Dennis Green: A Lasting Legacy

The indelible marks left by Dennis Green in Minnesota are being permanently recognized by is placement in the Vikings Ring of Honor.

Green’s name will be displayed on the façade of U.S. Bank Stadium and inside the team’s headquarters as a sign of the respect, appreciation and admiration the franchise has for Green’s accomplishments on and off the field.

Green will be the 24th member of the Vikings Ring of Honor and the third former head coach, along with Bud Grant and Jerry Burns.

Green was the Vikings Head Coach from 1992 to 2001, and his 97 regular-season wins rank second in franchise history. His teams won division titles four times and advanced to NFC Championship Games after the 1998 and 2000 seasons.

Green made the playoffs in eight of 10 seasons in Minnesota, with his most memorable campaign coming in 1998. The Vikings went 15-1 that season and racked up 556 points, which set an NFL record at the time.

“He deserves to be there, without a question,” said current Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who was on Green’s staff in 1998 and 1999 in Minnesota. “He’s most definitely one of the best head coaches in Vikings history.”

A Father Figure

Green coached Hall of Famers, All-Pros and Pro Bowlers in Minnesota, but the coach cared as much about the fringe players as he did the superstars on the roster.

“He really loved to teach. I know that he took a lot of pride in coaching the scout team … that was kind of his thing,” said Green’s widow, Marie. “It was a great way to get to know the guys at that level and really make an impact and teach them and get them to the next level. That was really his favorite part.”

Green routinely invested in his players’ lives on and off the field and made sure they knew he had their back.

Perhaps there is no more evident example than when the Vikings took wide receiver Randy Moss with the 21st overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.

While other teams stayed away from Moss in the draft, Green and the Vikings welcomed the lanky receiver with open arms.

The move paid off, as Moss caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and a rookie-record 17 touchdowns in his first season in the league.

Moss was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, and Green will now join him in the Vikings Ring of Honor, a club Moss was inducted into in September of 2017.

Upon hearing the news that Green would be going into the Ring of Honor, Moss was asked what he would say to the man who drafted him. The wide receiver gave an emotional answer.

“I really don’t know why I was treated the way I was treated on draft day, but Coach Green gave me an opportunity,” Moss said in June of 2017. “And I told him, ‘Coach, you’re not going to regret this.’ So you ask me what I would say to him? Man, I’d probably just fall in his arms and give him a hug. There’s no words that I can tell him.”

Members of the 1998 Vikings reconnected earlier this month to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of that team.

When Green’s name came up, his former players recalled the profound impact he had on them.

“More than football, I learned to be a better person, a better man, a better leader,” said former Vikings wide receiver Matthew Hatchette. “I don’t think at that age I appreciated the position he was coming from and where he was pointing me.”

Added former Vikings wide receiver Tony Bland: “I’ll absolutely second that. Denny Green really helped turn me from a young man into a grown man. I appreciate it right now.”

Green might have been the closest with former Vikings safety Robert Griffith, who played for Green for nine-plus seasons in Minnesota and Arizona. Griffith later coached under Green with the Sacramento Mountain Lions in the United Football League.

“Denny was one of my best friends,” Griffith said. “We lived about a mile away from each other in San Diego, and then I had a chance to play for him in Arizona my last two years in 2005 and 2006.

“We had a lot of great conversations,” Griffith added. “He was a sounding board for me on a lot of things. He was just a great man.”

Green’s influence and impact wasn’t just limited to his players. He also developed a bond with his assistant coaches.

That included Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, who was Green’s defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1995 before taking the head coaching job in 1996 with Tampa Bay.

Although the two friends were now on opposing sidelines — in the same division no less — Dungy said he was never afraid to reach out to Green for advice.

“Even after I got the job in Tampa, and we’re in the same division competing against each other to go to the playoffs and division championships, I could call him and say, ‘Hey, Denny, how did we do this? How did we set this up? What did we do?’ ” Dungy said. “He was always there to help, and he wanted to see me succeed. That was important, and it rubbed off on me because I tried to do the same thing for guys on my staff.

“In terms of being prepared to be a head coach, Denny Green did more for me than anybody,” added Dungy, the only coach to defeat the Vikings during the ’98 regular season.

