rely more and more on your coaches to work with the Xs and Os and put things together. Football is not as complicated as people try to make it. It is actually very simple, none of us have invented anything in the last 50 years that is very dramatic. Now the league has changed in the rules of the game, so we have had to adapt to that but as far as doing things differently . . . equipment has changed, the speed of the players has changed and techniques have changed a little bit, but football is not that complicated.

The assistant coaches are the technicians in the business and the technicians can be separated into various areas. Take a linebackers coach. He deals with linebackers day after day after day. He gets to be better at teaching in terms of linebackers than you as the head coach are, but you arrive at something before the practices start and then you all go and coach it your separate ways. You just have to be able to understand what the Xs and Os are. I think I had an understanding of that from the beginning, keeping in mind all the while that the head coach has to observe all of the practice.

Q: Why did you always have such a short training camp?

A: The Vikings always went to camp late under me. The longer you are in the business, the more comfortable you become. You can't be insecure, although there are many insecure coaches. And you can't be second guessing yourself. The longer you coach the more you are comfortable with what you are and how you are doing it. You recognize you are not going to win every game and there are things you can't control. All of those things become important in working with what you are doing. So going to training camp is a matter of basically a personnel thing; you are looking at people. I always told our coaches I don't think it takes more than four or five days to tell who the football players are, at least it did not take me that long. We can make the personnel evaluations pretty quickly, and I did not want my coaches coaching players that weren't going to play. In other words, we are getting paid good salaries, we wanted to coach the players that are going to play, that is our job. Second, we did not want the liability of having players in camp who were not going to make our team. We did not want somebody to just knock around or to practice against, that doesn't make any sense either. So, we told our players to come in shape and we will have a short training camp, get on with our business and then we would be saving something for the end of the season rather than trying to expend it all in training camp to have a lot of players around just to keep the coaches busy. The players appreciated a shorter training camp. I think that is more and more the vogue today, as opposed to what they used to do years ago. Bring in 120 players and go there for three or four weeks before your first preseason game? What a waste of time effort and money and liability. I think more teams have come around to our way of thinking.

Q: What things did you look for in players?

A: The most important assets of any football club are the players. The assets of a team, if a team is worth two, three or four hundred million dollars, are not any physical facility you own. The rights to certain players are the most important thing you have, you must access the talent. I don't think while I was here we ever let a player go who ever showed up on another team and played better than he played here. We never timed our players. I found out, for example, we could time a player and he would run a certain time, but if we ran him against another player he would run a better time. Well, that only told me that player, when faced with competition, ran a little bit faster or did something a little bit better. So times and weights and speed and all those things weren't as important. The most important thing was getting the job done. A good example was somebody like Paul Krause (Hall of Fame safety who played for the Vikings, 1964-1979). If you tried to time Paul Krause, you would not even have him back the next day, but Paul Krause owns the interception record with 81 in his career. But he couldn't run fast enough to make any team. That doesn't mean he couldn't run fast, but not by today's standards where time becomes so important teams won't even look at you if you don't have it.

So we never timed the players. We were not interested in how fast they ran, it was just how well they did the job. You can measure them in all different ways: weights, heights, speeds, jump, go through all kinds of tests, everything you want. The one thing you don't measure is their heart and you can't put that down on paper. But you can create situations in practices and make observations of heart. That is the thing the player has to have. He has to have great desire to be as good as he can be and that stems from what is inside of him, and that's the one thing our people have never been able to ascertain for sure.

I have always said the greatest ability a player has is his durability. If a player is durable, than he will eventually play when his ability rises to the rest of the starters. If he has the ability and has the durability to practice every day, to play every week, he only gets better. The player who gets injured often- and it could be nothing that is his fault, it is just that he doesn't get a chance to practice, he misses practice time, he misses playing time and if he is good enough to play and he makes a difference in eight games and you win eight games and lose eight games- that player will not get you far in this business. So durability became the number one prerequisite for consideration for a football player, because we had many players who just played and practiced every day, got better, and became outstanding football players. The greatest example of a football player we ever had was Jim Marshall, who played for 19 seasons (1960-1979), started for 19 years (270 starts) and never missed a game. I don't ever remember him missing a practice. There is an axiom I have, "players who got hurt, tend to get hurt." It may be an ankle now, two weeks it's a thumb, then it's a shoulder, then it's a neck, then a charlie horse. None of that is their fault, just physiologically that is the way they are put together. The players who don't bend too far or break or bleed too much generally have the durability to play and get better.

