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Quarterback Fran Tarkenton. "Working with him was the most enjoyable eight years of my career."
Running back Chuck Foreman: "He had more to do with my having the kind of career I did than any other person. He was a joy to play for. He had a way of making his point without humiliating you. I wish everybody could have a chance to play for him."
You say, "You can't take yourself too seriously in this business. The thing I see that amuses me is coaches who take credit for the development of this guy and that guy. I don't know how much development you can ever do with a player. I'm never going to say I developed Fran Tarkenton. He wasn't the easiest guy to work with, but life is a give-and-take situation. I always felt I was a live-and-let-live guy. Whatever you are is fine with me, as long as we work together."
You do not sleep in your office. You do not make your assistants sleep in theirs. You don't even wear a headset during games. You allow your offensive and defensive coordinators—Bob Schnelker and Floyd Peters—to do their jobs. "He is not obsessed," says Tarkenton. "He knows how to make people comfortable."
You were the youngest of eight children. Your father, who worked as an accountant for Chrysler in Detroit, spent much of his time on the road. Your mother took care of the kids. "In a big family, you have to get along with each other," you say. "You have to respect each other, acknowledge each other's peculiarities."
Shortly after World War II, you quarterbacked Michigan's 150-pound team (in those days, the Big Ten schools had lightweight teams). Then you rode the bench on the Wolverines' 1950 Rose Bowl team. After college you began working your way up the coaching ladder—assistant jobs at Hawaii and Whittier, followed by a high school head coaching job back in your hometown of Detroit. Next came an assistant's job at Iowa. In 1961, you became the Hawkeyes' head coach. Five years later, after going 16-27-2, you were fired. You say you weren't ready for some of the pressures of the job; others say injuries and a lack of support from the administration didn't help.
You feared you would never get another chance to be a head coach, and for 21 years, you were right. You caught on as Lombardi's defensive backfield coach for two years in Green Bay, where you learned about discipline. In 1968 you joined Grant as offensive coordinator and learned about delegating authority.
You noticed that other Viking assistants—Neill Armstrong, Bob Hollway and Jack Patera—all got head jobs and you didn't. But they were all defensive assistants, and through the early '70s the Vikings were known for their Purple People Eater defense. The offense you designed was conservative, because with Alan Page, Jim Marshall, Carl Eller and Gary Larsen on defense, Minnesota didn't need to take many chances.
However, as the defense started graying, it became necessary for the offense to open up. After the arrival of Tarkenton in 1972 and Foreman a year later, it did. In '75, Foreman became the first running back ever to lead the league in pass receiving. "Long before it was in vogue," says Tarkenton, "we were using one running back and three or four wide receivers. All anybody ever talked about was the Purple People Eaters—that was the image—but we had a very freewheeling offense."