Why the insult? Burns won't talk about it. Rashad thinks Steckel "outpoliticked" him. Lynn allows that Burns might have been "stereotyped" as an assistant coach. There is a Burns in every office—an efficient, likable good soldier whom everybody acknowledges as utterly invaluable, yet nobody remembers come promotion time.
Whatever the reason for his rejection by the Minnesota management, Burns was hurt. He went so far as to tender his resignation during the 1984 season after Steckel reduced his sideline play-calling responsibilities.
He also considered joining the Cleveland Browns' staff. "At that point, I'd given up on the idea of ever becoming a head coach," he says. But when Grant returned in 1985, Burns was made assistant head coach, and his position as a strong second-in-command was restored. When Grant resigned a second time after last season, the Viking management finally made the decision it should have in the first place.
Last January Lynn officially offered the No. 1 job to Burns in Jamaica, where the coach and his wife, Marlyn, were vacationing. "After years of waiting I thought Jerry would be more excited about the whole thing, but he was very low-key," says Lynn. "He's always been very emotional, but the moment he found out, it's like he became even-tempered. He showed no outward signs of joy."
Burns has made sure to keep his emotions, and more important his ego, in check. He hired Peters and former Green Bay offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker and gave them plenty of responsibility.
"It's like the guy who's captain of the Queen Mary" says Burns. "The captain doesn't run to the boiler room to make sure the boiler is stoked. He's not in the commissary to see if there's enough ice cream. He tries to get the whole thing going and get into port."
The Vikings are getting close.