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Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell has gotten to know legendary Bud Grant, and it’s ‘a real joy’

There have been several meetings between the two at the team facility

Grant-OConnell.jpg
New Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell shakes hands with former Vikings head coach Bud Grant on Feb. 17, 2022, the day O’Connell was introduced at a news conference at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan as the 10th coach in team history. At left is Bob Hagan, Vikings senior media and team history advisor, and at right rear is Pat Smith, Grant’s girlfriend.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings
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In 1985, Kevin O’Connell was born and Bud Grant coached his final NFL game. This year, almost four decades later, the two have gotten together to talk football.

O’Connell was named the 10th head coach in Vikings’ history on Feb. 16 and was introduced the next day at a news conference at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. On that day, he met for the first time the legendary Grant, who coached the Vikings from 1967-83 and in 1985 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

Since then, there have been several more meetings between the two at the team facility. And shortly before Grant celebrated his 95th birthday on May 20, O’Connell jumped on a Zoom call along with a number of Grant’s former Vikings players to wish the coaching icon the best.

“I’ve had some really great dialogue, even just a couple real quiet times when he’s been at the facility and there really haven’t been a lot of folks around, getting to have a meal with him, and just sit and just ask questions, pick his brain, (get) his perspective on things, obviously from such an amazing leader,” O’Connell said. “He has been responsible for leading some of the best teams in our organization’s history. I’m just so lucky that he’s so willing to spend those times with me.”

Grant led the Vikings to 11 Central Division titles and to four Super Bowls, though they weren’t able to win one. He compiled a 158-96-5 record to become the winningest coach in team history.

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“I think it makes me a better head coach every interaction I can possibly have with him,” said O’Connell, in his first year as a head coach at any level. “It’s been a real joy kind of getting this job and (getting) the opportunity to build a relationship with Coach Grant.”

O’Connell, 37, has had lunches with Grant at the TCO Performance Center, and he picks his brain on football matters.

“Everything from stories about how he would prepare teams,” O’Connell said. “I never miss an opportunity to thank him for any perspective and all perspective when it comes to building a football team, building a tough football team, building a group that plays for one another.”

The modest Grant downplays the meetings he has had with O’Connell, a former NFL quarterback who was an NFL assistant the past seven seasons and won a Super Bowl in February as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator. Asked about what the two mostly talk about, Grant first said it’s “about the weather.”

“Well, we talk about football in general,” Grant said. “But he’s been around enough. He knows enough about players. He’s been on winning teams. He knows what he’s doing.”

Grant said he has enjoyed getting to know O’Connell.

“He’s a good guy, but if he wins a couple of ball games then he gets to be a better guy,” Grant deadpanned.

O’Connell said in their meetings, Grant often has been quick with a quip.

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“He never misses an opportunity to take a shot at me about the big coaching staff that I have compared to the four or five guys he was coaching with back in the day,” O’Connell said. “So, we always have kind of that banter back and forth.”

The Vikings’ roster lists 28 assistants working under O’Connell, a number that is a similar to other NFL teams. Grant said he had four assistants in his first season in Minnesota — 1967 — though that number eventually increased to seven.

Grant, who has a primary residence in Bloomington but spends a lot of time now at his lakeside home in northern Wisconsin, doesn’t know how many games he might attend this season. But he plans to at least be watching on television.

“As long as I’ve got my faculties, I’m interested,” he said.

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Grant didn’t come to the TCO Performance Center for about two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he has dropped by several times this year. He checks his mail at his office there and chats with some folks, including O’Connell.

“(I ask him) questions (like), ‘How did you get that done? How did you ultimately become who he became as a leader?’ ” O’Connell said. “The thing he always comes back to is being authentic, being yourself and trusting what obviously got you here and what you’ve built up, foundations of what you believe in while understanding I can rely on that big coaching staff of mine that he didn’t necessarily always have.”

In May, the Vikings set up the Zoom call for Grant’s birthday, which included about 20 of his former players. Tight end Stu Voigt was on the call, and he said others on it included defensive linemen Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Bob Lurtsema, safety Jeff Wright, quarterback Bob Lee and wide receiver Bob Grim.

O’Connell joined the hour-long call along with general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. O’Connell was impressed with the reverence the former players had for Grant.

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“Just to watch the way, so many years later, just the pure love and admiration that still comes through, even on a Zoom call, from those guys,” O’Connell said.

Voigt said O’Connell said on the call that “the present-day Vikings stand on the shoulders of guys from the past.” Lurtsema said the call “went really well” and that Grant “was so approachable.”

That’s how O’Connell said Grant has been in the dealings the two of them have had this year. And O’Connell would welcome the opportunity to meet with the former coach as much as he can.

“I love having him around,” O’Connell said. “If we could have him around on a daily basis, I would, but I think he’s earned the right to enjoy life a little bit. But when he is around and willing to be around our team and our organization, I think it makes us better.”

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