Minnesota Vikings: Dennis Green left a mixed legacy

Jan 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; An Minnesota Vikings helmet during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Minnesota won 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; An Minnesota Vikings helmet during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Minnesota won 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, who passed away last week, left a murky legacy behind him.

How should Minnesota Vikings fans remember late former head coach Dennis Green? It’s not an easy question to answer.

You could focus on the regular season record: 97-62, second-best in team history by winning percentage (behind only Bud Grant).

But then you have to mention the playoff record: 4-8.

Go beyond the records and certain individual games come to mind. Foremost among these has to be the 1998 NFC championship game, arguably the most crushing defeat in the history of the franchise.

To this day fans still give Green grief for his decision in that game to take a knee at the end of regulation rather than fire up his high-powered offense for one last potentially game-winning drive.

The Vikings of course lost that game in overtime.

And then there was the 2000 NFC championship game, the infamous 41-doughnut defeat at the hands of the Giants.

How much blame does Green bear for those scarring losses?

If you blame Green for the losses in those games, you must credit him for getting the team into those post-season positions in the first place.

Green guided the team to some great regular season records, including 1998’s epic 15-1 finish.

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That off-the-charts amazing 15-1 season would not have happened had it not been for two moves that were Green’s personal responsibility: drawing Randall Cunningham out of retirement and taking a chance on Randy Moss.

Green wasn’t afraid to take a chance in the draft, as he proved again when he took Daunte Culpepper. Within a few years Culpepper would fully vindicate Green’s decision to select him.

Of course Green stumbled in the draft at times as well, infamously passing on future Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

Generally speaking, Green seemed disinclined to address roster holes on the defensive side, leading to a steep decline in that area.

To some fans, Green did the franchise a disservice by steering away from its long-time emphasis on D to create a heavily offensive-leaning squad. But you can’t argue that Green’s brand of offense wasn’t exciting.

Perhaps in the end, excitement and entertainment should be the aspects of Green’s legacy we emphasize.

With quarterbacks like Warren Moon, Jeff George, Cunningham and Culpepper on-board, the Vikes were always one of the most fun teams to watch on offense.

The Green years also saw the rise of Hall-of-Fame receiver Cris Carter.

Of course when you talk about Dennis Green, you also have to talk about the off-field stuff.

Green was one of the most quotable figures in Vikings history. The first day he walked in the door, Green laid down one of his greatest lines, calling himself “the new sheriff in town.”

Green was also controversial. In his 1997 autobiography No Room for Crybabies, Green ripped several members of the Twin Cities media including long-time columnists Bob Sansevere and Patrick Reusse.

Most explosive of all was Green’s threat to sue the Vikings over leaked rumors that in 1996 the team had been close to replacing him with former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz.

Given Green’s prickly personality, it was inevitable that things would end in an ugly fashion between him and the team. The Vikes fired him before the end of the 2001 season, leading to the classic Green line “If you’re looking for Dennis Green you can find him on the high-road.”

Post-Vikings, Green would become a figure of even greater renown for a classic meltdown while coaching the Arizona Cardinals.

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Most fans think of the meltdown when they think of Green, which is unfair. He was a successful coach with the Vikings all things being equal. But it is also legit to point out his failures in big moments.

It is legit to applaud Green’s ability to identify and make use of offensive talent, but it’s valid to rip him for letting the defense go to seed.

Green’s tenure in Minnesota was marked by very high highs, some truly dismal lows and lots of amazing football.

And he was clearly not a guy who put up with a lot of crap.