Raising Arizona

"We think that you have to win while you turn the program around. You have players on this team that have been here for a few years already. They've made their investment. They want to win. If we're not looking like we are going to be a good football team, they are probably going to leave. You don't want a guy that comes in and says three or four years from now we're going to be pretty good. The players want to win and they want to be pretty good now." -- Arizona coach Dennis Green

Q: How often did you talk to the 49ers about taking the head coaching job in San Francisco two years ago?

Green: Not really. I was living in San Diego in semi-retirement, enjoying it and working with ESPN. So, I think it is all about the right opportunity and clearly I think they got the right guy in Dennis Erickson and I was just continuing doing what I was doing.

Q: How big of a challenge is it to reverse the history of Cardinals losing in past years?

Green: Keep in mind, the 49ers and all the great teams were never considered that way until Bill Walsh got there. Tampa Bay is the Tampa Bay now, but they weren't Tampa Bay before Tony Dungy got there. And then maybe even Dusty Baker at Chicago. You have to first come in and the head coach has to be real serious about winning and use a lot parallels about teams that win and about teams that lose. We live in a fair society. If earn to win, you'll probably win most of the time. At least nine-out-of-16 times. And if you don't play very well, you normally earn the loss probably six-out-of-16 times. So, you got to earn the right to win and that is all we sell really. We don't worry about the past and the tradition. We're new, so we have a fair amount of new players. It's all about everybody being serious about winning.

Q: Do you sense there are better things to come?

Green: Yeah, I think we are going to have a good year though. I'm convinced of it. We played – like San Francisco – we've played four teams that combined are 12-4. There are some teams sitting on a pretty good record right now that have played teams that have only won six games. So, I think that with a difficult schedule, you have to be able to deal with that and recognize that if you are playing at St. Louis, there aren't many people that are going to win there. If you are playing at Atlanta this year. So, we just know that we got to get out and play smarter. The other game we had four fumbles in a close game and that will hurt you. We're not passing the ball well at all, so we have to vastly improve our passing attack. So, the things that we have to improve upon, we think are within our system.

Q: Are you convinced Josh McCown is long-term answer at quarterback for Arizona?

Green: Yeah. He's very athletic. He's a smart quarterback with a good arm. I think he is very competitive and loves to win. He loves to win. He has got the height and the size to go with it. So, I think he is an ideal guy for a turnaround program. The guy will come in like a lot of other players. He's not a bonus baby. He's not anything more than a guy who has to earn his stripes and prove to everyone week in and week out that he should have that job. That is the guy that you want when you are in the first phase of a turnaround program.

Q: What do you attribute Emmitt Smith's revival to?

Green: Well, I think he had a great offseason. Emmitt said he wanted to play and I have always respected him. I think he was injured and not as healthy the last few years. He might not agree with me, but I don't think he was as healthy. I looked at him this winter and he was in the seven o'clock workout group, four days a week all the way through the winter, spring and summer. He was outstanding in attendance. So, I felt he came into training camp in excellent physical condition. Emmitt's going to have a good year if we do a better job of run-blocking. If you get Emmitt into the first level, if you get him into the line, then he will find the rest of the way to go, but no back can run the ball if you are not hitting guys at the line of scrimmage. So, I think as we improve on our offensive line, Emmitt is going to have more games like he did last week.

Q: Is Emmitt your long-term solution at quarterback?

Green: You mean at running back.

Q: No, him as a passer

Green: Oh, you're using some of that San Francisco humor (laughs). We don't have a touchdown pass right now and that is tough on us because we were really hoping that we would move the ball and have a good, wide-open attack, but it just hasn't worked that way. I guess it requires patience. Emmitt said that he doesn't want to throw anymore passes, but I figured since he threw that one with the glove on, he might have one more in him somewhere with the glove off and maybe that will work for us.

Q: How does talent level compare at Arizona with when you first went to Minnesota?

Green: Well, it's a different type of team. Even in Minnesota, we had guys like Henry Thomas and Chris Doleman. Some guys that had been around the league for a long time, but we still had 22 new players. We had a significant amount of change the first year there. When Mike Holmgren went into Green Bay the same year, Mike had 28 new players. So, you have to have change and changed players when you come in. We have 22 new players here. There were some that stayed here that are still part of our team that are doing a good job. There are some that we didn't bring back or released and added to it. I think in a new turnaround program, you have to have a good blend of some other players for a foundation. You got to bring in some guys that you are convinced share your philosophical approach. You have to play the players you draft. We start Larry Fitzgerald, we start Karlos Dansby at linebacker, Darnell Dockett at tackle and Alex Stepanovich at center. I think it is important to start a significant number of the guys you draft every year and before long you are turned around.

Q: What has Emmitt meant to your locker room?

Green: Well, I think when you get the chance to play or coach a Hall of Fame player, it's very exciting. We had some guys like that at Minnesota and we obviously had a lot guys like that at San Francisco. What he brings first off is you understand why he is so good. We played against him all the time when he was at Dallas. He's just a great competitor. He has tremendous balance. He loves to win. The last three years at Dallas, they were not a playoff team. Last year at Arizona, they were not a playoff team. So, the last four years, he has not had the kind of success that he had been accustomed to. Because he's playing his last year, he wants to have some success this year.

Q: As a defense, Cardinals have allowed a lot of yards but not many points.

Green: Well, we try to be multiple. I think that is one thing. The further down the field you go, red-zone scoring, it's more difficult because the field is reduced. It's more difficult to get the kind of run that you need. We're a fairly fast team and we rely on quickness. So, we think that we have guys in a shorter space can show up quicker than maybe what the offense anticipates.

Q: How long do you think it will take to see results?

Green: Well, we think that you have to win while you turn the program around. I've never been a believer of that. You have to put on all the brakes and then once we get turned around, we're going to be pretty good because normally coaches don't last that long and players don't either. You have players on this team that have been here for a few years already. They've made their investment. They want to win. If we're not looking like we are going to be a good football team, they are probably going to leave and go to somewhere where they think they are going to be a good football team. You want players who want to win and you don't want a guy that comes in and says three or four years from now we're going to be pretty good. The players want to win and they want to be pretty good now.

Q: How far away from returning is receiver Anquan Boldin?

Green: We're hoping he'll be back in November. He's a tremendous player. His body is getting back in shape as far as his knee is concerned. Everyone is very encouraged by his progress, so I think he'll be back sometime in November.

Q: Can you sympathize with guys like Derek Smith and Jake Plummer who have played with Tillman and cannot pay tribute to him?

Green: Absolutely. I mean I think particularly guys who have known him for so long, guys like Jake that went to school together, I think every now and then the National Football League has to have their rules, but I think sometimes you have to take the human element. This is an unusual element, a sign of patriotism, that I think you have to take into account.


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