Q: What ideas do you have on motivating the coaching staff?

A: Anybody that gets into coaching is a motivated person. Over the years, of all the thousands of players I have cut I have told them, in most cases anyway, if they take the same approach to whatever business or profession or job that they have applied to football, they will be successful. Coaches are the most competitive members of the team, because they would not be in it if they weren't. I don't think they needed much motivation, certainly not from me because I never had a coach that I felt was ever a slacker, didn't work hard, didn't want to succeed or didn't have the best interests of the team at heart. I never ran into any of that, so motivation of a coaching staff wasn't a big thing. My basic philosophy was 'time does not represent work.' To be at the office until late at night, I was not impressed by that, I was only impressed with the job that they did. If they got their job done I would tell them to go home and be with their families; keep their batteries charged up. 'Don't worry about spending extra time here just because I happen to be here. When work is done, go home and we will stay happier and healthier a lot longer than if you're spending every night at the office.'

Q: What was your favorite way to motivate the team?

A: I don't know if I can even answer that. Motivation is not something you put down on paper. You motivate as you go, and if there is an opportunity to motivate in some manner, and if opportunity presents itself, then you may use it. I am not a motivational speaker, I am not a motivational person. I don't have slogans. I don't put things or phrases up. I haven't believed in that. Self-motivation is the greatest motivation there is. I expected it from the players. I did not expect them to be motivated by anything that I did or said, they had to show me their self-motivation. That's what I relied on more than anything else. I learned early on that players will listen if you have something to say. If you don't have something pertinent to say, don't say anything.

Q: How much game film of an opponent would you watch to make sure your team was ready to play?

A: I think it is more important for the players than it is to the coaches to look at the film. We can get stuff off film very quickly. There are probably certain players you have to make certain watch film. The reason for that is some players can't equate what you do on a blackboard, on a piece of paper or on a printout with Xs and Os and bring all of that together with what you are doing. It is very difficult for some players. It is more important if you look at film that the players can see what their responsibilties are, because they get a better grasp of where the alignments are, and the positioning and the timing. On a film it may be easier for players to determine what they are seeingand equate that to their specific jobs. Coaches have the ability to do that quite readily. Some players can, and certainly quarterbacks can or have to, but I think a lot of players have to see the film and then they can understand what you are saying. Film work becomes very important as an example for players to look at.

Q: What advice would you give young assistants looking to move up the coaching ladder?

A: There are so many things out of your control. You just have to work hard and make decisions as to where you want to be and what you are offered. I would not recommend coaching to anybody, it is the most insecure job you could ever get into. If you are prepared for the crap shoot- and you might not get the opportunity just because you know a lot or because you work hard- there are a lot of things that enter into it. If you want to be a family person, I would not recommend coaching- I would do something else. If you take the same work ethic and put it into another business you will be eminately more successful then you probably would coaching. It is just a matter of if your ego can stand it. We are in the entertainment business and ego becomes very important; we have a lot of people in our business with big egos. That in itself is not a bad trait, because it motivates people. If you want to coach, enjoy it while you can, but I would not recommend it for as a career for anybody.

Q: Who were your greatest mentors in coaching?

A: I think what I learned in my business was that I learned more things not to do from coaches then I did things to do. I have looked back at some of the coaches I have had, and remember as a player I did not think that was the way to handle this or that. I have referred more to that side of it of things not to do, rather than things to do. I don't think I can attribute my style, my pattern or whatever, to other coaches I may have had in my career. I remember things that I didn't do because they were done to me as a player from coaches. Not that I didn't play for a lot of great coaches. I think the first coach you have is probably the most important of your life. I had a great high school coach by the name of Harry Conly, at Superior High School in Wisconsin. He probably was the greatest influence on me as a coach. I remember more things that he did that made positive impressions on me than any of the other coaches I had.

Q: How would you approach coaching today?

