Dennis Green, whose 10-season tenure as Vikings coach was a remarkable mixture of regular-season success, distressing playoff losses and off-the-field controversy, has died of a heart attack. He was 67.Talk about a complicated legacy. . . . He was a pioneering African American coach in the NFL, far more successful than the Art Shell. He was a mentor with a strong coaching tree that includes Tony Dungy and Brian Billick, who both won Super Bowls. He was a public-service minded fellow who started the trend of NFL players and teams using their off days during the season for community service. He won games with quarterbacks as varied as Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Jeff George. He nurtured the careers of teams with personalities as disparate and difficult as Cris Carter, Randy Moss, McMahon, George and Corey Fuller.
A statement from Green’s family to an NFL.com reporter said Green died Thursday night. Green had been living in the San Diego area but the statement did not indicate his place of death.
Green, who famously pronounced that there was “a new sheriff in town” when hired by the Vikings in 1992, won more games than any coach in franchise history except Bud Grant. His Vikings teams reached the playoffs eight times in his first nine seasons and advanced to NFC Championship Games after the 1998 and 2000 seasons, though never to the Super Bowl.
And yet, he was clearly a sexual harasser. His teams were regularly among the most talented in the league, but he never got to a Super Bowl. His career in Minnesota included a bizarre episode in which he threatened to sue his employer and laid out the lawsuit in an autobiography. And while he was quite intentional in spewing cliches and doubletalk in his interactions with the media, which he largely held in contempt, at times he would drop the mask. After he moved on to Arizona, he let loose with one of the most memorable (and unintentionally hilarious) rants in the history of coaching:
As anyone who reads this feature knows, I'm a Packers fan. For me, Green is the reason the Packers/Vikings rivalry is now one of the best ones in the NFL. In the 1960s, the Packers owned the Vikings. In the 1970s, the Vikings owned the Packers. In the 1980s, things were even but rarely did the games matter very much. For the last quarter century, the Packers/Vikings series has usually been decisive in who wins the division. The Bears have had their moments, but they have not been a consistent factor. The Lions haven't mattered at all. More than any other team, the Vikings have been the team the Packers needed to beat and that's been the case, pretty much without interruption, since Dennis Green first arrived at Winter Park all those years ago. And with the possible exception of Mike Ditka, he's been the most entertaining coach in the NFC Central/North. Never dispute the importance of entertainment value.
RIP, Coach. Thank you for the memories.