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Pro football's Bud Grant: not an iceman at all

By Christopher SwanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 30, 1983



Minneapolis

Bud Grant smiles. And there go all the cliches. ''The abominable snowman of Minnesota.'' ''The iceman cometh.'' ''Zero Centigrade.'' ''Polar bears could fish off of him.'' ''Great Stone Face.'' ''Old Iron Eyes.''

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The glacial visage and ice-blue eyes of Harry P. Grant - third-most-winning active coach in the National Football League - punctuate many an afternoon for football lovers and provide an easy target for television commentators looking for quick chatter in slow moments during Minnesota Vikings games. He comes by his nicknames via his Mt. Rushmore appearance, registering neither joy nor sorrow on the playing field.

In point of fact, the man is far more supple, friendly, forthcoming, and personable than the television persona would lead you to believe. ''He believes more in the dignity of man than anyone I know,'' comments Max Winter, founder and part owner of the Vikings. And a hard-bitten local reporter backs up this assertion.

Although he has never brought home the Super Bowl prize, he has led his team to 11 division championships and four Super Bowls. More important, he seems to have done it, in large part, by setting an example of stability and calm strength, of mutual respect and professionalism, that leaves a lasting impression on the people under him.

The trademark stone face takes on a softer tone in person, although it is not much in evidence as he ambles away from a knot of Paul Bunyanesque tackles during practice one afternoon. But then he smiles gently, points to a small, farmyard-rustic wooden trough full of hay, and asks a visiting reporter, ''Know what that's for?''

''A goat feeder?''

''We don't have any goats around here,'' says Grant. ''But we do get deer. When there's snow on the ground, you can see their tracks. Pheasants, too.''

Bud Grant, the man who perhaps more than any other in the NFL runs his team by regimen and discipline, who values order and control on and off the field, has a consuming affection for wildness. You can see it all over his office while waiting for him to wander down the hall for a hot chocolate. Pictures and paintings of ducks in flight, animals in the wild, and books on wildlife crowd the shelves.

Grant comes into the office, carrying his sinewy weight on a 6-foot, 3-inch frame, a quiet man who seems to signal invisibly that he is out to impress no one, that he desires no points for personal charisma. In an hour interview he turns down flat any chances to congratulate himself.

''I'm as competitive as anybody in this business,'' he says. ''I enjoy winning games. But it's still a job. I have six children. All of them need a place to live, clothing, an education. That's what football's done for me. I don't know how many coaches can say this, maybe (Dallas Cowboy coach Tom) Landry , but I'm where I want to be and where I've always lived. I grew up around here.''

Growing up ''around here'' means that he was born in the lake country of nearby Wisconsin, that he went to high school and college within easy traveling distance of where he now works. He played sports from the time he could walk. He left a brief professional basketball career with the powerhouse Minneapolis Lakers (which later became the Los Angeles Lakers) to play football with the Philadelphia Eagles, eventually moving to Canada, where he coached Winnipeg. But he never really left his attachment for the wilds of northern Wisconsin, where he still owns a backwoods place and where he spends his every recreational moment in the off-season.

His friends say Bud Grant's allegiance to the woods and to his family life is the key to his success as a coach. ''He's a strong person, a stable person,'' observes former placekicker Fred Cox. ''He has his life in order, and that lets him deal with problems in the team.''