A: I don't think I would approach coaching any differently. The personnel decisions might be different because you are forced through salary caps and whatnot to not be able to retain players. From a coaching standpoint, I hear a lot about West Coast offense. I don't know where that term ever came up. We used to do with (Fran) Tarkenton with all of our great backs and receivers, we were doing all of that and it was in vogue long before the (San Francisco) 49ers became a top team.

Due, to limited space within the pages of the magazine the following questions and answers were omitted from the June edition of AFM. So we present to our subscribers- as a special bonus- the remainder of our interview with Bud Grant, conducted by Minnesota Vikings special assistant Chad Ostlund.

Q: How important was it to have players that were cohesive as far as building team chemistry and did you look for that?

A: It is difficult today because of free-agency to get the continuity teams used to have. The old Pittsburgh Steelers and the old Los Angeles Rams teams had players that played for over a long period of time. The Dallas Cowboys had great players for many years. The Vikings had many players who played to 10, 12, 15 and 17 years. I think you can build with that kind of continuity. It is more difficult today because of your high draft choices, you are forced to play them right away. They may be gone in three years and it is hard to build the cohesiveness that the teams once had because the players couldn't move around like they do today. Of course, winning builds a lot of that. If you win, it is easier to keep a team together. If you have bad actors (players who can't play), you have to weed some of those out. If you have 50 players on a football team, they are all not going to be the same. It is the coaches job to try to put all that together and try to keep everybody on the same page, and as happy as you can. That is what the coaches get paid for, too.

Q: What ideas did you have on self-scouting?

A: Scouting is important. Everybody's got a little bit different slant on that. I didn't believe a lot in recording as much as they do today. It is a lot easier today because we have better equipment and better means of technology for recording things. I learned very early on that I could look at a film and get a general impression. I would then go back and document the whole thing and chart it all down. It would end up being very close to what I did when I could write down after looking at a film once. I got to be a great believer in going with my impressions of what I saw without having to put it down on paper all of the time. We did do a lot of that, but the longer I was in the business, the better we would get at looking at something and getting an impression. That impression would coincide with what the recorded data would also put out in a report. I think you self-scout yourself, but again only from an impression standpoint. We would self-scout, but it would also fall right in line with what we thought. For example, maybe we were getting too right-handed or we were throwing to certain places out of certain formations. Those things were in the back of your mind all of the time, and then you were able to second it by self-scouting. I felt we were able to save a lot of time by just going with my impressions and impulses.

Q: How much game film of an opponent would you watch to make sure your team was ready to play?

A: I think it is more important for the players than it is to the coaches to look at the film. We can get stuff off film very quickly. There are probably certain players you have to have watch film. The reason for that is some players can't see what you do on a blackboard, on a piece of paper or on a printout with Xs and Os and equate all of that with what you are doing. The transposing of that to what you are really going to do becomes very difficult for some players. IIf you look at film the players can get a better grasp of where the alignments are, and the positioning and timing. On a film it may be easier for players to transpose what they are seeing what is reality. Coaches have the ability to do that quite readily. Some players can, and certainly quarterbacks can or have to, but I think a lot of players have to see the film and then can understand what you are saying. Film work becomes very important and vital that players look at it.

Q: Who were your favorite players and why?

A: That is too difficult. I have had so many players that were outstanding and as a coach you reflect on what they have done. To say there were favorites would be unfair to others, because any one game a player does something and we all look good- so there are lots of examples of that. I referred earlier to Jim Marshall, who was our captain during all the years he played here. He played for so long and so well and was just such a great example of what a Viking might be. Whatever Jim Marshall did, everyone had to do. But to say he was my favorite player? He is one that comes to mind, but there are so many- it would be unfair to try and single out one or two or three. I had a player by the name of Leo Lewis, Sr., in Winnipeg that was a good as any player I ever coached. I played with Leo in Winnipeg and I later coached him for nine years. He was the greatest all-around player I ever had. He could run and catch and block and do everything as well as anybody I have ever coached. He played for 10 years and had an outstanding career in Canada. He did retire in the middle of one season, when his time came. That is the most difficult part of coaching is to coach a player for long periods of time and then have to sit down with them and recognize that they are out of football and make their last experience a bitter one. That has happened to too many players, where they play just a little too long and then their last experience isn't enjoyable, even though they have had a great career. I have been fortunate in having many, many, many great players and I reflect on everything they have done.

