Straight talk with Dennis Green

"Race is never an issue with me. It's all about the best person doing the best job who had the most opportunity. So I'm obviously very confused by that (that there are only two African-American head coaches in college football today), because I've never believed that as an American man who happens to be African-American and happens to be coaching for a living." --- Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green

Q: What's your quarterback situation this week?

Green: Well, John Navarre has a fractured finger and he'll be in the doubtful category. We're going to start Josh McCown this week.

Q: Would Navarre have started?

Green: That's irrelevant. The bottom line is that McCown is going to start and hopefully we will play much better run defense than we did last week, where we gave up 196 yards and hopefully play a lot better on offense too. Now we have played the 49ers before. They beat us and of course they are coming off a game against the Rams which is the biggest rival. That rivalry goes back quite a way, as I recall.

Q: What are your impressions of the mistakes the 49ers are making along the offensive line?

Green: We played them before and I looked at that film quite a bit of course and looked at them last week. The Rams are pretty good on defense, pretty high rank on defense. In a low scoring game like that any team can win.

Q: Will you do things to try to confuse the offensive line?

Green: Well, you always do that. We are primarily an Under defense. The 49ers play some Under also so you try to give some looks that make it difficult. But the Rams are very good at that because of the speed they have with Leonard Little. He can get outside and put a lot of pressure on that and then you have to figure out how to defend someone like him.

Q: Are the 49ers a well-coached team?

Green: Yeah, I have known Dennis Erickson for a long time. He's an outstanding football coach. Just because you aren't winning doesn't mean that you can't coach well. I think it would be just like here. We are 4-8 and we know we can coach. Are we playing good football? We are not. But I think that Dennis Erickson knows how to coach. He's been around the game a long time.

Q: Is it his talent level?

Green: I think it's the year. What is the difference between San Diego this year and last year? It's that this year is this year and last year was last year. Same with Pittsburgh. Those are teams that didn't have (good records) last year. That's just part of it. As a coach you have to deal with the ups and downs of the year and the ups and downs of your performance by your players and the ups and downs of how effective you are as a coach. How much the players are listening to what you are saying and if everyone is operating on the same level of at the same time.

Q: Do the 49ers have an play-makers

Green: Yeah, I think Lloyd can make plays and so can Wilson. The last time we played it Eric Johnson probably broke a record for catches and got into the end zone quite a bit. Rattay played very well. Also, Barlow has capabilities and Beasley is a tremendous blocker. Those guys can do damage to a defensive unit. Beasley is very strong and very powerful.

Q: What are your memories from your first game against the 49ers this season?

Green: Three quarters of the game both teams were playing the same. The beginning of the fourth quarter we scored two touchdowns so we played very well for the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter. For eight minutes of the fourth quarter they played very well and scored two touchdowns and two additional two-point conversions to tie it up and we lost it. So that's something that you never want to give up – a lead – and I'm not accustomed to. It's something that, the reality is, we had the lead and we lost the lead and the 49ers got their first win.

Q: Was that a learning experience for the Cardinals?

Green: I wouldn't know that. This is my first year. I just know that you have to play 60 minutes of football.

Q: Did you sleep after that game?/p> Green: Yeah, you know you have to sleep every night. I have two young children that count on me to get them up and get them ready for school every morning so I have to sleep every night.

Q: What are your thoughts on the rumors swirling around about Erickson's job status?

Green: No. 1, you don't worry about reading the newspaper. I read two national newspapers and don't read much of the local stuff. I don't think it does you much good. No. 2, if Terry Donahue says the coach is staying, he is the boss, and I would just repeat what Terry Donahue said and I would say ‘Terry Donahue said he is not firing the coach' and I would just move on.

Q: Could you have imagined only two African-American coaches in college football today?

Green: No, not at all. It's my contention and it goes back to 1967 when I was a running back at Iowa full of aspirations and Jim Fassell and Mike Holmgren were quarterbacks at USC full of hope and aspirations and didn't know each other at the time but two of them knew each other but I didn't know them. We all probably wanted to coach and we are doing what we love doing and you would love to think that everyone would have access and an equal opportunity. Nineteen sixty-seven was kind of watershed year for the numbers of African American that came on the scene. The game changed quite a bit after 1967. Keep in mind my freshman class at Iowa had 15 African-American players on that freshman class out of 30 players. The entire team at the University of Iowa in 1966, before we got there, had five African-American players. If you look throughout the country in 1967 that's really the foundation for where we are at now. And to think that maybe Jim Fassell got something at USC that would help him to go on and become a coach, that he would have gotten something from playing and knowing people and knowing coaches? That he got something at USC that I didn't get at Iowa I don't think is realistic. And I think that is probably why we have gone on to prosper. We both had the same opportunities. It's not like 1955 when my brother didn't have those opportunities. This was 1967 and we did. And so I think to look all that way and to jump to 2004 and feel that there can be 17 or 18 jobs open and that there would be no African-Americans that benefited from playing at Auburn, or no African-Americans that have benefited from playing at UCLA, or no African-Americans that benefited from playing at Notre Dame that have gone to the coaching profession and wouldn't have the same tools that those other 16 coaches are seems hard to believe. So as you guys know me on the West Coast, race is never an issue with me. It's all about the best person doing the best job who had the most opportunity. Without making it too long of a story you can jump ahead to 1986 and look at the 49ers staff. It's not that Bill felt that that George Seifert, who had been a head coach at Cornell, was supposed to have some things that I didn't have when I had been head coach at Northwestern, which would have something that Mike Holmgren didn't have, who had never been a head coach on the college level, or Ray Rhodes. I think he felt that all his assistant coaches were qualified to benefit from the knowledge that he had and gave us and that we could go out on our own and compete in the real world. So I'm obviously very confused by that, because I've never believed that as an American man who happens to be African-American and happens to be coaching for a living. That was a long-ass answer for that question. But as you know I am somewhat philosophical to my life and living.

