Jerry Burns, an NFL innovator who served as the Vikings’ longtime offensive coordinator and later head coach, died Wednesday at his Eden Prairie home. He was 94 years old.
Burns was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator from 1968 to 1985 under Hall of Fame trainer Bud Grant, helping the team on four Super Bowls. He was later head coach from 1986 to 1991, setting a 52:43 record and leading the Vikings to the NFC championship game after the 1987 season.
Burns had been in poor health for the past several years. Former Viking quarterback Tommy Kramer, who played as offensive coordinator and head coach for Burns, said he last saw Burns at a team alumni event in September 2019. This was one of his last public appearances.
« I’m very sad to hear that, but he’s had a good long life, » said Kramer. « And he was the funniest person I’ve ever met, I’ll tell you. »
Burns was known for his sense of humor and an innovator. Chuck Foreman, a Viking who ran back from 1973 to 1979, said Burns developed the Purple Offense, which was a forerunner to the West Coast crime, with Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh in the 1980s for three Super Bowls for the San Francisco 49ers won.
« Bill Walsh has been recognized for Jerry Burns’ offense, » said Foreman. “That was our offense. That wasn’t her insult. We built that in to capitalize on my abilities as a receiver, so we threw this way before the West Coast crime. »
Foreman, who turned into a top runner under Burns and received a threat, was saddened by the death of his coach.
« I’m obviously very disheartened to hear from Jerry, » said Foreman. “Jerry was a wonderful man, certainly just a great person. Also a great soccer coach. He was certainly instrumental in my success as a football player. He could dial into my talents. »
Burns was born in Detroit on January 24, 1927 and was a backup quarterback in Michigan. After graduating, he began training and was Iowa’s head coach from 1961 to 1965. He set a 16-27-2 record before being sacked. Burns spent the 1966 and 1967 seasons as Green Bay assistant to legendary Vince Lombardi, and the Packers won the Super Bowl both seasons.
Grant brought him to Minnesota in 1968 to become its offensive coordinator. When Grant first retired after the 1983 season, Burns was passed over as head coach when the Vikings hired reception coach Les Steckel, who played 3-13 in 1984.
After Steckel was fired, Grant returned to the coach in 1985. After that season, Grant retired and was replaced this time by Burns.
Burns’ best moment as head coach came when Minnesota, an underdog with 11 points, won a Division 36-24 playoff game in San Francisco in 1987. The Vikings lost 17-10 in the NFC championship game in Washington the following week.
Burns retired as Minnesota’s coach after the 1991 season when he was close to his 65th birthday. He was inducted into the team’s ring of honor in 2005.
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