At Home With Dennis & Marie Green
When Dennis and Marie Green moved to San Diego in 2002, they didn’t know a soul. Of course, millions of football fans knew them. Dennis, only the third African-American head coach in NFL history, had just wound up a decade with the Minnesota Vikings. Marie, a fashion consultant and former flight attendant (the couple had met on the team plane), is beautiful and charming. So it didn’t take the Greens long to feel welcome. Marie, who grew up in Minnesota, had always dreamed of living in California. “Thank goodness he shared my vision,” she says with a laugh.
The North County coastal home they share with their two teenagers, Vanessa and Zachary, has views to the Del Mar Race Track and the ocean beyond. Contemporary and comfortable, the open floor plan has high ceilings, travertine floors, sleek leather couches, and a bold art collection including an abstract work by Donald Walker. A grand piano, drums, and guitar, along with a famous photograph of John Lennon playing a white piano for his Imagine album, reflect the family’s love of music. In fact, the Greens once had their own independent record label, Savannah Street Music, with 25 artists under contract. Their contemporary jazz album, Sunset Celebration, released 20 years ago, still has it going on. Dennis is on drums, with special guest Doc Severinsen on the trumpet.
The family home also features treasured memorabilia from Dennis’ 36 years as a coach, including a jersey commemorating his 100th NFL victory with the Vikings. “I love helping people to become better,” he says of the career that also included stints with Stanford and Northwestern. But Dennis is modest about his accomplishments, and the color barriers he helped to break down. He insists that America was on the “cusp of change” when he was a boy growing up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that doors were beginning to open for African-American athletes. “When I came along, the opportunity to go to college was there in my age group, and we were ambitious. I applied for my first head coaching job when I was 27, and I couldn’t believe I didn’t get it,” he says with a hearty laugh. He would have to wait four more years for the top job at Northwestern, becoming the first African-American head coach in the Big 10 before heading to the NFL.
Marie is his biggest fan, calling him a “master strategist’’ and leader. “He is very inspirational, very motivating. He makes people want to go out and just get it done.” Now retired from coaching, Dennis is a broadcaster on the San Francisco 49ers post-game wrap up for Comcast/NBC Universal, a sought after speaker, and the author of the autobiography No Room for Crybabies. “It’s the idea that you have to really learn to stand on your own feet, that things aren’t always going to go your own way, that sometimes you could have some hard times.”
For Dennis, those hard times began early. He grew up poor, the youngest of five brothers. His father died when he was just 11, his mother, two years later. “Things don’t always seem fair,” he learned, “but you just have to charge on and try to make a difference.” His father had always encouraged Dennis and his brothers to join the local boys’ club “to keep us off the streets and out of trouble.” The club proved to be not just a lifeline for Dennis, but a lifelong passion. He served for 20 years on the Board of Directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Minneapolis and San Dieguito, and was named to the clubs’ national Alumni Hall of Fame. The Greens’ children now volunteer at the clubs, continuing the family legacy.
The Greens are also actively involved with Cathedral Catholic High School, where Vanessa’s volleyball team won the state championship two years ago, and where Zach plays basketball and runs track. Vanessa would like a career in sports management one day; Zach wants to be a coach like his dad (basketball, not football).
The family has long been involved with the Epilepsy Foundation for a very personal reason — Marie’s brother has epilepsy and is mentally challenged.
She also volunteers with the FACE Foundation’s “Closets for a Cause” program, which raises funds for critically ill pets and their families. (Their own pooch is a rescue dog.) Marie organizes the pick-up of unwanted clothing, handbags, jewelry, and accessories for sale via consignment or at the organization’s annual “Bags and Baubles” fundraiser, held this year on April 26 in Rancho Santa Fe. Daughter Vanessa is serving as the event’s youth chair.
The former director of training for the RealReal, a luxury online consignment site, Marie now consults with high-end resale businesses to help them grow to the next level. She got her start in fashion by styling the wives of coaches and players, and firmly believes fashion isn’t frivolous, but rather an art form that helps people not only look, but feel better. “You only get one chance to make a first impression. If you feel confident in the way you look and the way you’re put together, that’s going to go a long way.”
Marie says she always respects an individual’s personal style, and that includes her husband’s. While she admits that a few of his cabana shirts have “disappeared” from his closet over the years, he “dresses” himself. So do clothes make the man? “Not my man!” she exclaims. “I feel like he is so much more than what he wears.” Andrea Naversen
Photography by Vincent Knakal