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Watching Minnesota Vikings head coach dennis green roam the sidelines during a football game is like watching a general take command of his troops. Green isn’t thinking about the current play on the field or even the play after that. Instead, he’s likely mapping out strategy well into the next quarter. On offense, should he rollout his quarterback Randall Cunningham to drop back for a bomb downfield to rookie wideout sensation Randy Moss in the end-zone? Or on defense should he send Pro Bowl linebacker John Randle against the opposing offense in an all-out blitz?
His calls are decisive and aggressive, much like the man himself. It’s this type of strategic planning ahead that landed Green the plum spot he’s now enjoying-head coach of a football team in the National Football League.
But he didn’t turn the Minnesota Vikings into a Super Bowl contender alone. If Green is the more visible general in the Vikings camp, then his behind-the-scenes partner is Frank Gilliam, Vikings vice president of player personnel. Appointed in 1998, Gilliam is responsible for finding and acquiring the team’s player personnel.
“Frank’s No. 1 job is the personnel and finding the right players. I’ve always felt he was the best personnel guy in the NFL,” Green says. “My No. 1 job is to coach and develop those players.”
Both Green and Gilliam have paid their dues. Green’s first head coaching experience came in 1981 at Northwestern University. He spent four years there before going to Stanford University, where he served as head coach from 1989-91. He took the team to the 1991 Aloha Bowl, its first Bowl game since 1986, before graduating to the NFL in 1992 with the Minnesota Vikings.
After a short career in the Canadian Football League, Gilliam joined the Vikings in 1971 as scouting director before being promoted to director of player personnel in 1975. In 1994, his new role as vice president of player personnel allowed him to oversee three NFL drafts where the team has found players they believe will carry them far into the future.
Together they’ve come quite a ways from the days when the Vikings were a perennial also-ran team. The two men have worked hand in hand crafting the Minnesota Vikings into one of the most formidable teams in the NFL today.
Despite the success of the one-two combination of Gilliam and Green, the pair remain a virtual oddity in the multibillion-dollar world of the NFL because they’re both African American. Indeed, this dynamic duo represents the long and arduous battle blacks have waged in an effort to gain equal opportunity as head coaches and, more importantly, senior front office personnel of NFL clubs.
A recent report by Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society only confirmed the obvious. Its 1997 Racial Report Card reveals a wide disparity between the hiring practices of professional sport’s front offices and their reflection on the playing fields. The NFL has the lowest percentage of African American head coaches (10%) in the three major professional sports.