Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns dies at 94

1989 NFC Divisional Playoffs:  Minnesota Vikings v San Francisco 49ers
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Jerry Burns, whose long coaching career included three playoff appearances as head coach of the Vikings, has died at the age of 94.

Burns took over the Vikings in 1986 and instantly improved the team, going 9-7 in his first season and then reaching the NFC Championship Game in his second season. But while Burns would make the playoffs two more times, he never got past the divisional round, and he retired after an 8-8 season in 1991.

After playing at Michigan as a backup quarterback and punter from 1947 to 1950, Burns took coaching jobs at Hawaii and Whittier, where he coached baseball and basketball in addition to football. Eventually he made his way to Iowa, where he was hired as an assistant coach in 1954 and then promoted to head coach in 1961. In his five seasons at Iowa he went a disappointing 16-27-2 and was fired after a 1-9 season in 1965.

From Iowa, Burns went to Green Bay, where he was an assistant to Vince Lombardi and was on the Packers’ sidelines when they won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II. After that he was hired by Bud Grant with the Vikings, and he spent the next 18 seasons as a Vikings assistant before he was hired as head coach.

The Wilf family, owners of the Vikings, released a statement saying, “Jerry Burns was one of the most important people we met when we came to Minnesota, and he was a foundation of this franchise. His leadership as a coordinator and head coach for over two decades shaped some of the most successful teams in Vikings history. His love of life, quick smile and sense of humor were what we will remember most. We join Vikings fans worldwide in sending our prayers to his family.”

19 responses to “Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns dies at 94

  1. One of the great characters in NFL history, famous for his locker room rants at the media. He also invented the so-called “west coast offense” before anyone ever heard of Bill Walsh.

  2. One of the greatest press rants ever was orchestrated by this man. Fielded some pretty great teams too.

  3. Great coach that had plenty of personality. The Vikings lost a legend today.

  4. He was so great! Was so fun to watch his post game pressers. I hope the Lord blesses him and his family!

  5. RIP Coach Burns! As I understand it upon retiring Bud Grant recommended Jerry as the man he felt should replace him. The Vikings instead hired Les Steckel who set up a military style training/conditioning camp, and went 3-13. The players didn’t care for Steckel and he was fired after 1 season. The Vikings again sought the counsel of Bud Grant as to who they should hire and Bud again recommended Jerry Burns. This time they listened and hired Coach Burns. Burns did really well as the Head Coach Restoring the Vikings to competitive respectability. The players loved him.

  6. I remember stories of Bud Grant leaving pennies face up around the building for Burns to find before games, because Burns considered them to be omens of good luck. He was a genuine guy who spoke his mind, which is almost always refreshing, and he knew football.

  7. RIP.

    I’ll never forget when Mr. Burns drafted H. Simpson. What a legacy.

  8. RIP Burnsie. He loved his players and coaches. Spoke his mind, had a colorful vocabulary. He was genuine, thanks for the memories coach!

  9. He has never really been given credit for his innovative offenses which were a precursor to the west coast offensive systems. He was also a very nice and approachable guy around Bloomington despite the salty language and rep. Just watched his Shnelker presser again – what a classic. RIP Burnsie.

  10. I always enjoyed watching him go after the players and reporters. He reminded me of a cranky gym coach i had. Coach Burns was one of the last old school coaches, RIP Coach.

  11. The real genius behing the “West Coast Offense”. Bill Walsh gets all the credit but it was Burnsie who did it first. Look at the receiving numbers of RBS Bill Brown, Dave Osborne, Clint Jones, Chuck Foreman, Oscar Reed, Brent McClahanan, Robert Miller and Rickey Young.

  12. My dad knew him casually. They met up sometime when they were both young. When he was coaching they’d say hi when they bumped into each other at the airport. He sounded like a genuinely decent guy.

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