Bud Grant’s Hall of Fame coaching career almost never began.
He considered disappearing into the woods.
He and his son still might.
Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium, Mike Grant coached the Eden Prairie football team to its fourth straight state title and 10th overall, beating Totino-Grace 28-27 after overcoming a 21-7 deficit. After the game, Mike planned to drive to father Bud’s cabin in North Wisconsin, to hunt deer with their extended family.
“I told Dad, ‘It’s been a while since we had a family hunt,’ ” Mike said. “Dad said, ‘There are no deer!’ I said, ‘Dad, it’s really not about the deer.’ ”
Bud, the former Vikings coach, is 87. Mike is 57. This week Mike sat in his cluttered office at Eden Prairie High School and mulled retiring, probably not imminently but perhaps soon. As football coaches, he and his father haven’t shared many carefree autumns. Mike feels time running short.
“I want to do a lot of things when I grow up,” Mike said. “I want to write a book about race, after seeing the demographics of Eden Prairie change so much. I want to write a book about reconnecting with my dad.
“We used to hunt a lot before I started working. I want to bring him back to all the places he wants to go, and has been, up in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and re-create the hunts from 1955 and 1960 and hear those stories. I want to see what it’s like to spend time with your father. I’ve spent a lot of time with people who have lost their fathers, and they say, ‘What I would give to have that time with my father again.’ ”
Not that Bud is ailing. Recently he shot a deer, gutted it and lugged it into his truck by himself.
That’s the way he planned to live long before he thought about coaching.
“My dad didn’t want to go to college,” Mike said. “My uncle tells the story of him and my grandfather arguing, fighting, my dad saying, ‘I want to go into the woods and hunt.’
“He would disappear for days when he was 15 or 16 and be gone hunting and fishing, where he has his cabin now. My grandfather would say, ‘What, you want to be a ‘Hunyuck’ your whole life?’ I don’t know what that is, but it can’t be good.”
Mike does not seem to be a Hunyuck. He runs the most successful football program in Minnesota history. He treats his kids well, doesn’t allow cursing by players or staff and runs relaxed practices that pay homage to St. John’s legend John Gagliardi’s “nice day” drills, in which players lay on the grass and say, “It’s a nice day.”
Mike is Bud’s son and Gagliardi’s former player and assistant. Together, they represent the most successful pro, college and high school coaches in Minnesota history.
“Everybody thinks this is just about winning here,” Grant said. “Winning allows you to do the real work — working with young men and talking about working your life out. If you didn’t win, the parents would run you out eventually.”
Friday night, Eden Prairie won, again, its third straight comeback victory leading to a familiar scene of tears and cheers on the sideline. “We talk to our kids about doing something special,” Grant said. “We coulda, shoulda lost our last three games. That’s special.”
Thursday morning, Grant had a large box of tangerines and snack bars on a chair in his office.
“We have lots of kids in this building that don’t eat breakfast or lunch, so we make this available,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be able to help kids.
“We have kids who come to two-a-day practices without eating breakfast or lunch. So we provide food those days. Then we have a study table we do three nights a week during the season … and our parents feed them.”
Someday soon Grant may choose between coaching kids and spending time with his father. This weekend, he tried to find a way to do both.
Jim Souhan • firstname.lastname@example.org