Q: What are your thoughts on Tyrone Willingham getting fired at Notre Dame?

Green: Well, I think that the No. 1 thing is you have an institution that got very impatient. No. 1, I think that they will never admit it but I don't know that Notre Dame would have allowed the discussions to take place that did take place if they knew a certain coach wasn't available. I think by being led to believe that he was available the discussion became very intense. They had just played a game two days before against USC, one of the most dynamic teams to come across college football in a long time and they didn't do so well. People were still hurting from that. They weren't hurting as much as Tyrone Willingham and the players were, no matter what they think. But they were hurting from it and they got in to some discussions that I think was a big mistake for them. I think it's pretty obvious that they are feeling the effects of. They will be able to hire a coach but will they be able to hire a coach who was successful at a school like Stanford University, who beat them when they were at a school like Stanford? I don't think some of the coaches who they are talking about now have played Notre Dame, let alone beat them. I don't think that they'll be able to find who had success at that level, and graduated all his players and sent a pretty good amount into the National Football League. But that's their challenge and that's where they are at. Tyrone has moved on and that's probably the last time I'll get into a discussion about Notre Dame. The last time I had this discussion was Lou Holtz, back in 1990.

Q: Is Willingham destined to be an NFL coach?

Green: Oh, absolutely. Sure. If you look at head coaches now and I don't worry about African-Americans and if you look at the guys who are 45 years old or 48, however old Willingham is right now that are successful in the NFL, regardless of what their racial make up is, they will have similar backgrounds that Tyrone Willingham has. He was a Michigan State grad, coached his whole career as an assistant coach on the pro level, which is a good combination with being a head coach on the college level, which means he has leadership skills. He's worked on both sides of the ball, so he understands both offense and defense. So I think his options would be to get one of those head jobs that are available on the college level – which I don't know why anybody wouldn't want to hire him, but who knows. And if that doesn't happen he can decide to take a year off and rejuvenate or he can get an assistant's job in the NFL or a head job in the NFL. I think any one of those options would be available to him.

Q: What is your opinion of the Bidwell family now that you are working for them?

Green: I have gained more respect for Mr. Bill Bidwell. I think we have an outstanding facility here that he put together way back in 1988 that gives our players the chance to perform. I think he's been very supportive of the moves that we have made and I have pushed the envelope in a very heavy way. In many times I feel like I have charged out there by myself as far as the players understanding. But I think the Bidwells have been charging with me the whole time and so I have gained more respect for them. I'm very disappointed in how we have played. I feel that we could have played better. There are some games that we could have put the combination together better. But that's just the way it is. As far as Mr. Bill Bidwell and Michael Bidwell and Rod Graves, I think they have done everything they can do to help us win and I think they really want us to win. So in that regard I have gained more respect for them since I've been here.

Q: How much interaction do you have with the Bidwells?

Green: Quite a bit. Mr. Bidwell travels with us himself. Let's see, we meet as a group once a week, all three of us. Mr. Bidwell comes down every day virtually. Michael and I will talk in some aspect about the business every day. Rod Graves I meet absolutely everyday about once or twice a day, so quite a bit. And again, I'm disappointed because when you take over a new job, what you want to do is be able to deliver what you said you were going to do. That is a big part of my make up. I'm not dealing pipe dreams because I've got too many battles. Too many battle scars to be dealing with pipe dreams. I totally believe that this can be a playoff team and that is how I push this team, so I am very disappointed. Now, having said that, somebody is going to win the NFC West. That somebody is not going to be the 49ers because they are mathematically out. They can indeed play a spoiler. Seattle, if you look at their schedule, the win-loss record of the teams that they play are 29 and 19. If you look at the teams that Seattle plays and St. Louis plays, St. Louis also, those include us we play them both, including us the win-loss record of those two teams is 29 and 19. This is not going to be an easy road for Seattle and it is not going to be an easy road for St. Louis. So, we are mathematically still part of the playoff equation and I'm going to coach that way.

Q: Has your perception of the Bidwells changed since when you were coaching at Vikings?

Green: Not really because I was in the League all the way back in 1979. So, we played against them when they had Roy ‘Turbo' Green and they had some outstanding teams and players in 1979. I played against them two times in 1986. I think that most people underestimate how much they want to put a good football team here in the Phoenix area. I think that is why they work so hard diligently to get a new stadium. Now as you know, it is not that easy getting a new stadium built. If it was, New York City would have one. If it was that easy, don't you think you would have a new one in San Francisco? It is not that easy. The stadium that we saw in Detroit last week is an outstanding stadium with commitment from the Ford family and the citizens of Detroit. The stadium that we are having built here will probably be the most innovative, creative and obviously one of the best not only in the National Football League, but in the world. That does not happen unless you are totally committed to having success. As I said, my disappointment is that this team is looking at 4-8 right now and still is in the playoff run. But isn't in a better position in the playoff run to support their efforts.

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