Friday, November 24, 2000 Updated: September 13, 6:09 PM ET
It ain't easy being Green
By Ralph Wiley Page 2 columnist
Turkey Day Eve. My phone rang. Didn't want to hear from anybody. Had the Holiday blues. Different from the Holiday purples. That's what Dallas had around sundown Thanksgiving Day.
Dennis Green's time in Minnesota has passed.
Checked the Caller ID. Just in case it was money. Not money. Road Dog. Figured.
It was about time Road Dog called, to ask for the dish on the NFL football playoffs.
See, my boy likes to get down early, bet-wise, especially if he can find a fish.
"Two-thirds of a season in, R-Dub," Dog said. "Ought to be enough. What's the deal?"
"Follow the coaches," I said.
"Yeah? Thought you said coaches don't play," Dog said. He likes to crack wise.
"Naw, they don't. They can't win it for you, but they can lose it for you. See, Dog, everybody in the league can play now, more or less. Scouting's a science. Ain't no more secret weapons. It's how they're motivated to play, how they're aligned, who they're willing to fight for that makes the difference. Nobody is stacked so high with talent they can't be beat. Although Tennessee is stacked pretty high. Gotta like Fisher. He's good. Prepares like hell. Tells guys what they need to do. Ran out on the field at the end of the last Super Bowl, put his arm around McNair. They'll be there.
"Dun-gee, a D man, gets 'em to play, short on offense. Norv, calls a great drive, a beautiful game, not the greatest leader of men, but with vets on D, a defensive head coach in Ray Rhodes, the 'Skins will show a little something. Martz, Gruden, we'll see. Prove-it-to-me guys."
"You ain't telling me nothing I can use, R-Dub."
"Dog, it's D. Green's turn."
"Turns? You believe in turns?"
"Sometimes. Mostly, I believe in vision. It's all progression of play. In the '80s, the dominant coaches were Walsh in San Fran, Gibbs in D.C., Parcells in the Applay. Walsh is of the Paul Brown lineage, and that's the best one to be out of, because you're used to innovating your own. Walsh came up with the West Coast offense, but he also came up with assistant coaches who think on their feet, who can run a shop. Shanahan won two Super Bowls in Denver. Holmgren won one in Green Bay. Reid in Philly, he's out of that lineage. But really, the guy who has done the most the longest is Walsh's bald-headed stepchild, Denny Green.
"None of Gibbs' assistants ever did squat as an NFL head coach. None of Parcells' assistants ever did anything either, and Parcells clone Coughlin is wearing out his keep-both-your-feet-on-the-floor-in-meetings welcome in Jax.
"'Two strong-willed guys, Gibbs and Parcells,' D. Green once told me. 'But they had to be in control of everything. Never passed that will into their assistants. When Gibbs and Parcells left, it left. Their assistants flopped.'
"By 'It,' D. Green meant the magic, Dog."
"D. Green is the Man right now. D. Green is also the Black man, which is why you might not always hear just how much of the Man he is. Don't matter to the players. Helps out, in fact. 'I'm not letting anybody walk in here and take my job,' D. Green told me another time. 'I'll fight for it. Some coaches in the league don't have to fight for anything. I'm not naming any names. But they know if one job doesn't work out, another job will be coming along. I don't know that. Tony Dungy doesn't know that. A brother knows he can't be wrong. Not at all. We know that. But the edge is, if the players know you're fighting, they'll fight for you.'
"It's like this, Dog. The Vikes have been playoffs perennials since D. Green took over, what, nine years ago? A couple of years back, they set new offensive standards with Randall at quarterback hurling to Cris, Moss, Rob. But in the playoffs, Randall sort of bailed, like he always did. Then last season, once Randall got his cheese and didn't want to take that pain and started bailing, D. Green put Jeff George in there; they made the playoffs again, only the Vikes came up short against the Rams in the playoffs. Press in Minny clamored for Jeff George to be signed.
"But J. George and Randall are alike in this way. Both front-runners, looking for the cushy seat. Sure, Jeff George throws a beautiful ball. That's like saying, So-and-So is a great singer or writer. So what? Bottom line, what is he writing or singing about? George is a coach-killer. How many stops has he had? How many times has he shut it down?
"Randall, we won't even discuss. Besides problems with stick-to-it-iveness, he has that long slow-ass windup. My grandmama could recover in the time it takes him to find his release point. So D. Green got to thinking, got to applying some vision. D. Green knew what he had in Daunte Culpepper. So, he bit the bullet, endured the criticism, gave him the job maybe a year early. Lucky for D. Green, Culpepper is a quick study as well as being 6-5, 260 with a crossbow. So now D. Green's the locked-down NFC Coach of the Year. To me, you understand.
"What was it Rickey said about luck being the residue of design? It's real, Dog.
"But maybe not to the press in Minny. For some reason, they've always ridden Denny hard and put him away wet. Talked about his body type, how big and fat he was, instead of how well he delegated authority and knew ball and personnel both.
"Brian Billick was the 'architect' of D. Green's record-setting 1998 offense. He left Denny and became head coach of the Ravens. And the Ravens are good. On D. But when they couldn't score a touchdown across three-four games earlier this year, it wasn't offensive genius Brian Billick who got questioned. He got a free pass. It was all the quarterback's fault. And D. Green knows he doesn't have that luxury. But Red McCombs is a frontier guy. He made his money by identifying who got the job done. It's not about pedigree, what school you went to, what country club you're in. Frontier guy.
"So D. Green's dialed in now."
Road Dog wanted to talk more about Culpepper before he started throwing his stolen money around.
I promised him we would. But not right now. Holiday blues tend to curb the enthusiasm.
"So the play's the Vikes to the Bowl, 'cause of D. Green?" Road Dog asked.
I said, "Dog, have yourself a merry little Christmas. Make the Yuletide pay."
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."