GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dennis Green, a trailblazing coach who led a Minnesota Vikings renaissance in the 1990s before a less successful run with the Arizona Cardinals, has died. He was 67.
Green’s family posted a message on the Cardinals website on Friday announcing the death.
“His family was by his side and he fought hard,” the statement read. Other details were not immediately disclosed, though the Cardinals said Green had died of a heart attack.
Green was a player and assistant coach at the University of Iowa. He was a letter winner in 1968, 1969 and 1970, finishing with career totals of 139 rushes for 699 yards and nine TDs.
His best game as a Hawkeye: 18 carries for 175 yards and two TDs in 28-17 loss to Texas Christian in 1968.
Green spent 10 seasons in Minnesota, leading the Vikings to eight playoff appearances and two NFC championship games. He only had one losing season and compiled an overall record of 97-62, including a 15-1 regular season in 1998 spearheaded by a record-setting offense.
Green went out on a limb in the draft before that season, plucking Randy Moss at pick No. 21 after the super-talented receiver fell due to character concerns. Moss was a sensation from the start, teaming with Cris Carter, Jake Reed, quarterback Randall Cunningham and running back Robert Smith to give the Vikings the most dynamic and explosive offense the league had ever seen.
But the Vikings were upset at home by the Atlanta Falcons that season and also were embarrassed by the New York Giants 41-0 in their other trip to the NFC title game after the 2000 season.
Green went 4-8 in the postseason, one of the reasons he was fired by Minnesota late in the 2001 season.
“Denny made his mark in ways far beyond being an outstanding football coach,” the Vikings said. “He mentored countless players and served as a father figure for the men he coached. Denny founded the Vikings Community Tuesday Program, a critical initiative that is now implemented across the entire NFL. He took great pride in helping assistant coaches advance their careers. His tenure as one of the first African American head coaches in both college and the NFL was also transformative. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Green family.”
Green did some television work and interviewed with several teams before being hired by the Cardinals in 2004. The Cardinals gave him a four-year, $10 million contract to turn around a woebegone franchise, but he was fired after a three-year run.
Green made several moves that seemed to backfire, beginning with the abrupt release of offensive lineman Pete Kendall on the eve of his first training camp. In his first season, Green benched quarterback Josh McCown for Shaun King even though the team had won three of its last four. By the time McCown got the job back, the Cardinals had lost three straight.
In his final season, the Cardinals won their opener and then lost eight in a row to quickly fall out of the playoff hunt. The skid included close home losses to St. Louis, Kansas City and, most memorably on a Monday night, to Chicago. The Bears rallied from 20 down, returning two late fumbles and a punt for touchdowns, and that all led to one of the more memorable postgame rants by an NFL coach.
Green pounded the podium and yelled “The Bears are who we thought they were!” afterward, a line that would be replayed endlessly over the years.
Green was fired after the season, one day after the Cardinals concluded a 5-11 run with a 27-20 loss at San Diego. He finished with a 16-32 record at Arizona, none of his teams winning more than six games in his three seasons.
Green was also a head coach in college at Northwestern and Stanford and served as an assistant to Bill Walsh on the dominant 49ers teams of the 1980s.
Born Feb. 17, 1949, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Green once said he was struck by watching early Big Ten football games and seeing both Minnesota and Iowa putting together successful seasons behind black quarterbacks. Green enrolled at Iowa, too, and played running back for the Hawkeyes from 1968-70. He played for the BC Lions in Canada in 1971 before returning to coach in college, beginning at Dayton in 1973 and gradually climbing to bigger programs.
“All of us at the Cardinals are incredibly saddened by the news of Dennis Green’s passing,” Cardinals President Michael Bidwell said. “Coach Green will rightly be remembered as a true innovator, leader and pioneer among football coaches,” Bidwill said in a statement posted by a team spokesman. “We express our deepest sympathy to his family and his many friends.”
The family asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Boys and Girls Club of San Diego.