A winning coach couldn’t win over the fans
By Bruce Strand, 2002
Most Viking fans are elated that Dennis Green was ousted Friday, and while you should be careful what you wish for, because it might come true and make things worse, I think the team made the right move.
Green was aloof. He was arrogant. To listen to him talk, he never made a mistake in his life. He seemed to regard any criticism as racist rather than substantive. He didn’t connect with most of the public and didn’t care.
On the other hand, Green’s program, for all its playoff failings, was one of the most stable in the NFL. With the exception of the last month, every Viking game in Green’s 10-year tenure meant something. That’s a remarkable achievement in a salary cap era that’s seen many teams rise and fall like yo-yos. This 5-10 season is a stinker, but it’s the only bad one in his decade; his other non-playoff team was 8-8.
He liked to brag about his “system,” but it must have indeed been a good one when you consider that one quarterback after another succeeded here: former college backup Brad Johnson, pro castoffs Randall Cunningham and Jeff George, and the then-untested Duante Culpepper, a great draft pick by Green who was terrific from his first start. Even St. Cloud State’s Todd Bouman bad three stellar outings before his thumb injury.
The Vikings are a mess right now. With only three blue-chippers left after this year (Culpepper, Matt Birk and Randy Moss when he’s in the mood), this team needs a major overhaul.
Green was probably as good a choice as anyone to rejuvenate the team. More than once, he guided the Vikings to the playoffs when observers thought they’d be below .500. In his first year, for instance, with the Vikings coming off a couple of bad seasons under Jerry Burns and fleeced of No. 1 picks for three years because of the Herschel Walker trade, the purple faithful would have been happy with a break-even finish, and the Vikes went 11-5. Last year, with a rebuilt offs eve one and a raw quarterback, the Vikes again looked like an also ran, but Green took them to a 7-0 start and into the NFC finals.
The Vikings will be gambling on a new coach now. Will they find a winner, or pick a succession of guys who can’t do the job, like Dallas the last few years, or Green Bay between Lombardi and Holmgren? Will Viking fans be lamenting, “Green was a jerk, but at least we were in the playoffs every year.” Could happen.
But there are many legitimate complaints about Green, his post-season record the most glaring. Green’s playoff ledger wasn’t bad, it was horrendous. For wins against eight loss, and every year a finale flop to demoralize fans for six months, like 41-0 against the Giants, 40-15 against Dallas, and 48-17 against St. Louis, not to mention a drubbing at home against Chicago after beating the Bears twice previously, and the grueling 30-27 overtime home loss at home to 10-point underdog Atlanta. Whatever fire he stoked September though December was a dying ember by January.
Furthermore, it will be nice to no longer have such a sourpuss for the public face of the Vikings. Green was a P.R. disaster, especially at a time when the team is wooing public support for a stadium. Also grating about Green were his failure to lay down the law for the brilliant but incorrigible Moss, his habit of blaming everyone but himself (assistants, media, front office) when things went wrong, his past alleged off-the-field problems concerning male-female relations, and his paranoiac and unsubstantiated accusation that columnists were conspiring to drive him out of town.
Also annoying, to me anyway, was his refusal each year to meet the press the day after a playoff loss. A coach should try on that day to cheer up the fans with some positive reflections on the season and the future, and many coaches do that. But Green couldn’t be bothered. He never seemed to care much about the fans. That’s probably why the feeling was mutual.