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Thread: Dennis Green: A Vikings Retrospective

  1. #1
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    Mar 2006

    Dennis Green: A Vikings Retrospective

    By Ted Glover @purplebuckeye on Jul 22, 2016, 1:57p 28

    Simon Bruty/Getty Images

    Looking a little more in depth at Denny's time in Minnesota

    As you've probably heard, former head coach Denny Green passed away overnight at his home in Arizona. I'd like to take a bit of a longer look at Green's accomplishments in Minnesota, take a bit of a walk down memory lane, hopefully put his career in perspective, and reflect on how good it really was.

    It's important to look at Green's hiring in the context of the time. When he was hired, he was not only the first African American head coach in team history, but only the second in modern NFL history, behind Art Shell of the Raiders. Green gained a great reputation in college, first at Northwestern, and then Stanford. When you look at his record at Northwestern, a paltry 10-45, you might shrug and go 'man, that was terrible. Why was he considered such a hot coaching prospect?'

    For those of you too young to remember, Northwestern was probably, and I'm not exaggerating here, the worst college football team in NCAA history. From 1976-1980, Northwestern won a total of three games. In five years. Everything that Northwestern football has become today--above average to pretty good program, fairly regular bowl appearances, players that are drafted in to the NFL--it all started with Denny Green bringing that program back from the abyss way back in the early 1980's.

    When he took over as the head coach in Minnesota, he inherited a roster that hadn't made the playoffs in two years, and had gotten stale under Jerry Burns. He needed to rebuild the team and get younger, only he had a big problem: The Herschel Walker trade. From 1989-1991, the Vikings had no first round pick, and in 1990-91, they had no second round pick, either. In Green's first draft of 1992, he had no first, second, or third round pick, although the Vikings did have two second round picks that year. He also had no Herschel, who was released by the Vikings at the end of the 1991 season.

    All he managed to do was draft Roy Barker, Ed McDaniel, and Brad Johnson in that class, players that would become core guys in future Denny teams. That 1992 team was a pretty good one, too, coming out of nowhere to go 11-5 and win the NFC Central division. They did it behind Walker's former understudy, Terry Allen, who ended up 6th in the NFL with 1,201 rushing yards, and the Vikings offense was 6th in the NFL in scoring.

    That high scoring offense would become a trademark of the Vikings under Green. When you consider the lack of top draft picks he had to work with for that '92 team, it's borderline miraculous.

    He rattled off three straight playoff appearances from 1992-94, went 8-8 in 1995 and missed the playoffs, then rattled off five more straight post season berths. And he did it, for the most part, with high scoring offenses and a quarterback du jour, an odd combination to be sure.

    Let's take a look at some of the quarterbacks he got to the playoffs with:
    1992: Sean Salisbury (although Rich Gannon started most of the season)...the same Sean Salisbury who got a Christmas tree haircut into the back of his head.
    1993: A washed up Jim McMahon
    1994: Warren Moon, who was at the end of his career
    1996: An unknown Brad Johnson, who replaced an ineffective Moon
    1997: Randall Cunningham, who was literally installing granite counter tops halfway through the season. He also won his first playoff game with the Vikings against the Giants that year, too. And it was a pretty incredible comeback in the waning minutes of the game.
    1998: Cunningham again, who had the most prolific season for a quarterback in team history.
    1999: Jeff George. Jeff. George.
    2000: Daunte Culpepper
    Look at that list of washed up, has beens, and never really were guys. The fact that Denny even got to the playoffs with a single washed up QB impressive. Half a dozen of them is flat out incredible.


    Although Denny took two Vikings teams to the NFC Championship, it was the 1998 team that stands out, and it was, hands down, his best year. And it is arguably the best team in Vikings history. It started on draft night, when troubled but uber-talented wide receiver Randy Moss started falling down the draft board. Green famously called Moss and told him if he was still on the board when the Vikings selected 21st, they were drafting him ( draft night starts at 52:48, with a hilarious Moss impersonation of Green; seriously watch it if for that and nothing else).
    It turned out to be one of the best picks in team history, and it set the Vikings on a course that saw an offense perform like the NFL had never seen before.

    The Vikings rolled through their schedule, going 15-1 and steamrolling the rest of the NFL. The offense, now with the three deep trio of Moss, Hall of Famer Cris Carter, and Jake Reed, along with a great RB in Robert Smith, set an NFL record in points scored, with 556. I don't think it's a stretch to say that without Dennis Green, there is no Randy Moss on the Minnesota Vikings. Without Randy Moss, there is no late career revival of Randall Cunningham and Jeff George, no 15-1 1998 season, and none of the highlights Moss provided as a Viking from 1998-2004...and then again briefly in 2010. Does Cris Carter become the best WR in NFL history not named Jerry Rice? I think you could argue he'd still have a good career, but would he have had the numbers he put up had the Vikes hired a different coach? I honestly don't know the answer to that.

