Former Vikings head coach and longtime offensive coordinator Jerry Burns died Wednesday. He was 94. Burns spent 24 seasons with the Vikings, who were a fixture in playoff brackets during his lengthy Minnesota stay.
Burns worked as Vikings offensive coordinator or head coach from 1968-91, serving as Bud Grant‘s OC throughout the team’s dominant stretch in the late ’60s through the late ’70s. The Vikings initially promoted wide receivers coach Les Steckel to succeed Grant in 1984, but Grant returned for a final season in ’85. The team then summoned Burns to take over.
Under Burns, the Vikings returned to Super Bowl contention amid fierce competition in a loaded NFC stretch. Minnesota reached three straight playoff fields from 1987-89. The ’87 team (8-7 in the strike-shortened season) upset the No. 1-seeded 49ers in the divisional round and fell just short of a third straight road postseason win in Washington. Burns’ HC tenure lasted six seasons. The Vikings went 52-43 in that span.
“The first year I was at the Vikings, I coached one guy short. I was holding the job for ‘Burnsie’ until he could come the next year,” Grant said. “He was a very astute football mind. He could see things on the field immediately. He was as important to my career as anyone I’ve been involved with.
“His coaching help, friendship, loyalty, family — he brought everything to the Vikings he had. I’m gonna miss him.”
Prior to joining Grant in Minnesota, Burns served as head coach at Iowa and an assistant under Vince Lombardi. A Detroit native, Burns was in Green Bay for two seasons, 1966 and ’67; the team won the first two Super Bowls in those years. The Vikings reached four Super Bowls during Burns’ time as their offensive coordinator, with Burns helping Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton retire as the NFL’s all-time leading passer.