“It’s really sad. I’ve had the chance to meet Dennis a couple times and we’ve had the chance to talk about the Vikings,” current Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium. “But also the chance to compete against him over the years. He’s always been in my estimation an unbelievable coach and a good person. I know everybody here in the Vikings is going to miss him and my thoughts are with his family.”
The Vikings honored Green with a moment of silence at the stadium ceremony, but Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman both recalled facing Green and preparing to face him.
Spielman was in the front office with the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears during Green’s coaching career (1992-2001) in Minnesota. During that time, Green had only one losing season (2001), won four NFC Central Division titles and went to two NFC Championship games.
“I always admired and respected not only him as a person, but the quality coach he was and the type of Minnesota Vikings teams that he guided and that was why he was so successful. It’s a great loss,” Spielman said. “… I always had the utmost respect for him, not only as a coach and what he did on the field but what he stood for off the field.”
Green was known as a players’ coach that often protected his players as best he could. But he also wasn’t afraid to take chances on guys that were deemed to have character issues. Randy Moss, who was drafted by the Vikings in 1998, was one such player.
“He ended up being an incredible steal, a Hall of Fame receiver,” Spielman said of Moss when asked about Green’s willingness to draft a player others shied away from. “Denny Green did a great job with the players. I know (Moss) had some issues coming out and Denny was able to handle some of those issues with some of the players that were brought in and get them to play to their outmost ability.”
Turns out, one of Moss’s biggest games for the Vikings came against a Dallas Cowboys team that had Zimmer on its defensive staff. Moss carved up the Cowboys on Thanksgiving of his rookie year with three catches – all of them for touchdowns – for a combined 163 yards.
“That was Thanksgiving so it ruined my Thanksgiving. Randy Moss ran by (a cornerback). He caught a ball over the top of Kevin Smith. And then I remember that we had Cris Carter double-team with Darren Woodson and I think Brock Marion, and he caught the ball in between both of them,” Zimmer said Friday, recalling that day against Green’s Vikings. “So there wasn’t a lot of good things that day.”
There was plenty of good for Green’s Vikings on that day, as they feasted on the Dallas sidelines after the game with John Madden and celebrated an elite offense.
Zimmer recalled Green’s teams as being prepared and having fun.
“They were pretty darn good when he was here. I’m just trying to get close to him. He had outstanding football teams. They played with class. They played with pride, really what you want all your teams to look like,” Zimmer said.
“His teams were always tremendously prepared and they had fun, too, when they played. They were that type of team. They were tremendously prepared.”
Spielman said Green’s teams were a reflection of him as a coach.
“I just remember playing against him all those years and you knew were going to get a quality football team and a very high-potent offense,” Spielman said. “A team that played with a lot of passion and a lot of heart. I think his teams reflected a lot of what he represented.”