GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If we’re being honest here, I should admit to feeling a little afraid of Kevin Greene the first time I met him.
Those wild eyes in front of that flowing blonde hair, his hulking 6-foot-3 frame, the memories of watching what he did to opposing quarterbacks -- sacking them 160 times in his 15-year NFL playing career -- and his brief stint as a professional wrestler are more than enough to make you feel a little intimidated.
It takes a while for that to go away.
It was just starting to do so in November of 2010, when Greene was halfway through his second season as the Green Bay Packers' outside linebackers coach. That’s when he cornered me in the hallway outside the locker room and wanted to discuss something that appeared in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, my employer at the time, under my byline.
It was a story that was critical of rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo, who in the previous game against the Minnesota Vikings had missed an open-field tackle that allowed running back Toby Gerhart to convert a third-and-12 dump-off pass into a first down.
Greene asked -- make that told -- me to follow him down the hallway, something that was highly unusual because it was an area normally restricted to reporters, and into the outside linebackers meeting room. He closed the door and opened with this:
“What you wrote about Frank Zombo was unnnnnnnnnjustified," holding the "n" for several seconds.
Over the next 15 minutes, Greene showed about 20 clips from the Vikings’ game. He conceded that the missed tackle of Gerhart was a bad play, but he wanted to make it perfectly clear that he felt Zombo was playing well.
From that film session, a story was born and appeared in the Nov. 26, 2010, edition of the Press-Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:
So Greene cued up play after play.
He showed Zombo in perfect position when dropping in coverage to defend the hook-curl area in the middle of the field.
He showed Zombo, all 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds of him, bull-rushing Vikings' left tackle Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 335) straight back into [Brett] Favre, who had to throw off balance.
"Who's kicking who's (butt)?" Greene asks rhetorically. "Seriously, straight up. He's changing the line of scrimmage on a guy who weighs 350 pounds and (went to the) Pro Bowl. This is David and Goliath. It's Zombo kicking a big man's (butt), if you ever want to see what a (butt) kicking looks like. McKinnie's job is to hit him in the lips and blow him off the ball, move him off the line of scrimmage. Not the other way around. Whose feet are going back? McKinnie's."
With each highlight Greene showed, the former star outside linebacker, who is in his second season on the Packers' coaching staff, became more excited.
At various points, he'd just yell, "Zombo!"
At one point on that afternoon, a Packers staff member opened the door to see if everything was OK.
To which Greene responded, “OK, we’re almost done.”
But there was one more play he wanted to show on the big screen.
“Watch this run,” Greene said. “They try to run a delayed screen on Zombo. Guess what? Tackle for no gain.”
Zombo would go on to start for the Packers in Super Bowl XLV before injuries derailed his career, which was revived this season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Greene cared about his players, who he often referred to as “my kids.” He had a passion for the game as a player and he carried it over to his coaching. He coached like he played, full speed ahead.
Perhaps that’s why after only five seasons on the Packers staff, he has decided to step away from coaching, the team announced on Friday, to spend more time with his family.
That hallway, that meeting room may never been the same.