Dennis Green coaches students to get passionate about their potential
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Dennis Green gets it.
He gets that his 2006 postgame rant after a bitter loss to the Chicago Bears, when he was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals — “They are who we thought they were, and we let ’em off the hook!” — is still a talk radio and YouTube hit.
He gets why football fans love it when a coach, in Green’s words, blows his stack, the way Herm Edwards of the New York Jets (“You play to win the game!”) and Jim Mora Sr. of the Indianapolis Colts (“Playoffs? You kidding me?”) did before him. He said he has talked to both of them about it — and laughed about it.
But in a wide-ranging talk Thursday afternoon in the Colangelo College of Business Dean’s Speaker Series, Green spent most of his time showing students how they can get it — get motivated, get passionate about their potential and get where they want to go in life.
He was on campus thanks to Brett Mitnick, GCU’s regional director of online enrollment operations, who developed a friendship with him because of their mutual interest in fishing. Green is passionate about a lot of things, and fishing is what he calls on his “five Fs.” The others: faith, family, friends and, of course, football.
Green was excited about speaking at GCU because, he says, he loves what the University stands for. He lives in San Diego and frequently sees GCU advertisements on television.
“I think you have the most exciting commercials on TV,” he said. “If I was 18 years old, I’d be drawn to Grand Canyon.
“When I see Grand Canyon University and I see that commercial and I see ‘find your purpose,’ I see that passion. They don’t say, ‘Know your purpose.’ They say, ‘Find your purpose.’”
He took his son, a high school junior, on a campus tour last month and said he was even more impressed. He sees in the University something he tried to instill in his teams — the determination to always strive for more.
“I want — that’s a good word. A lot of people have shied away from ‘want’ because it has a negative connotation, but I think it has a great connotation. Being competitive is viewed negatively by some, but it creates dedication,” he said.
Green certainly never was lacking in the dedication department as his coaching career evolved from being an assistant at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers to becoming a trail-blazing African-American head coach in both college football (Stanford, Northwestern) and the National Football League (Minnesota Vikings before the Cardinals).
He said he owes much of his success to Bill Walsh, the late Stanford and 49ers coach who was passionate about bringing diversity to the profession. Walsh hired him at Stanford and then brought him to the 49ers when he moved up the road.
He most admired about Walsh the way he found and helped develop players. Walsh also worked to develop coaches, and Green took that mentoring to the next level and beyond. He doesn’t lack for opinions and wise sayings about what it takes to succeed.
Green said that, as a coach, “I was always trying to come up with sayings and goals,” such as the importance of assessing SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and the three Ds (desire, dedication, determination). He went out of his way to be forthright and instructive.
“I like having coaches come here to speak because they try to relate to everyone in the room,” said Dr. Brian Smith, director of the Colangelo School of Sports Business.
Part of relating, in Green’s case, was answering a lot of football questions during a spirited give-and-take with the packed audience at Howerton Hall. For example, a student wanted to know his thought process behind drafting troubled wide receiver Randy Moss when he was with the Vikings. Moss had been in trouble with the law, but went on to have an outstanding NFL career.
“I got a lot of speaking engagements from that because a lot of companies have a Randy Moss,” Green said. “The superstar will act out because of his confidence on the outside and his insecurity on the inside.”
It was inevitable that Green’s “They are who we thought they were” blowup would be a discussion topic Thursday, and he was the one who brought it up, in response to a question about his lowest moment as a coach. He explained how it happened — a reporter kept asking different versions of the same question about the Bears’ supposed superiority — and Green finally blew his stack.
“I just didn’t feel like holding it in anymore,” he said.
Much to the audience’s amusement, he voluntarily repeated the rant at full volume, which he finds much easier these days now that he’s an ex-coach and in private business. He noted that photos of him on the sidelines never show him smiling. “Since I stopped coaching, I smile all the time,” he said.
But he still loves coaching — about life. Asked what advice he has for students on that front, he said, “The No. 1 thing is do what you love. You’ve got an incredible University here. The whole concept, I definitely love. This is here because of your principles, integrity and good moral fiber.”
Green likes it so much he stayed for the GCU men’s basketball game Thursday night. One thing you can say about Dennis Green: He is who you think he is — and the students were fortunate to hear from a guy who doesn’t let high standards off the hook.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected]