My introduction to Dennis Green was probably the worst I’ve ever acted at a news conference, as Green was being announced as the new Vikings coach in 1992.
The reason for my poor behavior is that I had the scoop Green was going to be named coach because a friend of mine, Vinny Cerrato, who had been 49ers head of college scouting, had a secretary who was close with Green’s secretary at Stanford.
Green’s secretary had called Cerrato’s secretary and told them that Green was leaving Stanford and would be announced as the new Vikings coach the next day. We ran that story in the paper.
When I called then-Vikings owner Roger Headrick the night before the news conference, he completely denied that fact.
While my relationship with Green didn’t start out great, he and I became very good friends as his career moved along. In fact, Green tipped me off that he was going to leave the team in 2001 because he was sick and tired of working for Red McCombs, who was a real cheapskate.
I didn’t believe Green. I didn’t think Green would give up the extra money he had coming on the contract and never wrote the story.
But it was announced shortly thereafter that the Vikings were buying out his contract. Green was paid $5 million to leave, spent some time at ESPN and ended up with the Arizona Cardinals in 2004.
A great legacy
There’s no question Green had one of the best coaching staffs of any Vikings team, the present regime included. Tony Dungy was his defensive coordinator for four years before he took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job, and Brian Billick served as the offensive coordinator. That might be one of the best coordinator duos in the history of the NFL, as both men went on to win Super Bowls as head coaches.
Green also retained the great Tom Moore as his first receivers coach, Moore was a holdover from Jerry Burns’ staff, having been Vikings assistant head coach for offense in 1991.
The great coaching staff is one reason Green led the team to eight playoff appearances and posted a 97-62 record over 10 years. His .610 winning percentage is the second-highest in team history, trailing only Bud Grant.
Green’s greatest season was easily 1998, when the Vikings went 15-1 and set a then-NFL record for points scored in the regular season, with 556. That season Green had maybe the best offensive line that ever played for the Vikings, and one of the greatest running backs in Robert Smith. The addition of rookie receiver Randy Moss made the 1998 Vikings one of the best teams to ever play in this state in any sport.
Unfortunately for Green, that ’98 team missed the Super Bowl after Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a field goal all season, missed a 38-yard kick that left the door open for Atlanta to win the NFC Championship Game in overtime. The NFL Network recently named that team the fourth-best team in NFL history to not reach the Super Bowl.
Two years later, Green had another opportunity to go to the Super Bowl and for some reason the Vikings stunk the place up, losing 41-0 to the Giants, and a year later his great tenure with the team was over.
While Green’s legacy will always include his own tremendous career as a head coach, it’s amazing to think that this year’s Vikings squad still has a member of Green’s coaching tree in defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who also held that role for the team under Green in 1998 and ’99. Patterson returned to the Vikings in 2014.
It was clearly a different time then, but during offseason workouts I had the chance to ask Patterson what sort of similarities he saw in the coaching style of Green compared to current coach Mike Zimmer.
“Both Denny and Zim really care about the players, they’re very similar in that regard,” Patterson said. “I think the main difference is Zimmer is very intense and he’s going to tell it like it is. There is no sugarcoating with Zim, it is black and white, there is no middle ground. That’s the difference between the two.”
Patterson also recalled the great defensive line he had under Green. “Obviously I had John Randle and Chris Doleman, and both of those guys are in the Hall of Fame, so you know, having two spectacular players like that was unbelievable for me,” he said.
Great coach, with class
Friday’s news made for a sad day not only for Green’s family but for Vikings fans as well. He was one of the best coaches we have ever had here.
The day after his contract was bought out in January 2002, I wrote this about him in a column:
“Here’s something that shows how much class Green has: He agreed with me some time ago to speak to the Dunkers club on Friday morning. I got a call at home on Thursday night assuring me that he would be there on Friday at 7:30 a.m.
“And even though his job was on the line at the time, Green didn’t cop out as almost anyone else in his situation would. He showed up on time.”
• When you speak of great careers, who could have a greater one than the late Wendell Anderson? Three decades of public service as a state legislator, governor, senator and University of Minnesota regent. In addition to that, he stood out as a hockey player for the Gophers and played on the 1956 United States Olympic team that won a silver medal in Italy. What a tremendous loss for the state of Minnesota.
• Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys said that there isn’t any question that the offensive linemen have not only put on weight but have improved their strength a lot since spring practice. “You know they weren’t happy with the way they played a year ago, also, and so you know they’ve got not only the players at practice but I think they’re doing a couple sessions on their own in the weight room,” Claeys said. “With coach [Jay] Miller here, they have great pride in that group and they want to do well, and they put in the extra work this summer, and you can obviously tell.”
• Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen talked to the “NFL HQ” television show about his feelings on U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened for public tours this weekend. “It’s unbelievable,” Griffen said. “All the artwork, all the seating and the surroundings, it feels like you’re outside. So it’s really awesome. I come from the Metrodome. I have been there for seven years … so this is like night and day comparison, can’t even compare.”
• Mark Griffen, an assistant coach at Eden Prairie, had these words to say about former Gophers team physician Pat Smith, saying the university is losing more than a great doctor. “He helped out my daughter when she tore her ACL a few years back, and the way he was concerned not only for the knee but her mental state in the recovery process,” he said. “You felt like he gave you 100 percent at every turn and really wanted to know how she was doing. Sad to see this happen to such a great guy.”