    No, the 1998 season didn't end like we thought, and Denny took a lot of legitimate heat for how he mismanaged the end of the NFC Championship game, but Green consistently produced powerful offenses. And one can argue that his offenses were as good as the defenses of the Purple People Eaters a generation earlier, with as many Hall of Fame caliber players on offense that the PPE had on defense.

    Yet, Green doesn't seem to get as much credit for that feat. I think it's easily explainable, as the Purple People Eaters were basically the same guys for a decade, and they went to four Super Bowls. Denny never got that far, had to deal with a fair amount of roster turnover because of the advent of free agency, and he had that continual QB shuffle. But with all that, he produced six top ten scoring offenses from 1992-2001, including going first, fifth, and fifth from 1998-2000 (with three different quarterbacks), a streak every bit as impressive as the heyday of the Vikings defenses from the 1970's.

    As we mentioned before, Green took the Vikings to the playoffs 8 times in 10 seasons as the Vikings head coach, or 80% of the time.

    How good is that? Well Bud Grant, considered by everyone the best coach in team history, took the Vikings to the playoffs 12 times in his 18 seasons, a rate of 67%. So, at least in terms of post season appearances, Green took the Vikes to the playoffs at a greater rate than Grant did. Now, to be fair, there were more playoff slots (extra wild card, etc.) in the NFL for Green than when Grant was coaching, but that's still a remarkably consistent run of success.

    To put that into further perspective, since Denny Green was fired at the end of the 2001 season, the Vikings have made the playoffs a total of five times. Five times in 14 years. Only one coach since Green has taken the Vikings to the post season more than once (Brad Childress, 2008-09), and Chilly is also the only coach to get consecutive playoff appearances, obviously.

    So the legacy Denny Green left in Minnesota is an impressive one. From Hall of Fame players, to consistently good to great teams, Green re-established the Vikings as one of the top teams in the NFL, year in and year out. He is, for many fans, the best coach of the best Vikings teams they ever got to see firsthand, and his passing is truly the end of an historic era, both for the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings.

    He will be missed. Godspeed coach, hope the bass are hitting in Heaven.

  2. #2
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    Green recalled as blustery, shrewd coach — and an influential mentor
    By Michael Rand
    JULY 22, 2016 — 11:47PM

    Former Vikings head coach Dennis Green, whose family announced his death of a heart attack Friday, wasn’t always the easiest guy to know off the field.

    “He was private,” said Mike Tice, who played under Green, then served as an assistant coach before ultimately succeeding Green as head coach.

    But in his element — talking, teaching and coaching football — Tice also remembers a man at the top of his peer group.

    “Denny first and foremost was an excellent offensive mind,” Tice said. “He was underrated in that regard. He knew how to break down defenses and was an excellent teacher of coaches.”

    Green communicated those ideas in unique, colorful ways to a litany of assistants and coordinators — including Tice, Brian Billick and Tony Dungy, who went on to become NFL head coaches.

    “There was an expression he always used. He always used to say, ‘Plan your work and work your plan.’ He was so organized,” Tice said Friday, reacting to what he called “terrible” news of Green’s death. “And another saying that I still use quite a bit, when a player had a lot of ability but the player wasn’t doing well and coaches were criticizing the player, he would say, ‘It’s not always Johnny’s fault that Johnny can’t read.’ It was his way of saying to the coaches, ‘Hey, buddy, maybe it’s you.’ ”

    Coach Dennis Green took the Vikings to the playoffs (including two NFC title games) in eight of his 10 seasons. In 1992, his first year, the team was 11-5.

    Tice, now the offensive line coach for the Raiders, added: “I still find myself saying those things.”

    And there was clearly a method to what Green was teaching. He compiled a 97-62 regular-season record the Vikings, reaching the postseason in eight of his 10 years here. Billick and Dungy went on to win Super Bowls as head coaches.

    To the younger generation of NFL fans, Green might sometimes be reduced to a fiery caricature thanks to his decade-ago “they are who we thought they were” rant about the Bears after a loss while coaching with the Cardinals. But make no mistake: Green left a lasting mark on many of those he coached or worked with over the years, as evidenced by the outpouring of testimonials Friday.

    Larry Fitzgerald Jr., a Minneapolis native whose ties to Green go back to his youth as a ballboy with the Vikings and extend through his pro career when he was drafted by the Cardinals when Green was at the helm of that team, talked about the massive impact Green has had on him.

    “My whole football career is predicated on what he did for me,” Fitzgerald said Friday. “He’s directly responsible for everything I’ve done in my life.”
    Randy Moss, chosen No. 21 overall by Green’s Vikings in the 1998 draft after several teams shied away from him, shared similar thoughts live on ESPN on Friday.

    “He gave me a chance. I remember him on draft day calling me on the phone and asking me if I’m ready to become a Viking. I told him yes,” Moss said. “He meant a lot to me. He meant a lot to others.”

