The Coaching Carousel: A case for Dennis Green at Cal

By REED NELSON

If Dennis Green, former head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats, the Stanford Cardinal, the Minnesota Vikings, the Arizona Cardinals and, most recently, of the UFL’s own Sacramento Mountain Lions1, is currently remembered for anything at all, it is mostly like for a press conference meltdown since immortalized by a Coors Light commercial.

There’s no need to rehash the meltdown but, thanks to a few other unhinged coaches… cough, Mike Gundy, David Bennett, cough… Denny Green can remove the Crazy Crown. And now that he can do that, he should be considered long and hard to fill the head coaching vacancy at Cal.

And it wasn’t like he was so crazy to begin with. Green got his first head coaching gig in 1981, with Northwestern. He was the second black coach in Division I-A history, and the next season, he earned Big Ten coach of the year honors. After a stint with the 49ers under Bill Walsh, Green got the head coaching job at Stanford.

He then parlayed that experience into an NFL head coaching career that spanned over 200 games. And those 200-plus games — and 117 wins — earned him a shot to coach the Sacramento Mountain Cats of the UFL.

Even if he went undefeated, won a UFL Championship, executed a flawless lunar landing and revitalized Opera as an entertainment form, when done under the umbrella of the UFL, no one would notice.

He didn’t do those things (instead he compiled an 8-11 record), and on his way out of the UFL, he managed to levy a lawsuit against the husband of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

If this were Homeland, Green would have already been payed hush money and put on the payroll of the C.I.A.

But behind all the pageantry that comes with a coach like Denny Green lies an inscrutable truth: At some point in his career, Denny Green figured out how to win football games. Not in a Derek Jeter/Bear Bryant/Jim Boheim kind of way, but in a “He wins more than loses” kind of way.

Cal has been (publicly) searching for a coach since last winter they fired Jeff Tedford after the Bears were steamrolled, 62-14, by Oregon State, and the spectrum of potential candidates seems to range from Herm Edwards to Chris Peterson to Han Solo.

Chris Peterson, from Boise State, is clearly the Bears favorite option, but if the guy hasn’t left Boise yet, it seems unlikely that he’d do so just to clean up a glorified rush party trash-heap that Tedford has left for his successor.

Charlie Strong seems reasonable, but thanks to a rash of SEC coaching vacancies (Tennessee in particular) it would seem that Strong will stay strong (see what I did there) to his roots. Oh, and Cal spurned him nearly a decade ago when they hired Tedford, sooooo… yeah. Next up.

Mike MacIntyre has coached the San Jose State Spartans to a pedestrianly pedestrian 16-21 record during his three years in the WAC. And considering that Cal hasn’t won a bowl game since George W. Bush was conceptualizing three-team teasers in the Oval Office, an established coach might be something they should value.

That’s why Denny Green fits. Like the Cal program itself, he has everything to prove. He has already coached in the Bay Area for a decade. He’s a West Coast Offense guru (although I’m hesitant to throw that term around after Jeff Tedford practically stitched on the back of his gameday pullover while he acted like anything but a guru) and he has the edge and the ego to handle the expanding media presence in the Pac-12.

Cal has tried the whole ‘hiring from the college ranks’ thing. Tedford gave them one brilliant season (though in retrospect it appears that Aaron Rodgers gave them one brilliant season) in 2005 and then got them a gorgeous stadium in 2012, meaning his tenure leans closer to moderate success than complete and utter failure2, but the Bears need still need a winner. And more than that, they need one with a chip on his shoulder.

Assistants might be hungry, and small-school guys tend to bring interesting ideas to the table, but Dennis Green coached a Minnesota Vikings team that was quarterbacked by a 97-year old Randall Cunningham to a 15-1 regular season record.

If the college hire isn’t Chris Peterson or Charlie Strong, the Bears should hire from the long list of out of work NFL coaches. Even if it is one that has had a post-game tirade remixed and set to a mid-‘9os baseline. If it were my choice, I’d crown Dennis Green’s ass right now. After all, I certainly think he is who I thought he was.

Footnotes

  • Who, in totally related news, own a team name that is, in my opinion, the most controversial nickname in all of sports. Sure, a Mountain Lion is ferocious, and yes, they are indeed scary. But are they really worthy of a helmet sticker? The Bobcats (a similar animal) can be forgiven for their name because an apparently narcissistic dude named Bob brought basketball back to Charlotte. And in college, naming guidelines are out the window (See: Sea Wolves, Black Bears, Dirtbags, Hoyas, Chippawas, Beavers, etc.). Same goes for Minor League Baseball teams (see: the Montgomery Biscuits, the Bakersfield Blaze, the Beloit Snappers, the Norwich Navigators, the Chattanooga Lookouts, etc.). But the UFL has done something unholy, yet progressive, to the notion of a nickname. They have team names like the Locomotives, Nighthawks and Destroyers. Whoever is in the naming business at the UFL has watched Any Given Sunday one too many times. But the Mountain Lions. That could work at any level, but for whatever reason it hasn’t. The animal itself is indigenous to America, it invokes both fear and respect, and it has teeth that can turn sheet metal into balls of aluminum foil. Why aren’t they used more? Sure, Wildcats get a disproportionate amount of play at the collegiate level, but not in the pros. After all, it makes more sense than naming a franchise after a panther or a bengal tiger. Like I said, controversial. And sorry for that. Jump
  • But they aren’t exactly miles apart on the spectrum. Jump


Categories: Analysis, Around the Pac-12, Features

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