Note: this feature was published for the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation. If you’re interested in learning more about the organization and its mission, click here.
Paul Wiggin loves the game of football. It’s what keeps the 88-year-old coming back after seven decades around the game.
Wiggin, a member of the Vikings’ front office since 1992, could write a book about all of the thrilling moments from his long career as a player, coach and NFL talent evaluator.
He became a College Football Hall of Famer at Stanford, played defensive end for coach Paul Brown in Cleveland, won an NFL championship (1964) alongside Browns running back Jim Brown, worked for Vikings legend Bud Grant, coached future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway at Stanford and identified countless stars during his career in the Vikings’ personnel department.
Those special moments, combined with the thrill of seeing players succeed, are reasons why Wiggin is still working for the Vikings as a player personnel consultant.
“From my standpoint, I love football and I was able to play football and I was able to take it to the next step and coach it. And then another step would have been scouting. So I’ve been able to live a football life,” Wiggin said. “I’ve had ups and I’ve had downs, but I’ve got a ring and I’ve been a world champion. When you’re part of a team that is the best in the world, that’s a pretty good feeling to wake up the next morning with.”
Paul has earned many major awards over the years, but not many match the one he recently received from the Minnesota Football Chapter of the National Football Foundation. Wiggin, the recipient of the Bud Grant Distinguished Minnesotan Award, said the honor means even more because it is named after an influential mentor.
“It means a lot to me because I’ll take anything that has Bud Grant’s name on it. You talk about respect. Respect comes at different levels and that’s the highest level of respect you can have,” Wiggin said, “It was just one year [that I coached with Bud], but I’ll never forget it. There were so many things about Bud that were just amazing.”
After playing 11 seasons for the Browns (1957-67), Wiggin launched his coaching career under head coach Dick Nolan and the San Francisco 49ers. He spent seven seasons with the 49ers (1968-74) before the Kansas City Chiefs hired him to replace Hank Stram. Wiggin was the Chiefs head coach for three seasons until he became available following the 1977 season.
That’s when Vikings head coach Bud Grant first reached out. Bud wanted to hire Wiggin for an assistant coaching position. Paul entertained the idea, but instead became Nolan’s defensive coordinator with the New Orleans Saints.
“I chose to go back with Dick Nolan at that time because I knew Dick, I knew the staff and I was confident I would be in the role that I had before and I liked that role,” Wiggin said. “I had interviewed with Bud at that time too and it was hard to turn that one down at the time because everybody said back in those days, if you ever get a chance to work for Bud Grant, take it as an assistant coach because he’s the ultimate [coach] in the way you want to be treated as an assistant coach.”