A curiously long post about Justin Green
If you read my Q&A with Justin Green in last Sunday’s paper, well, let me tell you, you don’t know the half of it. I left about half the interview on the cutting-room floor.
That includes an interesting bit about Green briefly getting signed by the Jets, and then released the next day for failing a physical that he hadn’t been given. This little lie made Green’s future employment in the NFL that much more difficult.
The interview went maybe 25 minutes, but I could’ve stayed a couple hours. Here it is in full, including the intro:
Justin Green was on the verge of being a starting fullback for the Arizona Cardinals in 2009 when the rug came out from under him.
Not quite three years later Green, a bruising runner for the Montana Grizzlies in 2003-04, is the new running backs coach for the Griz, who begin their 2012 spring drills on March. 19. He replaces Mick Delaney, who retired in February.
Green gained 1,784 yards at UM, went to the 2005 NFL Combine and was drafted in the fifth round of the ’05 NFL Draft by Baltimore. He lasted three seasons with the Ravens, was cut, and eventually caught on with Arizona. In fact he’d just moved up to the No. 1 fullback for the Cardinals when he suffered the second torn ACL of his NFL career, in the summer of 2009.
That did it. He tried out for a couple teams in the fledgling UFL, and in the meantime coached some high school football. And that, Green said, made him catch the coaching bug.
Last week Green spoke with the Missoulian about playing for the Griz, in the NFL and coming back to Missoula.
You went to the NFL Combine, so tell us: How was it?
It was a different experience. I went into it … with an open mind. You get, “Yeah, it was a meat market,” and, “Yeah, it was a lot of crap,” and “Yeah, you work out with no sleep,” and “Yeah, you get interviewed by every single coach and everyone gets to size you up.” “Yeah, it’s overrated.” But how many people get to go? Who knows your name, going there? What does your presence represent? When I looked at it that way, I took it as an opportunity. My agent put a book together with pictures of who everybody was. So I went in there I knew their names when I shook their hand, so I knew them before they looked at my name tag. That to me was the way to go about it, because it is all those other things.
Take us back to your days in San Diego. I think it was (former UM assistant) Dave Schramm that got you to come up here.
Schrammy was my running back coach at San Diego State. In the year after all of them (Ted Tollner and his staff) getting fired, he went to some school in Texas, and then he came here. With that hire he then told me to send film, because he knew I’d left SDSU. For him to make that phone call was pretty meaningful.
Did you come to Missoula sight-unseen?
I visited in December. First time I’d ever seen snow. It was a pretty neat deal, and I was pretty excited about that. I fell in love with the place. I had no idea of what to expect.
I’m on my recruiting trip and they’re showing me the campus – I tell this story all the time – and somebody walked by me and said, “Hi.” I was like, “Are you talking to me?” Then the next person said hello. I thought that was the coolest thing, that this must be the friendliest town. And then to see the stands. At San Diego State you were lucky to get 6,000 people to a 70,000-seat stadium. Here, you heard about the fans. Everybody I talked to that wasn’t on campus, all they talked about was the Grizzlies. You look at every car, and the license plate has something Grizzly on it. You looked at the color of the cars, and they’re either maroon or silver. It was something I’d never seen in San Diego. It was an incredible deal.
I’m sure when you went to San Diego State, you were thinking you were going to be an Aztec and kick some butt.
The biggest thing was I was from San Diego, and at the time I had (rushing) records from San Diego. It was kind of like, “San Diego boy stays home.” They only had three running backs my redshirt year. I was going to potentially be a guy pushing for a starting spot as a freshman. I was getting bigger, getting stronger, and it was a power-style offense. With the new coaches coming in when those guys got fired, I no longer fit the system. I went from No. 2 to No. 9 without even putting pads on. I went to spring ball and I remember the running backs coach tracking me down and asking why I’d run somebody over instead of juking him. At that moment I knew: I was no longer somewhere I was wanted. That was the biggest reason I went to a junior college. I wanted to keep playing running back.
Talk about playing in the NFL.
The day I walked into the (Baltimore) locker room, Deion Sanders was there. Growing up, there wasn’t a kid growing up who didn’t want to be like Deion Sanders, who didn’t want to go to Florida State, who didn’t want to do the Deion Dance. To all of a sudden have my locker two doors down from him, and to the left of me was Ray Lewis and to the right was Somare Rolle – you’re going, “Geez.” These are the names that I grew up watching. I never imagined being in that situation. And then I’m blocking for Jamal Lewis.
You’re in this situation where you’re in awe of the guys you’re studying film with and that you have to go block. The first guy I had to block was Ray Lewis, and the second guy was Terrell Suggs. The third guy was Adalias Thomas. This is spring camp. I had to come to the realization that I belong here, that I can play with these guys. Once that happened, and I studied a lot of film and things slowed down, I did realize I could play with those guys.
What happened when you left the Ravens?
I lot of it was injury. My first year I broke my scaphoid (wrist), my second year I tore my ACL. My third year I played well, but my second year they had drafted a guy. I had started a few games my second year prior to my injury. But at that position, if you show that you can’t hold up they’ll get another guy to replace you. That’s pretty much what happened. Also after my third year a new staff came in, and they were head over heels for the guy that I was kind of splitting time. Plus it was my tender year, my big-money year, and if I wasn’t going to be there guy they weren’t going to keep me as a backup. They released me and the next day I got taken off waivers by the Jets.
