Hometown heroFormer Vikings coach returns to Superior for ‘Hometown Hall of Famer’ ceremony
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In his 18 years as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Bud Grant was a man known for his composure.
Wednesday at Superior High School, Grant fought back tears as he talked about his hometown of Superior.
“It’s a humbling experience to come back here … and have something like this awarded to you,” said Grant, who graduated from Superior Central High School in 1945.
Grant, 85, was honored through the Hometown Hall of Famers program, presented by Allstate and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The program pays tribute not only to Hall of Fame athletes but to the communities that helped shape them.
During Wednesday’s event a plaque honoring Grant was presented to Superior High School to be put on permanent display. With the honor, the high school becomes an official extension of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I thank the school for accepting this and displaying this,” Grant said. “And just let me say, I’m proud to be American, I’m proud to be a member of the Hall of Fame, and I’m always proud to say I’m from Superior, Wis.”
Grant’s closing words drew a standing ovation from the crowd, and he returned to his seat wiping his eyes.
Following the presentation ceremony, Grant posed for pictures, signed helmets and footballs and chatted with fans.
UW-Superior women’s basketball coach Don Mulhern was among the Minnesota Vikings fans eager to shake Grant’s hand.
“To be honest, I’m giddy here about seeing Bud Grant,” Mulhern said. “He was my first memory of what a successful coach is.
“He is a good role model for how to be successful without having to be showy. The focus wasn’t upon him. He did things the right way, and his teams played the right way.”
In his speech, Grant talked about Superior and the people who influenced him. He can trace many of his ideas about coaching and teamwork back to his high school football and basketball coach, Harry Conley.
“I think you’re the sum total of your experiences, and that was a very good experience for me to play under a guy by the name of Harry Conley,” Grant said.
Conley coached the Superior Central High School football team for 22 years. He stepped down in 1951 and became the school’s athletic director.
Grant described Conley as a “tough old Irishman” who expected his players to be tough, play a disciplined game and make good choices.
Every one of Conley’s players walked away as a better person, Grant said.
“Bud had it right when he said he was ‘a tough old Irishman.’ That’s just what he was,” said Len Ward, laughing.
Ward was a classmate of Grant’s and played both football and basketball for Conley. The coach expected a lot from his players, Ward said, but he also displayed an abundance of patience.
“We respected him,” Ward said.
As head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Grant also commanded respect.
Doug Sutherland, a Superior native, played for the Vikings as a defensive lineman from 1971 to 1980. He remembers Grant as an honest and straight-forward coach.
“Some of my management style came from Bud,” Sutherland said. “Just let people do their job and stay out of the way. Everybody gets blocked, everybody falls down, everybody get beat — just as long as you don’t make a habit of it.”
Players always knew where they stood with Grant, Sutherland said. Every man was expected to do his job and work alongside his teammates.
“He never yelled at you unless you made a mental mistake,” Sutherland said. “That look he had, if you did something or had a bad play, he would give you that stare and he didn’t have to say anything.”
All of the players respected Grant, Sutherland said, and that respect has not diminished over the years.
“I even got a haircut yesterday so he wouldn’t get on me about my hair,” Sutherland said. “He’s quite a guy.”
Grant coached the Vikings from 1967 through 1983 and again in 1985. The Vikings played in four Super Bowls during that time, won 11 divisional championships and held a .620 winning percentage.
Grant was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1994.
“I followed him all the way along,” Ward said. “In my family it was all Packers fans. I was the only Viking.”
Before coaching the Minnesota Vikings, Grant was a three-sport athlete for the University of Minnesota. He went on to play for the Minneapolis Lakers in the NBA and then the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.
His coaching career began in the Canadian Football League in 1956 when he was just 29 years old. He compiled a 105-53-2 record over 10 years before taking over as head coach of the Vikings in 1967.
Through all the years and all the games, Grant said his clearest memories remain the years he spent playing for the Superior Central Vikings.
“I can tell you about every game I played in high school. I remember every one of them,” Grant said. “I remember the scores; I remember my teammates. The point I’m making is, these are the most valuable times in your life. The memories you make today, you will retain forever.”