4-1-04, 5:10 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PALM BEACH, Fla. _ The Arizona Cardinals are supposed to be the NFC version of the Cincinnati Bengals. A frugal, family-owned entity that has been a punch line and a punching bag since the advent of free agency.
So make no mistake. New Cardinals coach Dennis Green might have Hall-of-Fame numbers. But he is taking notes on how last year in his first season as a head coach Marvin Lewis steered the 2-14 Bengals to one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history with an on-the-brink 8-8.
"What Marvin was able to do, and what he said he wanted to do was make Cincinnati again feel like it is an NFL city," said Green, who is trying to do the same in Phoenix. "Not to take a backseat to any other city."
Green knows all about Lewis. Well enough to call him his grandson because Lewis coordinated defenses for Brian Billick in Baltimore, who coordinated offenses in Minnesota for Green, who coordinated offenses for Bill Walsh in San Francisco. During Wednesday's NFC coaches' media breakfast on the last day of the league meetings, Green celebrated his return by climbing Walsh's coaching tree that was planted in Cincinnati 30 years ago.
Green says he finds it hard to believe that from 1992-2003; the Cardinals had no coach that was part of the NFL's biggest coaching tent. No coach who worked directly under Walsh or anyone who worked under someone who did.
But that has all changed with Green, one of 30 NFL coaches with 100 career wins, bringing his .610 regular-season winning percentage into the desert. Just like Lewis was known last year for saying "Everybody in the league does it this way," Green has become famous for saying in Arizona, "That's just the way it is."
"I try not to say it that much," Green said. "But we're a turnaround program."
Like Lewis, Green has already had an influence on an old guard owner. Lewis has convinced Mike Brown that there needs to be new approaches in preparation and environment. At these meetings, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill reversed his field and voted for instant replay at Green's urging.
Much like Lewis did in Cincinnati, Green has reminded his players, "I just didn't drop in here," and he'll remind them the Vikings went to the playoffs seven times in his 10 seasons.
"(Lewis) was able to talk about what it was like when he was at Baltimore and why they won a championship, what kind of guys played defense," Green said. "We know it's well documented that things didn't go so good for Marvin when he went to Washington and he used that also.
"He can say, 'Guys, we won in Baltimore because we did these things, but when I got to Washington, guys didn't want to do those things. That is their privilege I guess, but what it meant was we didn't win. That (was) a team that thinks they know more than the coach knows, that doesn't do things the coach asked them to do even though they had success.' Or, 'Are we going to do it like they did it in Baltimore, where it didn't matter. Ray Lewis, (Peter) Boulware, anybody, whatever the coaches wanted to do?' That's what Marvin is able to say."
Green thinks the hallmark of Walsh's system is that even though all the head coaches it produced have such an array of different personalities and philosophies (ranging from the voluble, offensive-minded Billick to the no-nonsense defensive posture of Jeff Fisher); it gave them a core of principles. That produced, Green believes, the ability to not only develop plans, but to stick with them.
"That stems from coming from a system where you believe in certain things," Green said. "Nobody believed in Brett Favre, but Mike Holmgren did. Joe Montana wasn't what he was until Bill Walsh drafted him. A lot of people didn't think Steve Young was an NFL player after Tampa, except Bill Walsh. He traded for him because was convinced that old Lefty was going to be a good quarterback."
Green did it by drafting Randy Moss when no one else would, and he did it just a few months ago when he committed to third-year quarterback Josh McCown. Just like Lewis has with Carson Palmer.
"A lot of it is just how you give information. The repetition of giving information out so that a guy can retain the information," Green said. "A lot of us got sold on certain things."
Walsh has said he took his system and that teaching style pure and uncut from Paul Brown during his days as offensive coordinator with the Bengals. Green said Brown's name would come up often as Walsh put together his teams.
"It's where he was able to paint his picture," said Green of Walsh's days in Cincinnati. "He would talk about the backs; (quarterback) Greg Cook, why they drafted Isaac Curtis, the role Chip Myers played in the system. That was his proving ground."
Now Green tries to grow the Brown-Walsh hybrid in the desert. He acknowledges it's going to look a lot like what Lewis did last year in Cincinnati.
"It's the system. Marvin practices the same way Bill Walsh practices. Marvin sets his team up a certain way because Marvin worked for Brian Billick, who worked for Denny Green, who worked for Bill Walsh," Green said. "Pretty soon we're going to be sprouting great great grandchildren."