Master Re-builder, or Cardinal Casualty?

"On Paper." They are ugly words. Words that speak of uncertainty, words that speak of doubt, that leave a bitter aftertaste. Words that follow sentences like, "The Patriots don't have the weapons to compete with the Colts." Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green has made a career out of rebuilding franchises, and it looks like he's done it again with the Cardinals...on paper.

The future looks bright for Dennis Green and the Arizona Cardinals. I never thought I'd say that; the future has seldom looked bright for the Cardinals before Green. But the times they are a-changin', in the hallowed words of Bob Dylan. Ever since Dennis Green took over as head coach, the train wreck that has been the Arizona Cardinals feels transformed from a cut-and-run mess, with players and coaches avoiding the Valley of the Sun like ebola, into a salvage operation.

Coach Green has a crop of players with bright futures ahead of them, something Cardinal fans aren't accustomed to. In Fitzgerald and Boldin, he has arguably the best receiving tandem in the league; a proven running back with a home in Canton when all is said and done; and a two-time MVP calling the shots behind center (provided he stays healthy). Also, let us not forget the Heisman Trophy winner in the wings: Matt Leinart, a young stud with the smarts of Joe Montana, the GQ looks of Tom Brady, and the fiery demeanor of Dan Marino. The new, sold-out stadium demonstrates that, for the first time in team history, Cardinal fans might turn out to give the team home-field support.

Yes, the potential for success is immense for Dennis Green and Arizona Cardinals. But we can't leave off that terrible caveat: on paper.  As in the Cardinals look great on it, but off the team has some way to go. And without quality leadership from your head coach, all the talent in the world wont get you diddlysquat in the NFL. Just ask any Redskins fan.

Remember all the Washington fans that endured Dan Snyder's spending spree in 2000? Remember the season that All-World players Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders led Washington to? Probably not, because the team finished 8-8 that year, with Norv Turner manning the helm. No knock against Turner—he has an excellent mind when it comes to running an offense. But with a career head coaching record of 58-82-1, maybe he should stick to what he does best and leave the big chair to someone else.

The relationship between a good head coach and wins in the NFL leaps out when you look at successful programs. The latest measuring stick for excellence, the New England Patriots, features Bill Belichek, arguably the greatest coach of his generation. "Mumbles," as he is affectionately known, has written the book on team effort and insuring that no single player is larger than the whole (see Ty Law for proof). Tony Dungy, a defensive specialist, has evolved from the "defense wins championships" attitude that he had in Tampa Bay to lead one of the most potent offenses in NFL history in the Colts. Joe Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl champ, has taken a team that the most sought after coach in the recent history, Steve Spurrier, couldn't take to the playoffs, and molded it into a Super Bowl contender.

The question is, do the Cardinals have in Dennis Green a coach more along the lines of Bill Parcells the legend, or Dave Wanstadt, the Lord of the Ridiculous Mustache? I sincerely hope it's the former, for the Cardinals' sake.

            We know that Green is a skilled rehabilitator. Time and again, he has shown an eye for talent, along with the complimentary ability to develop that talent and generate wins. Now entering his third year as the Cardinals head coach, Green is well on his way to overhauling and rebuilding another franchise that was in the tank when he was given the reigns.

It's what the man does. At Stanford in 1989, Green took over a Cardinal team that was 3-8 the prior season. In only his second year there, Green coached them to an upset of number-one Notre Dame, despite being in merciless South Bend. During Green's third and final season at Stanford, he led them to a seven-game win streak, their longest in 40 years, and the Aloha Bowl, where they barely lost to Georgia Tech. After turning around the Stanford program, Green moved up to the Minnesota Vikings, and quickly got to work on a team that finished 8-8 the season prior to his arrival. Within three years, Green had compiled a record of 30-18, won two division championships, and led his team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.

Green's ability to rebuild moribund franchises is well known. He has shown that, through drafts and player development, he can turn around a team in very short order. Now entering season three with the Arizona Cardinals, the time is fast approaching for lightening to strike a third time for Dennis Green. Are the pieces in place for the Cardinals to take the next step and post a winning record? Or will Green have to face the harsh judgment that 32 other Cardinals head coaches have faced: that the franchise just can't win? A betting man might say the odds aren't in Greens favor, but I say that Green's prospects look pretty good these days.

On paper, of course.


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