Dennis Green, the former NFL head coach who spent 13 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals, died Friday morning. He was 67.
The Cardinals website said Green died of a heart attack.
Green had a 113-94 career regular-season record as a head coach. He had five 10-win seasons, including a 15-1 season with the Vikings in 1998. He made eight playoff appearances in 10 seasons, all with the Vikings.
“We are incredibly saddened by the sudden passing of former Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green,” the Vikings said in a statement. “Denny made his mark in ways far beyond being an outstanding football coach. 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, who also coached college football at Northwestern and Stanford and was an assistant coach under 49ers Bill Walsh from 1986 to 1988, became the second minority head coach in the NFL’s modern era when the Vikings hired him in 1992, following Art Shell of the Raiders. Green’s 1998 Vikings led by a revitalized Randall Cunningham, a rookie Randy Moss and a veteran Cris Carter set a then-NFL record with 556 points scored. That team lost in overtime in the NFC Championship Game to the Atlanta Falcons.
Green last coached in the NFL in 2006 with the Cardinals. His tenure in Arizona was less successful than in Minnesota, with a 16-32 record in three seasons. It was during that time that he delivered his “They are who we thought they were” post-game press conference tirade following a Monday Night Football loss to the Bears in 2006 in which the Cardinals led by 20 points in the second half.
Despite his poor record with the Cardinals, Green had a knack for finding talent. In 2004, Green’s first season with the Cardinals, the team drafted Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby and Antonio Smith — all of whom were integral pieces to the Cardinals’ run to Super Bowl XLIII four seasons later.
“All of us at the Cardinals are incredibly saddened by the news of Dennis Green’s passing,” Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said in a statement. “Coach Green will rightly be remembered as a true innovator, leader and pioneer among football coaches. We express our deepest sympathy to his family and many friends.”
Green also had a successful coaching tree — of the three former assistants under Green who went on to take their own head coaching jobs, two won Super Bowls. Brian Billick served as an assistant in various roles under Green from 1992 to 1998 then won a ring with the Ravens in 2000, while Tony Dungy won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2006 after serving as Green’s defensive coordinator in Minnesota from 1992 to 1995. Long Island native Mike Tice became the Vikings’ head coach after the team bought out Green’s contract with one game left in the 2001 season.
“We are saddened to hear the news of Dennis Green’s passing,” NFL executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent, said in a statement. “Denny was a terrific head coach and inspired his players on and off the field. He helped pave the way for minority coaches and recently served as a key advisor on the NFL’s Career Development Advisory Panel. On behalf of the NFL, our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Green family.”