Dennis Green will be remembered for being a forerunner for African American coaches in college football and the NFL.
Green grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania the youngest of five brothers. Although he lost both of his parents at a young age, he stayed involved with and earned leadership positions at school.
In 1967, Green received a football scholarship from the Iowa Hawkeyes and enrolled in the university. The Pennsylvania native played tailback for three seasons and started working on the coaching staff for different college football teams, including Stanford.
Green became head coach of Northwestern football in 1981, becoming the first African American football coach in Big Ten Conference history and the second to coach a division I football team. Northwestern had a 10-45 overall record during the five years Green coached there. He was also named Big 10 Coach of the Year in 1981.
Green coached Northwestern until 1985. When he became coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 1992, he was the second African American to become a coach of an NFL team.
Although he was never a pro player, Green had more success in coaching an NFL team. He was a head coach 11 years before the Rooney Rule, a regulation that requires teams to interview one person of color for positions.
During the 10 seasons he coached the Vikings, the team went to the playoffs eight times and appeared in two National Football Conferences. In 1998, Green’s offensive line, which included Randy Moss, Randall Cunningham, and Cris Carter, had a 15-1 in-season record. Green had an eye for talent because he drafted Moss in 1998 when other teams looked over him, according to ESPN.
“I remember him on draft day calling me on the phone and asking me was I ready to become a Viking and I told him yes,” Moss said. “One thing he taught us was to play to one beat.”
Green ultimately had a 97-62 overall record with Minnesota. However, his 4-8 postseason record was one of the reasons the franchise fired Moss during the 2001 season.
Upon being hired as coach for the Arizona Cardinals in 2004, Green helped detect talented players to join the team in that year’s NFL Draft. The draft picks, Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, and Antonio Smith would play key roles in the Cardinals’ trip to the Super Bowl in 2008.
Green had a 16-32 record after three years coaching for Arizona. In 2006, the Cardinals had an eight game losing streak.
After one Monday night football game against the Chicago Bears that year, Green went on a memorable press conference declamation. Arizona secured a 20-point lead early in the game, but Chicago outscored them 23-24.
“We played them in the preseason,” Green said during the postgame press conference. “Now, if you want to crown them, then crown their a**! But they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook!”