Green putting plan into immediate action
New head coach Dennis Green has quickly come in and shaken things up with the Cardinals.
Quite a busy week, huh, for new Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green.
Let's see, he released five veterans, all of them nondescript and all of them taking snaps away from younger players. He reversed direction on Raynoch Thompson, opting not to cut one of his most talented defenders, after a tete-a-tete with the linebacker. And he benched L.J. Shelton, despite the fact he's a three-year starter at left tackle, and a guy who banked a $5 million signing bonus seven months ago when his contract was redone.
Because the fun, and the makeover of the Cardinals, is just getting started. Just wait until Green really hits his stride.
He may not be a miracle worker, which is what it would take to shepherd the Cardinals to the playoffs in 2004. But Dennis Green is a proven commodity, a guy who knows how to win, and who eventually will succeed in the desert. That eclipse which has hovered over The Valley of the Sun for too many NFL seasons will move on in the next couple years.
Among the several nicknames hung on Green by his Minnesota Vikings players, some of them behind his back but most of which he knew about anyway, was "The Sheriff." We think there's another "sh" handle, "The Shark," that might be even more apropos for him in his second head coaching incarnation. Why so? Because if a shark ever stops moving, it dies, and Green hasn't stopped moving and shaking since he touched down in Phoenix.
His hiring, an uncommon stroke of genius by the Bidwill family, has provided energy to a franchise that sorely needed some pizzazz. Green is a do-er, a man of decisiveness and of action, arguably the pluperfect panacea for a team that has been ailing for a long time. If it takes shaking things up a bit to somehow get the dead-in-the-water ship right again, well, he is probably the guy to have at the wheel.
Of course, make no mistake, Green is going to do most of the steering. That doesn't mean vice president Rod Graves won't get input, because clearly his vote will count, but Green has quickly become the face of the franchise. And it's a visage, and a vision as well, that commands respect and allows fans and players to believe something better lies ahead.
Said one veteran: "He's got some snake-oil salesman in him, that's for sure, but you can't help but buy into it. I mean, everything he talks about, he can back up with his résumé. He isn't going to sit still and just wait for something to happen. In a real short time here, he's demonstrated he'll make something happen."
How quickly Green can reverse the fortunes of a team that has made only one playoff appearance since relocating from St. Louis in 1988 remains to be seen. But any inertia won't result from a lack of effort and this week offered just the latest example of how Green figures to operate.
Despite the national spin, dumping the five veteran backups had nothing to do with the salary cap, since the Cardinals were already more than $7 million under the cap and the moves generated only modest savings. Instead, the departures were meant to create more opportunities for younger, hungrier players. In the Thompson case, Green displayed some pliability, deciding to afford the talented but temperamental linebacker another chance. And with Shelton, overweight and apparently underachieving in the offseason, Green showed that reputations and paychecks don't matter to him.
It was suggested that, with the demotion of Shelton at mid-week, Green was sending a message to the troops. But here's the thing about Green: He doesn't send messages in manners veiled or otherwise. What you see with Green is what you get. There is really little pretense and he doesn't reconcile patience very well. When he looks you in the eye, and tells you something, the words are typically stripped of all veneer.
"He's not a guy who blows smoke," said starting quarterback Josh McCown. "There is no hidden agenda. I think part of the reason he has been so quickly respected, beyond the fact he's been there and done it in the past, is that he shoots straight with you."
In the case of McCown, whose resume includes all of three starts, that meant not going after one of the highly regarded quarterbacks in the draft and not attempting to sign a guy like Kerry Collins. A man who believes in his "system," which he trumpets at just about every opportunity, Green went to the playoffs eight times in Minnesota and did so with six different quarterbacks. Not only does he believe in giving people a chance, he also believes in his own abilities to make things work, and it's hard to argue the track record.
Another example of his lack of subterfuge in matters football-related: Three months before the draft, while chatting at the commissioner's party two nights before the Super Bowl, Green all but assured a couple of reporters that if Larry Fitzgerald was granted eligibility, he was going to take him. While everyone surmised Green was bluffing, he never wavered in his conviction, even though the Cardinals had chosen wideouts in the first and second rounds in 2003.
"I never doubted him," Fitzgerald said.
Those who regard Arizona as one of the league's hinterlands, a place where no one will ever succeed, might be wise to adopt a similar stance. This week provided a capsulized insight into Dennis Green and how he works. In the big picture, though, it was just a Kodak moment. There are a lot more changes to come. And, eventually, those changes will dramatically alter the Arizona franchise for the better.
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Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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