Dennis Green and Rod Graves sat side by side Thursday as the Cardinals held their pre-draft press conference, the perfect picture of a coach and front office boss working together.
But as the questions continued about how the relationship truly functions, Graves made one thing clear: What Green wants to do, “we are behind him.”
Graves meant that the organization would support Green’s plan. But it also served as a metaphor for the Cardinals’ current structure. Green is out front, and everyone else can line up in back.
“The fact of the matter is we hired Dennis Green for a reason, for the success that he has and the vision that he has,” Graves said. “We are not about trying to do business in much of the way we have done it. “He has as much influence (as me) in what we are doing and how we go about it. And however we do it, it is not a heavy-handed affair.”
Green said the two have worked well together since Green was hired in January. He also was blunt in his own assessment of the decision-making process.
“Rod is vice president of football operations, I am just the head coach,” Green said. “Rod is the guy Mr. (Bill) Bidwill expects to be the final say of the operation of anything football.”
The draft, at least to this point, has apparently provided little friction between the two. Graves said if you took he and Green to separate rooms and asked them to name the top 35 players, they would come up with the same list.
The probability that the Cardinals will not take a quarterback is likely a nod to Green, who reiterated Thursday his belief in the untested Josh McCown. But an offensive playmaker like Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald — whom Green said again was the top player in the draft — would instantly improve McCown’s play.
Graves said, without being specific, that the Cards’ draft board looks a lot like other teams’ boards. That means players like Fitzgerald, Miami safety Sean Taylor, Miami tight end Kellen Winslow, Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning and Iowa tackle Robert Gallery are probably crowding the top in some order.
But if there is a crucial decision to be made, the question remains: Who will have the final say?
Green told a story of how the Vikings had receiver Randy Moss rated as the No. 1 player in the 1998 draft, ahead of Peyton Manning, and quarterback Daunte Culpepper rated No. 1 in 1999, ahead of Donovan McNabb. The Vikings got Moss with the 21st pick and Culpepper with the 11th. But in the case of Culpepper, media reports at the time had many players and front office staff disappointed Green went with the quarterback instead of pass rusher Jevon Kearse. Multiple media outlets at the time of Green’s ouster in Minnesota in 2001 said it was mainly about control of the organization. That’s why the same questions have swirled around the Cardinals since Green was hired in Arizona.
Green said he worked closely in Minnesota with longtime personnel man Frank Gilliam, regardless of what was written.
“There were always certain perceptions outside, but we worked well together (in Minnesota),” Green said. “There were never any issues about control.” Graves sees no problem in letting Green take the lead, either with the media —
“I don’t mind being behind the scenes,” he said — or in the front office.
“Unless something is totally out of bounds — and I don’t see that with coach Green — we will do what we can to support his vision to build this team,” Graves said. “He trusts me and I trust him. I don’t foresee any problems at all.”