Q: How did you want your players to perceive you (like you, afraid of you) and did you have a different relationship when they played for you opposed to after their career?

A: That was never something I thought about. When you have a team of players, have had success and have a number of players that have played for a long periods of time, you come to be very close to those players. You have been involved in so many things involving their personal lives, team functions and whatnot, you become very good friends with a lot of players. But I never set out to intimidate or befriend the player. He had to make his own decisions, he didn't have to like me or what we did, but he had to respect what we did and do a good job. I am sure there are some players that would have more respect for you than others, and maybe that was based on their personal achievements. It was not a conscious thing, on my part at least, to try and forge a certain relationship or something that the player should try and take with him from me. He could make his own decisions on that.

Q: What is it like to go to your son's (Mike Grant) high school football games and sit in the stands and watch?

A: It is fun. I have had grandchildren playing for Mike at Eden Prairie High School (Minneapolis suburb). I enjoy it as much as anything else. If you have been in football all of your life, you don't watch many football games. One of the strangest things when I got out of coaching was to watch football on television, because we never watched television games. I didn't make any tapes or watch any replays of our games, certainly on television, and to watch those games and to watch a television game got to be tough because it doesn't show you anything. It shows the quarterback, then they show the ball up in the air. You don't get to see the positioning of the people and what the coaches look at. So when I go to a high school game where my son coaches, I can see the whole field and the whole game and it is more fun to watch because you see why and how things happen and you can anticipate some things. But on watching a game on television: I was always surprised how so many people recognized me when I went some place and now I know. The TV cameras spend so much time on the head coach on the sidelines, with a head-and-shoulders tight shot, and not enough time on the game on the football field. It is much more enjoyable to watch a high school game or a college game or a pro game, for that matter, in person- because you can see the whole field and see things as they unfold rather than watch a game on television. I very seldom ever watch television.

Q: What specific things did you look for in young assistant coaches you were looking to hire on your staff?

A: When you are in the personnel business, you rely on your instincts. When you talk to somebody, it is not like you have a teaching or coaching job that has to be published and advertised and then you have to interview so many people. In our business, all you had to do was if you saw somebody you liked or interviewed somebody you liked, then it was all over. You hire them then you are done. I can't tell you what that is because so much of it revolved around your instinct in an interview that tells you that this is the right person for the job. I can't put it any other way again. So many people try to document everything and do it on paper, I never did any of that. My decisions were all mostly from my impressions and my instincts of what was the right thing to do. In fact, sometimes people would ask why I did something and my only answer was 'it just seemed like the thing to do.' That was the best answer I could ever give.

Q: In players, what did you prefer. character or talent?

A: You're not going to win in this business if you don't have the best football players. The teams that win have the best football players, not the best coaches. You can take most of the coaches and give them the best players and they are going to win. Coaching is the least important thing, talent is most important. If you combine character with talent, so much the better. By your standards, not all of your players are going to be the highest character. The job is to work with all the people you have, but without the best talents you are not going to win.

Q: How is coaching football today different than it was when you retired?

A: Free agency has put a new dimension on coaching because you are really not sure who is going to be back from one season to the next. There was a time when you could say, 'okay we are going to draft somebody and he is going to be a 10- or 12-year player.' The next year you can address another area if your fortunate that a certain player turned out. You could build a team in that manner and retain those players and create a winning formula and atmosphere. I think it is much more difficult now with free agency and players going to the highest bidder in many cases. The rules have changed to a certain extent to where it's a little more wide open game now and that is what the public wants. But football is still football and it is just a matter of not having the continuity today than we had years ago.

Q: What coaches in the game today do you admire?

A: The Vikings are a great example. Denny (Green) showed last year what you can do with outstanding talent. I think Denny and Brian Billick came up with a great scheme and incorporated a lot of good ideas. They were able to get the vertical passing game going with the speed and versatility they had. They moved the ball and scored a lot of points. I think they have done as good a job offensively as anybody in the National Football League over the past few years. They had great years from outstanding players on the whole team: offense, defense and special teams. Special thanks to Chad Ostlund of the Minnesota Vikings, who interviewed Grant for AFM. Grant said all you need to be a successful coach is a patient wife, a loyal dog and a good quarterback, not necessarily in that order.


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