Stanford coach Dennis Green, who was named coach of the Minnesota Vikings yesterday, will go into the history books as the second black head coach in modern NFL history.
Within the NFL's black community, though, Green's appointment was even more significant than the naming of Art Shell by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989 as the first black head coach in modern times.
"This is really the first NFL hire because in this case, Denny went up against all the other guys," said Bobby Mitchell, assistant general manager of the Washington Redskins.
"It was a great thing that Al Davis did [when he hired Shell], but that was an in-house hire. Art didn't go up against anyone," Mitchell said.
Davis, managing general partner of the Raiders, promoted Shell from offensive line coach to head coach four games into the 1989 season when he fired Mike Shanahan. Davis didn't interview any other candidates.
Besides Green, 42, the Vikings interviewed New York Jets defensive coordinator Pete Carroll, a former Vikings assistant, and Tom Moore, Minnesota's offensive coordinator.
Bill Parcells, the former New York Giants coach who rejected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers before deciding he was interested in coaching again, called the Vikings on Thursday, but club president Roger Headrick told him he wasn't considering other candidates.
"I don't think players are going to look at this as, 'We've got a black head coach,' " Green said. "If I treat them all the same, they're going to treat me the same."
The decision to hire Green was made by Headrick, who replaced Mike Lynn last year as the man in charge of the team's day-to-day operation.
It was also a personal victory for commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who lobbied Headrick to hire Green. Eight teams have fired their head coaches this season, and Tagliabue was eager to increase the ranks of black head coaches, especially after the Cincinnati Bengals named 32-year-old David Shula as head coach when many said his best credential was that he was the son of Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula.
Headrick said Tagliabue's lobbying had "absolutely" nothing to do with his decision.
In 1988, the Vikings became the last team in the NFL to hire a black assistant coach, Jerry Brown.
"Denny earned it," Brown said. "Some doors had been shut early for him. He thought he had to leave the NFL and go back to college to prove he had ability. He proved himself and the NFL rewarded him."
The NFL's first black head coach was Fritz Pollard, who was a player-coach for the Akron Pros in the 1920s when the NFL hired a total of 13 black players. They were banned in an unwritten agreement that the NFL still denies officially existed from 1934 to The football color line was broken by four players in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball.
Including Sam Wyche, who was hired by Tampa Bay yesterday, six new head coaches have been named since the end of the season. The other four are Shula, Bobby Ross of the San Diego Chargers, Tom Flores of the Seattle Seahawks and Chuck Knox, the former Seattle coach, of the Los Angeles Rams.
Flores is technically a minority because his father, Tom Sr., migrated from Mexico. But Flores, who coached the Raiders to two Super Bowls, isn't usually perceived as a minority.
Green had an 8-4 record at Stanford last year where he coached, among other players, the son of Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, linebacker Coy Gibbs. It was the first winning season for Green, who compiled a 26-63 mark at Northwestern and Stanford. Both schools are noted more for academics than football. Green's only NFL experience was two stints under Bill Walsh at San Francisco in 1979 and 1986-88.
"I think he had good credentials and was a very qualified candidate," said George Young, general manager of the New York Giants. "To me, he's head coach of the Vikings, not the minority head coach of the Vikings."
Mitchell echoed those sentiments. "For all intents and purposes, at this point, he's not a black head coach. He's a head coach. I'm so happy for him. Hallelujah."
Although Minnesota has had a reputation of being a team of talented underachievers, Mitchell predicted Green will be a winner.
"I guarantee he's going to win," Mitchell said. "This is going to sound kind of crazy, but I've thought of him as the black Don Shula. Not the Shula of today, but the Shula who came up through the ranks. He knows when and where to level discipline."
Green, who got a Super Bowl ring in San Francisco in 1988, said: "I don't think you can say you had a successful season until you're in the playoffs. There's still a lot of talent here. This is the only job I was interested in. I turned down a lot of interviews."
In the past, there has been speculation the Vikings had had racial problems, and All-Pro safety Joey Browner charged in 1989 that Lynn was a "racist."
Mitchell said he hoped Green's hiring will lead to the hiring not only of more black head coaches, but more black offensive and defensive coordinators. The only black coordinator is Terry Robiske of the Raiders.
The only other black who's been under consideration for a head coaching job this year is defensive line coach Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who's one of the candidates to replace Chuck Noll. Greene is seen as somewhat of a long shot because he's been coaching for only five years.