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Jerry Burns, former defensive assistant under Vince Lombardi, dies at 94

He went on to become head coach of the Vikings in the 1980s

Former defensive assistant Jerry Burns
Former defensive assistant Jerry Burns

Jerry Burns, defensive backfield coach of the Packers when they won Super Bowls I and II, died Wednesday, May 12, at age 94.

Burns spent the 1966 and '67 seasons working for Vince Lombardi, then left to join Bud Grant's staff in Minnesota. Originally hired in 1968 as offensive coach of the Vikings before the term coordinator had become part of pro football's lexicon, Burns ran Grant's offense for 18 seasons. In 1986, Burns replaced Grant as head coach and held the post for six years. His record as head coach of the Vikings was 55-46.

In Green Bay, Burns was one of only three defensive coaches under Lombardi. Phil Bengtson ran the defense, while Dave Hanner coached the line and Burns, the secondary.

"In all my years of coaching in the National Football League, I never saw any better a defensive man than Phil Bengtson," Burns said in a 2009 interview. "Very smart and convinced that the things we were doing were right. He sold everybody on his 4-3 scheme and they bought it all and, as a consequence, the defense was very strong. He was a great guy."

On the other hand, Burns said his contact with Lombardi was limited.

"He was in a different vein than the other coaches," said Burns. "Sometimes at the 5 o'clock club you'd meet, but he also was the general manager. He was offensive coordinator. He was on a 24-hour schedule, I don't think we avoided him, (but) he was a busy guy. He was maybe on a little tighter schedule than the other coaches."

Actually, Burns flew to Green Bay in January 1959 when he was an assistant at the University of Iowa and Forest Evashevski was the head coach there. Evashevski was offered the head coaching post of the Packers during his visit and planned to bring Burns with him as an assistant. However, Evashevski turned down the job and Lombardi was hired instead.

"He was offered by (Dominic) Olejniczak," Burns said of the Packers' president at the time. "Why (Evashevski) turned it down, I'm not absolutely sure. But, yeah, I was there. Best I remember, we were one night there. We flew up and he met with Olejniczak. In fact, I was at Olejniczak's house. It seems like the next day – it's hard to remember; we're going back a ways – Olejniczak took us over to the stadium and we walked around a little bit. It got turned down, but I never asked (Evashevski) why. He was very satisfied at Iowa."

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