Due to a contract problem the Jets released me the next day, but they told me they’d released me because I’d failed a physical. Well, I hadn’t even taken a physical. I had nine interviews and four workouts after that and I had to get X-Rays for all nine and had MRIs for eight of the nine teams. And their biggest thing was, “Why did you fail your physical? We need to take a look.” And there was no CD I could take around and show what’s wrong with me. It was kind of, “We don’t see anything wrong with you but… you’re on the short list.” I went through that for the year, and right before the Arizona Cardinals won their first playoff game they called me. One of their tight ends got hurt, and they were like, when something happens…
I worked myself up to the No. 2 spot and the first day of camp (in 2009) the No. 1 guy goes down. I step into the No. 1 spot, catch a pass and get bumped and tear my other ACL. That was it. Second practice at fall camp.
And that in turn brought you back to UM? You needed to finish your degree…
Exactly. The biggest thing is when I was coaching I was beginning to enjoy it more and more. I was enjoying the nights of breaking down film and trying to see if we can get any tendencies from the team we were playing. And in high school you’re doing both sides of the ball. I enjoyed that, the game-planning process, the guys I was working with, the players I was working with. And then it kind of opened up for me right then that football is more than football. You can teach some life skills through football. It all hit me at the same time: I heard my dad talking to me in my head, some of the things he was teaching me growing up. I heard my high school coaches. At the time I really didn’t understand all the things they were telling me. It was like somebody hit me with a bat: “This is what I want to do.”
You want to teach what you know, and I feel I know football. I still have this ppassion of learning more about it, I have a passion for knowing how to help guys. That’s what excites me about this job. And as a high school coach I had some opportunities, to coach, and to teach, but I didn’t have my degree. So I knew I had to do that, and I could’ve done it in California but it would’ve been a long road. I figured the best way to finish my degree was to come back. I’d kept in contact with (UM athletic director) Jim O’Day. He even came down to a couple Arizona games. Plus (senior associate AD) Jean Gee, because I took at least a class a year on-line – the NFL pays for them. I even took one during the season. I really needed one semester to knock it and get it done. I was fortunate to be able to do that.
You were doubly fortunate in that Mick Delaney was just about ready to retire.
You bet. When I came here it was open arms. I asked Robin Pflugrad if there was any way I could help and he asked, “Can you start today?”
I came into this room and Mick Delaney said, “Hey, if there’s anything you think I’m doing wrong or can change or get better at, feel free to let me know?” That was kind of shocking for me, from a guy who has all the experience in the world, who indirectly recruited me because his G.A. at Colorado State was Dave Schramm. We ran the same exact drills that we ran out there (at San Diego State). Dave Schramm’s a little Mick Delaney. It was kind of fun to put the culture together, me not knowing Mick, yet knowing Mick. He let me have full rein. His biggest thing was, “As long as we’re on the same page as coaches, anything you tell them is helping them.”
For him, he felt the coaching part would be easy. You just have to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. I guess he felt that I was, and I think that’s why he let me have so much rein in the running backs’ room.
You know, this offense isn’t the old Aztec offense or Bobby Hauck’s offense.
I think that’s a good thing, really, for me. It adds another dimension to what I know and am able to learn. I love the high-tempo because it allows to move faster than the other team. As I’ve learned, the higher level you go, the more mistakes you make the more it costs you. Beacuse we go so fast, teams aren’t able to catch our speed and they often make a lot more mistakes than we do. It’s not that we’re the most talented team or the fastest team or the strongest. It’s because we play so fast. You cannot practice the tempo that we’re at.
So when Dan Moore tears off a long run against the Cats, is partly because they’re tired.
Right, and with our running back situation, we’ve got three different guys and in the matter of three different plays you get three different looks. You’ve got a guy you basically can’t touch because you can’t get a hand on him (Peter Nguyen); you’ve got a guy who’s faster than everybody (Jordan Canada), and we’ve got a guy who can run you over (Moore).
I love this group. As a running backs coach you want a guy that’s all three of them, but I’m glad I have them because I have three different personalities. And those personalities are fun to deal with as human beings. That’s the biggest thing.
Backing up a ways, when you came to Missoula you probably didn’t realize you were going to part of a backfield that would push two running backs to the NFL.
Not at all, and JR Waller was a pretty good running back. What he was able to do made us pretty similar to this backfield. Lex (Hilliard, now with the Dolphins) was more of the slasher, I was more the punisher and JR was the mover and the shaker. We went to a national championship with what we did … it’s similar to what we have now.
So when Schramm left (after the 2004) season did you have Ron Kowalski as coach?
Well, Dave Schramm was the offensive line coach and Kowalski was here when I got here. That was Bobby’s first two years. Kowalski was running backs coach, and he was – I mean, what a great man. What a solid individual. Another guy that had years of experience, had been head coach over at Cut Bank for a long time. And now he’s driving a florist’s truck over to the Idaho. He pops his head in here every so often, and he looks good.
That’s another thing: The coaching staffs are a lot of good guys. You see some hanging around and when coaches do leave (Missoula), all you hear about is them wanting to come back. They wish the pay was a little better to support their families, but boy, they miss it when they leave here. And I think that’s a good sign of a good program.
- Fritz Neighbor