Dennis Green Takes Stanford Job : 49er Assistant Is Pac-10’s First Black Head Football Coach

Times Staff Writer

Dennis Green, an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, was named to succeed the fired Jack Elway at Stanford Tuesday, becoming the first black head football coach in the Pacific 10 Conference.

“I’ve always felt a part of Stanford,” said Green, 39, who served 3 years as a Cardinal assistant before becoming the head coach at Northwestern.

Green told reporters that he will remain with the 49ers through the NFC championship game Sunday against the Chicago Bears and, if San Francisco wins, the Super Bowl.


Green also said he feels no added pressure being the Pac-10’s first black head football coach because he also was the first in the Big Ten when he was at Northwestern in 1981-85.

“I’ve always looked at myself as a football coach who happens to be black,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’ve never looked at myself as a black coach and I don’t think the players look at me that way, either. I think they just want somebody to do the job. I don’t think it will get you a job, and I hope it won’t keep you from getting a job. (The interest) will wear off. But I don’t have any problems with answering that type of question. I think people are interested.”

Stanford Athletic Director Andy Geiger said he is aware that because Green is black, there will be suggestions that race is Green’s primary selling point.

“If it was a consideration, it was a positive consideration,” Geiger said. “It’s an issue that’s with us today in this country. You can read story after story and read about the absence of black people in significant positions. Dennis was the most qualified candidate, anyway. (But) if you have a chance, you want to do it.”

Green will be in transition as long as the 49ers stay in contention for the Super Bowl at Miami Jan. 22.

“I will be wearing two hats,” he said. “Bill (Walsh, 49er head coach) has convinced me I have to jump into the Stanford job. I’ll also do my best to take the 49ers to the next step.”

Walsh has been both a mentor and an advocate for Green. Walsh has reportedly mentioned Green’s name for several National Football League jobs, and Geiger said he spoke with Walsh several times about Green.

“He told me many good things but mainly this,” Geiger said. “Fundamentals: he is absolutely grounded in the fundamentals of the game. And the other thing is management. Bill Walsh said Dennis would make an excellent manager and administrator. Dennis is ready to run this football program.”

Elway was fired Dec. 5, after the Cardinal finished the season at 3-6-2, having lost several close games in the final seconds. Elway was criticized for not bringing out what was said to be a great deal of talent.

The Cardinal had losing records in 4 of Elway’s 5 seasons, and he was 25-29-2 overall. The winning season was in 1984, when Stanford went 8-4 and lost to Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

Green said he hopes to revive Stanford’s football tradition.

“I don’t think a lot of the players are even aware of the tradition here of going to bowl games, and the All-Americans,” he said. “I think tradition is the single most important element of recruiting.”

Geiger said, when asked what set Green apart from other candidates: “He is unique in his variety of experience. He has an excellent grounding in terms of role models and who he was associated with in the game.

“Perhaps the most salient point to me is that he will be a good administrator here.”

Green declined to comment on terms of his contract, other than to describe them as “very equitable.”

On his coaching philosophy, Green said, “I believe in the student-athlete, and Stanford’s tradition in that area.”

Geiger said that Green’s tenure at Northwestern, which shares Stanford’s high academic standards for athletes, proved he can coach in such an environment. “Integrity is a big part of him,” Geiger said.

Green, with the 49ers since 1986, was a Stanford assistant under Walsh in 1977-78, seasons after which the Cardinal won in the Sun Bowl and Bluebonnet Bowl, respectively. Green returned to Stanford as offensive coordinator in 1980 when the team finished 6-5 under Paul Wiggin.

He had a 10-45 record in 5 seasons at Northwestern. Green was named Big Ten coach of the year in 1982 when the Wildcats finished 3-8 and broke a 34-game losing streak.

As a player, he was a starting tailback at the University of Iowa and later played for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League in 1971.

Green is free to name his own staff. All of Elway’s eight assistants remain. Geiger said Green would consider them as well as coaches on the 49er staff. Appointments may be made as early as next week.

“I’ve talked to quite a few coaches, but I don’t believe you need eight assistant coaches right now,” Green said. “My No. 1 objective right now is not recruiting, but it’s the players who are here now. I have to get them together and talk to them about my philosophy as a head coach and what my assistant coaches will expect from them.”

Green wasted no time in getting to work. He spent Tuesday in the Stanford football offices calling as many as 30 recruits.

Geiger said his search committee made an initial list of 12-15 candidates. Only four were called back for a second interview. Green and Pete Carroll, coach of the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive backs, were considered the strongest candidates.

Green’s name surfaced as a possible candidate for the Raiders’ head coaching job last season, but he was not thought to be strongly considered.

“I’ve interviewed for jobs in the NFL,” Green said. “That part of my future is now over. That is no longer a goal for me. I will not be a head coach in the NFL.”