Pro football: A state of the Vikings address

WILLMAR — In two different facilities, Lester Bagley had an office next to Bud Grant.

Bagley is the Minnesota Vikings' vice president of public affairs and was one of the driving forces behind the team's construction of US Bank Stadium in 2016. He spoke at the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce during its chamber community leadership celebration Friday at Sibley Auditorum on the MinnWest Technology Campus.

He began his half hour at the podium by talking about the longtime head coach.

“My family got to know him,” Bagley said. “I love the guy.”

Grant, who coached Minnesota for 17 years over two stints and was at the helm during the team's four Super Bowl appearances, died March 11 in Bloomington. He was 95.

Bagley said there will be a celebration of life ceremony for Grant on May 21 at US Bank Stadium. The Wilf family has had an office in honor of Grant.

“There is perhaps no single individual more defined by the Minnesota Vikings, or Minnesota sports, than Bud,” Bagley said. “It's really hard to describe the impact he's had on our organization.”

Bagley went over a variety of topics from the team's 2022-23 game, the culture surrounding the team and the team's facilities, including US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and the TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

The Vikings are coming off an NFC North championship season after going 13-4 in the regular season. Under first-year head coach Kevin O'Connell and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Minnesota won a record 11 single-possession games. That includes a 33-point comeback against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15, the biggest come-from-behind victory in NFL history.

“One of our main goals was to create a culture. Kevin O'Connell (and) Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, they did it,” Bagley said. “It feels like we are in a good place and on the way up. We put our faith in Kevin and Kwesi for the vision they have for continued success.”

Of O'Connell, Bagley added, “Kevin is a great person, great communication, innovative coach who connected with our players. He basically had the same team (from the previous season) and he changed the results dramatically. He's great at encouraging and developing people and get the most out of them.”

Two of the key cogs for the Vikings' latest roster have moved on in wide receiver Adam Thielen and linebacker Eric Kendricks. A Detroit Lakes High School and Minnesota State-Mankato standout, Thielen compiled 534 catches for 6,682 yards and 55 touchdowns over nine seasons. He is said to have signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Carolina Panthers. After amassing 919 tackles, 15 sacks and nine interceptions over eight seasons, Kendricks reportedly signed a two-year, $13.25 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers.

“(Thielen) will go down as one of the best wide receivers in Vikings history,” Bagley said. “Same with Eric, one of the best linebackers we've had. But their impact off the field has been monumental. That's one of the hard parts of the NFL is the business part and saying goodbye.”

Bagley also addressed a recent NFL Players Association poll that named the Vikings the top-ranked team in the league. The survey was compiled after surveying 1,300 players on categories including: treatment of families, food service/nutrition, weight room, strength coach, training room, training staff, locker room and team travel.

“It felt good to be recognized by the players because we've invested so much,” Bagley said. “We as our organization and we as a state in facilities with US Bank Stadium … and our practice facility in Eagan is state of the art. Teams from all over the world come to check it out to emulate that.”

The Vikings are also preparing for the 2023 NFL Draft on April 27-29 in Kansas City. Minnesota currently has five picks, including the 24th overall selection.

A driving force behind the construction of US Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016, Bagley told the crowd that the team hopes to eventually take the draft to Minnesota.

“(The draft) brings 80,000 to 100,000 people every day; it's a really impactful event,” Bagley said. “We're fighting really hard to get that in Minnesota. We will have to wait in line behind other teams that don't have indoor arenas and will never get the Super Bowl. Virtually every team in the NFL wants the draft.”

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