Dennis Green, Stanford's head football coach from 1989-91 and a member of the Cardinal staff for six seasons, died Thursday night at the age of 67.
"At Stanford, Coach Green created an environment of toughness, confidence and competitiveness that I was blessed to be a part of as a student-athlete," Stanford football coach David Shaw said. "Though our staff, coach Willingham's and coach Harbaugh's have all had success, coach Green was the first to win at Stanford with the combination of a physical running game, a West Coast passing attack and an aggressive defense. Stanford football will miss Coach Green and forever be grateful."
Green's 16-18 record masked Stanford's advancement as a program. From his first to third seasons, Stanford improved its season record from 3-8 to 8-4, finishing second in the Pac-10 in 1991 and advancing to the Aloha Bowl.
As Stanford's head coach, Green coached such notable individuals as Shaw, Cory Booker, Ed McCaffrey, John Lynch, Glyn Milburn, Steve Stenstrom, Tommy Vardell, and Bob Whitfield prior to moving on to head-coaching roles in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals.
"The Stanford community is saddened to learn of the passing of Dennis Green," said Bernard Muir, Stanford's Director of Athletics. "Dennis valued the concept of scholar-athleticism and proved that excellence in football and academics were not mutually exclusive. His work in building the program, his mentorship, and his positive influence on former players is still felt today. Dennis' achievements are forever part of Stanford lore."
Already regarded as one of the brightest young offensive minds in the country, Green was 28 when he first came to Stanford in 1977 to coach running backs under Bill Walsh.
Besides becoming a frequent tennis partner of Walsh, Green was instrumental in development of the West Coast offense under Walsh with players such as John Elway, Darrin Nelson and Ken Margerum. Green thereafter launched a head coaching career -- beginning at Northwestern in 1981 -- that in time would rank among the most respected of those in Walsh's coaching tree.
When Green succeeded Jack Elway as head coach, becoming the first African American head football coach in Stanford and Pac-12 history, he changed the culture of Stanford football, employing a smash-mouth, hard-nosed style while convincing players they could be smart and tough at the same time.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that Stanford employs the same attributes under Shaw, who played two seasons as receiver under Green while Willie Shaw, David's father, was defensive coordinator.
Green assembled a staff that included future NFL and major-college head coaches Brian Billick, Ron Turner and Tyrone Willingham. His first victory was an 18-17 win over Oregon, on John Hopkins' 37-yard field goal with no time left. Under Green, Stanford went undefeated against Cal, beat USC for the first time in 16 years, and pulled off a stunning 36-31 road victory over undefeated and No. 1-ranked Notre Dame in 1990.
Green made the bus driver do a pre-game victory lap around Notre Dame Stadium and told players to soak it in because they were going to win. He relished the environment, especially in connection with his roots as a star running back at Iowa.
"I got off the plane and smelled football," Green said after the game. "Everything about the Midwest is football. It was great. The sirens of the police escort were blaring on the way to the game and all I could think was 'Move over, here comes the goddam Stanford Cardinal.' "
Stanford, which hadn't won a road game in four years, fell behind 24-7 in the second quarter against an Irish team quarterbacked by Rick Mirer and anchored defensively by Chris Zorich. But just before halftime, Stanford drove 80 yards on 10 plays, culminating on a 1-yard Vardell run, and with a two-point conversion pass from Jason Palumbis to McCaffrey.
The emotional jolt carried over into the second half, with Vardell scoring three more times -- earning the nickname "Touchdown Tommy" -- including the winner with 36 seconds left.
Green would go on to lead the Vikings into two NFC Championship games during his 13 years as an NFL head coach. But at Stanford, he was known for proving that a school with a great academic reputation could win in the modern age of college football.