In the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan looks back at the Minnesota Vikings long, tattered history of leadership struggles, coups d’etat, backstabbings, legal battles, and instability that would embarrass a banana republic in the 1930s:
In the beginning, there was Norm Van Brocklin, and he was angry. So angry that he would scream at Fran Tarkenton when Tarkenton scrambled. So angry that Van Brocklin unwittingly became the Vikings’ cussing precursor to their current coach, Mike “Bleep” Zimmer.
That Norm couldn’t get along with a future Hall of Fame quarterback foretold decades of Vikings history, in which owners, coaches, star players and team executives would scheme to seize influence within the organization.
Today, the Vikings appear to have all of their key decisionmakers on the same page and, for once, that page is not a legal brief.
There have been good times, and calm times, in Vikings history, but rarely were the Vikings good and calm at the same time when anyone other than Bud Grant was in charge.
Grant employed problem players and his team lost big games, but with ol’ Steely Eyes in charge, the Vikings took on the appearance of a lake unruffled by whitecaps.
Since Grant retired, the Vikings have not been the same. They have not returned to a Super Bowl. They have not enjoyed a multiple-season stretch of anything that could be labeled as tranquil.
Les Steckel replaced Grant, and quickly got himself fired by mistaking the NFL for a special forces training center. Grant returned for one season, but finished 7-9. Grant’s longtime protégé, Jerry Burns, another coach who could swear with creativity and stamina, took over and advanced to the brink of a Super Bowl, but retired before new executive Roger Headrick could push him out.
Headrick had replaced Mike Lynn, whose time as the team’s top football executive included feuds between him and the ownership group known as the Gang of 10, members of which spent more time suing one another than watching football. Headrick, a corporate type who mistakenly showed up for a practice in coaching shorts and wearing a whistle, replaced Burns with Denny Green.
Green won right away and for a long time, but by the end of his first season he was the subject of reports about numerous non-football allegations, and soon he would be writing a book threatening to sue for ownership of the team.
Here’s hoping that the Mike Zimmer years will be as calm as the Bud Grant years… oh, and at least as successful.