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In the Trenches

NFL Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene dreams of another Super Bowl ring, but this time with the Miami Dolphins.
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 5)

"Dee-Fense. Dee-Fense."

Echoing through Joe Robbie Stadium on Sundays, it's a strange new cry in Miami. In the past, crowds only thrilled to Dan Marino lighting up the sky with long bombs.

The Dolphins had to throw often and long because the defensive line was awful. In 1991, the year before Greene joined the team, Miami was ranked 27th against the run in the NFL, allowing 2,301 yards--a whopping 144 yards rushing per game.

All that's changed with Greene's attacking style of line play. Abandoning the read and react approach that allowed opponents to play ball control, the linemen now have "attitude," a new quickness off the ball that produces turnovers and game-winning defensive stands. In dramatic contrast to their past vulnerability, the Dolphins in 1994 ranked sixth against the run, giving up only 89 yards per game on the ground.

To turn Miami into Super Bowl contenders, Greene has been in players' faces. "Coach is emotional," Dolphins defensive end Jeff Cross says. "Usually you just think of this big old monster of a guy." Yet Cross, praising Greene for his transformation from a mere sack-minded pass rusher to a clever run defender, also says, "The coach is very down to earth, a teacher patiently explaining things, a master technician."

It's compliments like these that put added pressure on Greene. After three-plus seasons of standing in Shula's shadows, does he want the glories--and headaches--of a head coaching job?

"I've never set goals, I've always allowed my ambitions to evolve naturally," says Greene. "Yet now I want to be a head coach, 'cause if some of these players are doing something I don't like, I want to be in charge. There are those times that I want to get things done and I can't. As a head coach you're in position to get them done."

Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy, Greene's former teammate who's also a leading head coach candidate, says, "Joe would be an outstanding leader. He has a presence and he knows how to win."

Greene has heard all the praise. But he and Dungy are black, both bypassed for assorted coaching slots, and that prompts him to explain, "It's definitely far more difficult for blacks to land that top job. Much tougher! Why? There are no black owners around. I'm not saying anything racist or prejudiced. It's just reality, the economics. White owners feel more comfortable with whites. They're the guys who've networked with owners, so whites trust and have more confidence in white coaches."

Greene says this without the slightest trace of anger. Easygoing off the field, he seems to be enjoying the coaching life, even though scouting players during the off-season leaves little time to play golf ("I'm terrible at it") and visit ex-Steelers teammates at card show signings.

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