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January 11, 2019

Remembering: Johnny Michels

Bud Grant, Joe Zaleski, Johnny Michels

Johnny Michels, a long-time assistant with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers forever associated with the legendary Bud Grant, died Thursday at the age of 87.
A star guard during his playing days at the University of Tennessee, Michels was drafted by his hometown Philadelphia Eagles in 1953. He served in the Army from 1954-56 and then joined Grant in Winnipeg, first as a player.

“I had known of John as a player in Philadelphia, and when he was released, I brought him to Winnipeg to play,” Grant told the Minnesota Vikings website, Vikings.com . “He was a great player at Tennessee in college even though he was undersized. What made him great on the field was his competitiveness. He played a year for me, and I knew he wanted to get into coaching. He went to Texas A&M for a year, and I brought him on to our staff after that.

“Football was his life, and I knew he was going to be a good coach. He was with me for the rest of my time in Winnipeg and he was a great addition. In those days we had a lot of players who hadn’t been in big-time college programs and needed to be taught the game, and John was great at that. Guys loved to play for him because many times he competed harder as a coach than the players did, and they recognized that. There was a mutual admiration there that showed.

“He was demanding, but players knew that he was making them better and respected him for that,” Grant continued. “The players loved John. He was demanding, but they trusted him. There was a camaraderie with those linemen and John that you can’t buy. You have it or you don’t. John was as close a personal friend as I have had in my life, and I’ll miss him. I feel for his family.”

Michels was part of the four Grey Cup Championships in five years from 1958-62 and when Grant left the Bombers for the Minnesota Vikings, he followed. Michels coached the Vikings offensive line from 1967-83, the running backs in 1984 and then the O-line again from 1985-93 and remains the longest-serving assistant coach in Vikings history. He was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.