The Trailblazer

Green wasn’t afraid to forge his own path.

He played at the University of Iowa and for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League before working up the coaching ranks.

Green began his coaching career at Dayton in 1973, making stops at Iowa, Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers along the way.

By the time Northwestern University was looking for a head coach in 1981, it went with Green, making him just the second African-American head coach in NCAA Division I-A history. (Willie Jeffries was the first in 1979 at Wichita State).

In 2015, Green told Vikings.com that people in the coaching business thought he shouldn’t take the job at Northwestern because “the program was really in bad shape and had no commitment at all, but I really … felt we had come a long way when I got the opportunity to be a head coach at a fabulous school like Northwestern. I had played in the Big Ten, recruited as an assistant coach and had a lot of respect for the conference itself, so I really felt that was a sign of progress that I would have an opportunity to be a head coach in that conference.”

Patterson eventually joined Green’s staff in Minnesota, but he knew who Green was — and had plenty of respect for his future boss — long before that.

“Obviously I had known about Denny Green growing up in the Bay Area. He was a longtime 49ers assistant coach and was one of the highly regarded black coaches in pro football,” Patterson said. “In high school and junior college and even when I was in college, the biggest name that you heard about was Denny Green and that eventually he was going to be a head coach in the NFL or a major college head football coach.

“When he got the head coaching job at Northwestern, that was a big deal back then. That was a huge deal,” said Patterson, who was coaching Cornell in a game against Stanford when he first met Green.

Green was head coach at Stanford from 1989-91.

Jason Fisk played for Green at Stanford and later with the Vikings. Fisk said he wasn’t surprised to see Green have success in the NFL.

“He just had one of those personalities, an aura about him that would compel people to do what he wanted you to do, and it was always for the right reasons and for the good of everyone,” Fisk said.

Green’s trailblazing continued when he was hired as Minnesota’s fifth head coach and became the second African-American head coach in the modern NFL, and third overall.

Green led the way for other black coaches to get head coaching jobs. More than 25 years after Green took over the Vikings, eight of the 32 NFL head coaches are African-American.

“He basically helped carry the torch of that Vikings era of football. With his decision-making, he brought a lot of change to the organization,” said Vikings Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle, who played for Green from 1992-2001. “He was a players’ coach and took the first steps in saying, ‘I’m going to do it and try it and go about it this way.’ And he had a lot of success with it.”

Community-Oriented

During the NFL season, Tuesdays are usually the lone off day for players.

And while Green understood they needed some rest and recovery away from the field, he still wanted them to find a way to make an impact with their platform.

Thus, the “Community Tuesday” program was born.

“Community service was his big thing. As a rookie coming into the league, I didn’t really know about community service. In college, I think we did some things, but it wasn’t a focus,” said former Vikings defensive end Duane Clemons. “But I swear, every Monday, he had that meeting [where he said,] ‘Get your butt out there in that community. Do something good for somebody, do something good for your neighborhood or for the city or for the county or whatever you’re thinking and make us proud.’

“We all did that every week, and that became one of our biggest things,” Clemons added.

It didn’t matter if players visited a school, hospital, church or nursing home, Green just wanted them active somewhere in the community. The initiative helped Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter win the NFL’s 1999 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

The rest of the league took notice, and other teams soon began imploring their players to go out and make a difference.

Now, every NFL team has its players involved in various initiatives on Tuesdays, a movement that was spearheaded by Green.

“He implemented the ‘Community Tuesday’ program,” said Mark Wilf. “We’re very proud of his great legacy in the NFL.”

A Fitting Tribute

Twenty years after one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history, the Vikings are honoring the head coach from the historic 1998 team.

In mid-June, Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf delivered the news to Marie Green in a surprise announcement at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

Marie let out a gasp and simply said, ‘Wow!’ when the Wilfs told her the news with daughter, Patti, at her side.

“[It’s] very emotional, clearly,” Marie said with a laugh and some tears in her eyes. “I’m so honored for my husband, and this is an honor that is well-deserved. I just wish he could have accepted it himself.

“I think that he would be very humbled. And he would be extremely proud of how the franchise has progressed,” Marie later added. “I think he’d be really honored and very proud to be in the Ring of Honor.”

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