Pro football: A state of the Vikings address
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley hits on a variety of topics Friday in Willmar, from Bud Grant to the NFL Draft
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 for the team building 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 on 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 on 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 kept an office in honor of Grant.
“There’s 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 wide variety of topics from the team’s play in 2022-23, the culture around 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 one-possession games. That includes a 33-point comeback against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15, the largest come-from-behind victory in NFL history.
“One of our main goals was to establish a culture. Kevin O’Connell (and) Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, they did that,” Bagley said. “It feels like we’re at a good place and on our way up. We’re putting our faith in Kevin and Kwesi for the vision they have for sustained success.”
On O’Connell, Bagley added, “Kevin’s a great person, great communication, innovative coach that connected with our players. He basically had the same team (from the previous season) and he dramatically changed the results. He’s excellent at encouraging and developing people and getting the most out of them.”
Two of the key cogs for the Vikings’ recent roster have moved on in wide receiver Adam Thielen and linebacker Eric Kendricks. Thielen, a standout from Detroit Lakes High School and at Minnesota State-Mankato, tallied 534 catches for 6,682 yards and 55 touchdowns over nine seasons. He reportedly signed a three-year deal for $25 million with the Carolina Panthers. After racking up 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 Viking 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 brought up a recent poll by the NFL Players Association naming the Vikings the top-rated team in the league. The poll was compiled after surveying 1,300 players on categories including: treatment of families, food service/nutrition, weight room, strength coaches, training room, training staff, locker room and team travel.
“It felt good to be acknowledged by the players because we have 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 are coming to check it out to emulate it.”
The Vikings are also gearing up 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 bring the draft to Minnesota.
“(The draft) brings 80,000 to 100,000 people each day; it’s a really impactful event,” Bagley said. “We’re fighting really hard to get that in Minnesota. We’re going to have to wait in line behind other teams that don’t have indoor stadiums and that won’t ever get the Super Bowl. Virtually every team in the NFL wants the draft.”