Dennis Green, who gained fame as one of the NFL’s first African-American head coaches, died Thursday night due to cardiac arrest. He was 67.

Green was a pioneer

Green had a 17-year coaching career in the NFL, starting out as a special teams coordinator and a wide receivers coach for the San Francisco 49ers from 1985 to 1989. He then spent the next few years as head coach of Stanford University, before returning to the NFL in 1992 as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

That made him only the third African-American to be named head coach of an NFL team, and second in the league’s modern era; prior to Green, pioneering NFL player Fritz Pollard coached in the 1920s, and Art Shell was named head coach of the Los Angeles (now Oakland) Raiders in 1989.

With the Vikings, Green made the NFL playoffs eight times out of ten seasons from 1992 to 2001. His best year with the team was in 1998, when Minnesota went 15-1 and made it all the way to the NFC championship game. Green currently ranks second in Vikings history behind Hall of Famer Bud Grant in total games coached, total wins, and winning percentage.

The Arizona years

Green’s next head coaching stop was with the Arizona Cardinals, which he joined in 2004 after spending the 2002 and 2003 NFL seasons as an ESPN football analyst. This time, though, he was dealing with a struggling team that totaled just 11 wins combined in 2004 and 2005. The 2006 season was similarly disappointing, with the Cardinals going 5-11, yet it also featured what many consider Green’s most unforgettable moment in his NFL career.

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It all happened on October 16, 2006, as Green’s Cardinals blew a 20-point lead to the Chicago Bears in one of the most memorable comebacks in Monday Night Football history. Speaking to reporters, Green launched into an angry, profane rant where he uttered the now-classic line “The Bears are who we thought they were!” The rant was so quotable that it became one of several used in a series of Coors Light commercials that aired in the 2007 NFL season.

Green remembered fondly byNFL

In a statement, NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent expressed his sympathy to Green’s family following his passing, while highlighting his key achievements.

"Denny was a terrific head coach and inspired his players on and off the field,” said Vincent, noting Green’s legacy and recent ties with the NFL. “He helped pave the way for minority coaches and recently served as a key advisor on the NFL's Career Development Advisory Panel.

On behalf of the NFL, our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Green family."

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