After news broke that longtime NFL coach Dennis Green had died at the age of 67, Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway paid tribute to Green.
“My heart and prayers go out to Dennis Green and his family. Had the pleasure of playing for Dennis at Stanford for 2 years. Great Coach!” Elway wrote on Twitter.
But the single most impressive accomplishment of Green’s career may be that he didn’t need a great quarterback like Elway. In fact, Green could take just about any quarterback, plug him into Green’s offense, and get to the playoffs. Green took the Vikings to the playoffs eight times in his 11 seasons as head coach, in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Just take a look at the quarterbacks Green had in those seasons:
1992: The Vikings went 8-4 with Rich Gannon as their starter and 3-1 with Sean Salisbury as their starter. Although Gannon would later become a very good quarterback with the Raiders, he was viewed at the time as a nobody — and Salisbury was viewed as worse. And yet Green rode them to the playoffs in his first season as head coach.
1993: Jim McMahon was viewed as old and washed up and just a backup at that point in his career, but Green brought him to Minnesota and rode him to the playoffs.
1994: Warren Moon is a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he was seen as way past his prime when the Vikings acquired him in a trade with the Houston Oilers. And yet with Moon as the starter, the Vikings made the playoffs again.
1996: Moon was injured at the start of the season, so Brad Johnson — who had never started a game in a four-year NFL career up to that point — stepped in and led the Vikings to a 4-0 start. Moon would eventually return, he and Johnson would flip-flop on the depth chart, and it would ultimately be Johnson who led the Vikings to the playoffs.
1997: Johnson shared the job with Randall Cunningham, who had been viewed as so far past his prime that he wasn’t even in the league the year before. Again, Green led the Vikings to the playoffs.
1998: With Cunningham supplanting Johnson as the starter, the Vikings had their best season of the Green era, going 15-1 and falling in the NFC Championship Game.
1999: Green benched Cunningham for Jeff George, another past-his-prime quarterback, and once again found a winning touch, as the Vikings went 8-2 in George’s 10 starts and made the playoffs again.
2000: Green started Daunte Culpepper and saw him put together an incredible season, with 3,937 passing yards, 33 passing touchdowns, 470 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The Vikings lost the NFC Championship Game, which would be the last playoff game Green coached.
That revolving door of quarterbacks is worth repeating: Rich Gannon, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George and Daunte Culpepper. Green never had one franchise quarterback he could count on year after year. Instead, Green found a new quarterback year after year. And he kept finding ways to win. That was a great piece of coaching.