CINCINNATI -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was just about to tee off at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe last Friday when he received the news.
Dennis Green -- a man who, in Lewis' words, "blazed a trail" for countless NFL coaches, including Lewis -- had died the night before at 67.
Lewis' thoughts went immediately back to a trip he had taken to London during the 1988 preseason. That July, as part of the then-annual American Bowl tour, the San Francisco 49ers were playing the Miami Dolphins on the same site that Lewis' Bengals will visit this October for a regular-season game against Washington.
At the time, Lewis was a coaching intern, working with the 49ers as part of coach Bill Walsh's fellowship. The fellowship is still in existence, with its chief goal to identify minorities who could eventually become NFL head coaches. A pipeline program, it's one Lewis has used regularly in his tenure with the Bengals. During Cincinnati's upcoming training camp, former Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker will be working with his old team as part of the fellowship.
Lewis first got to know Green on that long trip to London, and he recounted his impressions of Green during the Bengals' media luncheon on Tuesday.
"I spent a lot of time with Denny that week on the trip. ... As a young coach, you're trying to really suck all the knowledge out of people like Denny. A great coach, he went on from there to be the head coach at Stanford, and then from there to the Vikings. And just somebody that you could always rely on as a friend, as a mentor, to ask questions and bounce a question off. Just a tremendous football coach, and he was very loyal to his coaches and his people. He developed well. If you looked at the people that were on his staff at Minnesota and how successful they've been throughout the National Football League, it's incredible. So obviously he did a great job of developing all the coaches that he had with him, which is what he learned from Coach Walsh."
It's worth noting that among African-American coaches in modern-era NFL history, Lewis trails Green by just one win for second-place on the all-time list.
Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, who once coached under Green, ranks first on that list with 139 career wins. Dungy also became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl when his Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI in February 2007.
Lewis (112 career wins) presumably will move past Green (113) on all-time list early this season.
"He obviously blazed a trail," Lewis said of Green.