Dennis “Denny” Green, former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals, has passed away at the age of 67 this morning.
Green is most known in NFL lore for taking the Minnesota Vikings to a 15-1 season and the NFC Championship game in 1998 as well as his “crown ’em” outburst after a stunning comeback by the Chicago Bears against his Cardinals in 2006.
Green started his coaching career in 1971 as a running back/wide receiver coach at the University of Dayton but he quickly progressed as a running back coach first at Iowa and then Stanford. His first head coaching job came at Northwestern in 1981 where he turned an 0-11 team into a 3-8 one. After a brief stint coaching receivers under Bill Walsh at San Francisco he returned to the collegiate ranks as head coach of the struggling Stanford. He took The Cardinal from 3-8 to 8-4, which finally earned him enough notoriety to be offered an NFL head coaching job.
Green took over the Minnesota Vikings in 1992 and was immediately successful, lifting the Vikings to 11-5 and the NFC Central division title. It was his first of 4 division titles the Vikings would win under Green and the first of 8 playoff trips they would make with him at the helm.
While Green oversaw an offenses that included the likes of Rich Gannon, Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Terry Allen and Warren Moon the Vikings could never get over the hump. They lost in the NFC Championship in both 1998 and 2000 and after a 5-10 performance in 2001, his first losing season with the Vikings, Green was fired.
After two years away from the NFL sidelines as an analyst Green returned as head coach for the Arizona Cardinals, but he was unable to work his magic with the team, while there were improvements it was noticeably less than in his previous jobs. While the 2006 season started with much promise the loss of a 20-point lead in 20 minutes to Chicago on Monday Night Football, which consigned them to a 1-5 start, seemed to be the final straw for Green and while he stayed on for the rest of the season a final record of 5-11 – a third season of 6 or fewer wins – saw Green removed with a year left on his contract.
Green’s legacy, unfairly, will be the tirade he fired at reports after that Chicago game, but he was a quality head coach and a pioneer for minority coaches. That 15-1 season was the most successful by a black head coach until Tony Dungy, who was an assistant under Green, won the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2002.