- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

A year ago today, the Minnesota Vikings were beginning their eighth playoff appearance in coach Dennis Green's nine seasons. Yesterday, the NFL's longest-tenured coach resigned rather than be forced out after Monday's conclusion to his first losing season.
Green and Vikings owner Red McCombs had been at loggerheads in November when McCombs had wanted the coach to dismiss right-hand man Richard Solomon, his only remaining original assistant. McCombs backed down but apparently was prepared to raise the issue along with other staff changes in a postseason meeting with Green, not one inclined to share power since he also served as the team's vice president of football operations.
In November and December as the Vikings crashed toward their current 5-10 state, McCombs publicly endorsed his coach. But when word leaked on Thursday evening that McCombs was going to fire Green next week, agent Ray Anderson fired back, saying in effect, do it now rather than make his client a lameduck for Monday's nationally televised finale at Super Bowl champion Baltimore. So Green and the Vikings worked out a settlement on the remaining two years and $5 million of his contract.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice, a Maryland graduate, will coach the Vikings on Monday and figures to be a candidate for the job along with Mack Brown, the coach at McCombs' beloved University of Texas. Tony Dungy, on the hot seat in Tampa Bay despite another playoff appearance, has also been the subject of speculation, but Dungy is Green's close friend and former Vikings defensive coordinator and is also represented by Anderson, surely no McCombs favorite. Orange Bowl champion Steve Spurrier resigned from Florida yesterday but is believed to only be seeking a warm-weather NFL job.
Green would be a likely candidate for just about any coaching vacancy although apparently not the one in San Diego where he has a house and would be a prime candidate in San Francisco if the bad blood between coach Steve Mariucci and the front office boils over. Green was once an assistant to 49ers wise man Bill Walsh. But as of last night, Green was planning to relax with his wife and two young children.
"This will be the first day in 30 years that I'm not associated with a football team," Green said. "I've always gone from a job to a job. I've been very fortunate. At 52, I'm just beginning my life. I'm a very happy man. I don't have to have the last word. I'm always going to be on the high road."
That wasn't the road that Anderson accused McCombs of traveling.
"I'm disgusted and angered by the manner in which Red McCombs … has cheap-shotted Denny," Anderson told ESPN.Com's Len Pasquarelli. "Why create a public spectacle, a freak show really on national television? With everything Denny has accomplished for that organization over the last 10 years, you would think he deserved better."
Green did accomplish a lot in Minnesota despite employing seven regular quarterbacks in his 10 seasons. His 97-62 record was the NFL's second-best during the last decade and the second-best for any coach with 100 games of experience whose team hadn't played for a title. Green's 1998 Vikings went 15-1 and set the league's scoring mark before being upset in the NFC Championship game at home by major underdog Atlanta. That lack of a Super Bowl was the only blotch on Green's Minnesota resume until this season.
"The players have been absolutely fantastic," Green said. "We have an outstanding coaching staff. The fans are fantastic. [But] no matter how great a fan you are, no matter how enthusiastic you are about the Minnesota Vikings, there is no way that you feel anything like the disappointment that the players, coaches, trainers and equipment managers feel about our season. We're in unfamiliar territory being out of the playoff hunt. Some of the things that have happened have been tough on us."
Green's departure was the exclamation point on the most tumultuous year in Vikings history, one that began with a stunning 41-0 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game and the subsequent surprising retirement of Pro Bowl halfback Robert Smith. Next was Pro Bowl offensive tackle Korey Stringer's death during training camp following his collapse from heatstroke.
And then came the 5-10 season that opened with an ugly home loss to otherwise winless Carolina. The season featured televised sniping by Pro Bowl receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter during losses to Tampa Bay and Chicago. Moss was fined $15,000 for verbally abusing corporate sponsors after a blowout in Philadelphia. And then there were Carter's boasts that he doesn't play hard all the time and no one can make him do so.
"When I want to play, I'll play," said Moss, on whom in July the Vikings bestowed an eight-year, $75 million contract with an NFL-record $18 million signing bonus. "There's nobody on the face of this earth that can make me go out here and play football."
But yesterday Moss according to his agent was "disappointed. Coach Green is the one he wants to play for."
Those sentiments were repeatedly echoed at the Vikings' Winter Park, Minn., facility. Top draft pick Michael Bennett cried. Halfback Travis Prentice angrily hurled his jersey into his locker. Carter, the only Viking to predate Green's 1992 arrival, said the coach had done "a great job." Safety Orlando Thomas said Green had been given "a raw deal."
Pro Bowl punter Mitch Berger, a sixth-year Viking, probably put it best.
"When you walk in this building, the guy in charge is Denny Green and for that not to be true anymore is very strange," Berger said.
* The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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