Dennis Green, a great and pioneering coach

Dennis Green was a head coach for the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals.
Dennis Green was a head coach for the Minnesota Vikings for 10 seasons and head coach for the Arizona Cardinals for three seasons.

notebookEarly Sunday morning en route to church, a Black woman mournfully asked, “Did you know about Dennis Green? It’s sad.” The unnamed woman affirmed how many local Blacks and others felt when the news broke Friday, July 22 that Green died at age 67 of cardiac arrest. This reporter thereafter trolled the web and other media for “good things” said and written about the Minnesota Vikings’ first Black head coach.

The problem with obituary-themed columns and articles is that the good is said about the late individual but those same words can’t be found when that person was alive. This seems at best hypocritical. Here are a few samples:

“Denny Green was an outstanding NFL coach.” Patrick Reusse — Star Tribune.

“He did a remarkable job of re-establishing the team as an NFL power.” — Tom Powers, Pioneer Press

Reusse and Powers were among several card-carrying members of the local “GAG”  a.k.a. “Go after Green” team. His words. His game strategies. Whatever. It seemed to be a  constant collision course between a strong, proud Black man and a mostly White media who didn’t quite know how to handle Green during his Vikings tenure.

“I was one of the first members of the Twin Cities media to be critical of Denny,” wrote Pioneer Press columnist Bob Sansevere. “Some people accused me of being racist because I was critical of Denny. I always have believed it would be racist to avoid criticism due to the color of someone’s skin.

“I didn’t dislike Denny Green. I disliked some of the things he did,” contended Sansevere. Whether or not that’s true — a journalist once told me that you can’t judge if someone’s racist or not solely on what a person writes. But whatever and whenever Sansevere and other local media wrote about Green — whether it was intended as constructive criticism, astute analysis or what have you, it unfortunately came off as racially-tinged.

Green wasn’t perfect — no coach is, but when it comes to Black coaches, it seems they have to be able to walk on water otherwise they wouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

Many of us Blacks fully know that we must be at minimum twice as good as a non-Black counterpart to get half the accolades — be it a football coach or a U.S. president. That’s why we rooted for Green when he was hired by Minnesota in 1992 and coached the Vikings until the club bought out his contract with one game remaining in the 2001 season — Green’s first losing season there. He was the franchise’s second winningest coach and won four division titles, including his first year and made the playoffs eight times.

I am not a Vikings fan and I never will be because I am from Detroit. But I immediately became a Dennis Green fan. I’m a fan of all Black coaches because I know how hard it is to get a first chance — especially in the NFL — to be a head coach who’s not White. It’s even harder to get a second chance.

Green historically struck twice in this regard when he later was hired by Arizona in 2004 and coached there three seasons. He was the second-ever Black head coach in Division I at Northwestern (1981-1985), then later hired at Stanford (1989-91) — a historic collegiate double-double for Black coaches.

He also coached three years in the United Football League (2009-11). NBC’s Pro Football Talk posited that perhaps Green’s greatest legacy was his success with quarterbacks, as he coached John Elway in college, and won in the NFL with Rich Gannon, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George and Daunte Culpepper. “Green never had one franchise quarterback he could count on year after year. He kept finding ways to win. That was a great piece of coaching,” said the article.

“Coach Green gave me a chance,” said Randy Moss, whose best pro seasons perhaps came while playing for Green in Minnesota, especially his 1998 rookie season when he caught 17 touchdown passes and the team went 15-1. Other players said Green was a player’s coach. Some local reporters and columnists definitely would not call him media-friendly.

Green had “a wholly unique method of communicating — focused not on what the public might want but instead on what he believed was best for his players,” said Kevin Seifert, ESPN and former Vikings beat writer.

I never met Coach Green and never had the chance to cover him either, unfortunately. But I didn’t need to read obits to tell me this: Green was a great coach.


Information from ESPN, Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, NBC and Wikipedia was used in this report.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to