Tarkenton. "Working with him was the most enjoyable eight years of my
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
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
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
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
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
Still, no head
coaching jobs came your way. When Steckel got the Minnesota position in 1984,
you were 58 years old. You figured that was your last chance to run a show.