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Dennis Green has restored the pride and the winning attitude of the Minnesota Vikings, leading that franchise to the playoffs six times in his seven seasons as head coach. This season, the Vikings had the league's best record, 15-1, and scored more points (556) than any team in NFL history.
"We have a team that has a mentality that football is what we like doing and we're always going to lay it on the line," said Green, who was voted the Maxwell Football Club's Professional Coach of the Year and will be presented with the tenth Earle "Greasy" Neale Award, named after the Eagles late Hall of Fame coach.
Green described the Vikings as "a scrappy, fighting team." That describes the head coach, as well. He has coached at the college and professional level for 27 years and has a rare distinction: He has never been fired.
"Dennis has always had a great sense of maturity, a great sense of purpose and a great sense of dedication," said Bill Walsh, San Francisco 49ers general manager. "He is almost a case study in successful coaching."
Walsh gave Green his big break, hiring him as an assistant at Stanford in 1977. Two years later, when Walsh was hired as head coach of the 49ers, he brought Green along as his receivers coach. Green studied Walsh's system and that has served as a foundation for his own successful career as a head coach.
Green's motto: "Plan your work and work your plan."
"Dennis treats his players like men, he treats them with respect. As a result, he gets respect back," said Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter.
Green showed leadership skills at an early age, serving as class president at John Harris High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At 17, he was a crew chief on a maintenance job at the Harrisburg Airport, giving orders to men twice his age.
Green went to the University of Iowa where he earned a degree in recreation education and made honorable mention All-Big 10 as a running back. He played one season with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League before beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Iowa.
His first head coaching opportunity came in 1981 when he was hired at Northwestern, a school that was in the midst of the longest losing streak in Division One football. Green took the job against the advice of friends who told him the Northwestern program was hopeless.
After 0-11 first season, Green won the Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 1982 by leading the Wildcats to three victories, including an upset of Michigan State in East Lansing. He returned to the 49ers in 1986 for two seasons as an assistant coach and was on the staff for the win in Super Bowl XXIII.
In 1989, Green took on the task of rebuilding a Stanford football program which had fallen on hard times. In his third year, 1991, Green led the Cardinals to an 8-3 record, which included a seven-game winning streak, the school's longest in 40 years. The Vikings hired him the following year.
"I see challenges, even problems, as opportunities," Green said. "If I get the opportunity, I'll get the job done."
The Maxwell Football Club thanks Ray Didinger of NFL Films for contributing this article on Dennis Green.