    The Vikings went 15-1 in 1998 thanks in large part to Moss exploding onto the scene to lead an offense that scored 556 points — an NFL record at the time. On the front end of those passes was quarterback Randall Cunningham, whose career was revitalized by Green.

    “He was a man who really, really cared,” Cunningham said Friday on NFL Network. “I believe that without God using Dennis Green, I probably would not have played football as long as I played.”

    In an interview Friday, Billick said Green was the best talent evaluator he’s ever seen. Dungy, Green’s defensive coordinator for four seasons, tweeted: “Denny Green did so much for me but the best thing was allowing his Asst coaches to have time with their families.”

    Former Vikings running back Robert Smith was among the first to react, tweeting that Green’s death felt like he was losing a father.

    Kurt Warner, the former Cardinals quarterback coached by Green in Arizona, tweeted, “we lost a good man way too soon!”

    “Just hearing about him passing today and just reading about a lot of the comments and positive things people are saying — Denny Green was just that,” Moss said. “The things that they are saying about this man are very true.”

    Staff writers Kent Youngblood and Chip Scoggins contributed to this report

  3. #3
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    Zulgad: Dennis Green’s passing brings back memories of nearly magical season
    By Judd Zulgad | @1500ESPNJuddJuly 22, 2016 3:40 pm

    Dennis Green was in his sixth season as the Vikings’ coach and had guided the franchise to four playoff appearances, when Minnesota faced the New York Giants in December 1997 in an opening-round playoff game.

    Green’s relationship with the Minnesota media – and his employers – had grown tumultuous and the fact he had yet to win a playoff game had led to plenty of criticism.

    The expectation was that Green would be fired if he lost that game to the Giants in New Jersey.

    The Vikings trailed by nine points late in the fourth quarter. Randall Cunningham connected with Jake Reed on a 30-yard touchdown pass, and an onside kick by Eddie Murray was recovered by Minnesota. That set up a 24-yard field goal by Murray with 10 seconds left that gave the Vikings a one-point victory.

    The Vikings lost by 16 points the following week at San Francisco but Green’s job had been saved. That April the Vikings stopped Randy Moss’ free fall by taking the wide receiver 21st overall in the draft and, with that pick, everything changed.

    The 1998 season was the first thing to come to mind Friday upon learning Green had died of a heart attack at the age of 67.

    Green had plenty of highs-and-lows during his 10 seasons as Vikings’ coach – he ranks second in the franchise history in games coached, wins and winning percentage, trailing Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant in each category – but the Vikings’ 15-1 finish in ’98 stands out.

    I started following the local sports scene in 1978 and think it’s safe to say that the most memorable season that did not result in a championship in these parts came courtesy of the high-flying offense provided by Cunningham, Moss, Cris Carter, Robert Smith and others in ’98.

    Yes, it ended with a gut-wrenching 30-27 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game, but it was a magical ride before the wheels came off and resulted in what could now be considered the modern-era of Vikings football.

    Despite making the playoffs in 1997, apathy toward the Vikings was growing. The team’s home finale, a 9-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, failed to sell out and became what is the last blackout the franchise has had.

    Green’s willingness to do what 20 other teams wouldn’t and select Moss, despite some issues in his past, reinvigorated the Vikings’ fan base and brought aboard a group of younger and more enthusiastic followers (some of whom might have enjoyed a few too many cocktails each Sunday). That group began replacing those who had followed the franchise from Met Stadium to the Metrodome.

    Moss caught two touchdowns in the first game of his rookie season against Tampa Bay, both from Brad Johnson, and had four TD receptions as the Vikings got off to a 4-0 start. Any questions about just how good the Vikings might be were then answered in a Monday night game in Week 5 at Green Bay.

    The Packers were coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and also were undefeated. Cunningham, who had taken over at quarterback because of an injury to Johnson, threw four touchdown passes, including two to Moss (52 and 44 yards), and the Vikings cruised to a 37-24 victory at Lambeau Field.

    The Vikings only loss that season would come in Week 9 at Tampa Bay against a Buccaneers team coached by Green’s former defensive coordinator, Tony Dungy.
    Minnesota would set a then-NFL record with 556 points in Red McCombs’ first season as owner. Twelve of their 15 wins came by at least 10 points and the loss to Tampa Bay was by only three points.

    Any ill will directed toward Green went out the window and McCombs’ rallying cry of “Purple Pride,” became the mantra around the Twin Cities.

    The Vikings’ history is littered with painful defeats – including four in the Super Bowl and the 2009 NFC title game in New Orleans, to name a few – but in the last 30 years of the Vikings’ existence it’s safe to say that loss to the Falcons tops the list.

    Nonetheless, as I told Phil Mackey on our radio show Friday, there remains something special about that ’98 season and what could have been. On one hand, it’s painful, but on the other, it was unforgettable. All of those memories were rekindled Friday with news that Green had passed.

  4. #4
    Thanks for sharing ovike, somehow I didn't see he had passed until just now. Denny will be missed; you can't tell the story of the NFL without him.

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