EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Dennis Green's stormy run with the Minnesota Vikings ended abruptly Friday when he was forced out with one game left in a grim season.
Green, whose 10-year tenure tied him with Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher for longest in the league, accepted a buyout of the last two years of his contract.
"I've been very blessed and very fortunate. The players have been absolutely fantastic," said Green, who took no questions in announcing his departure.
"This year we had to fight our way from close to the bottom, and that's life in the National Football League," he added. "You cannot love something and have passion for something only when it goes the way you want it to go."
Green was only the second black head coach in modern NFL history when he was hired in 1992. His dismissal leaves Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy and the New York Jets' Herman Edwards as the league's only black head coaches.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice was appointed interim head coach for the team's finale Monday night at Baltimore. The Vikings are 0-7 on the road and have been beaten by the two teams that have just one win - Detroit and Carolina.
The Vikings will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1995. This is their first losing season under Green but owner Red McCombs said the record wasn't the reason for the change.
McCombs alluded to the issue of control when he said he "couldn't find a way for leadership with Dennis that worked."
"I admire Dennis a lot and appreciate what he's done," McCombs said. "But I also know that we live by the fact there ain't never a horse that can't be rode and there's never a cowboy that can't be throwed."
Tice called it a "very tough situation" before leaving to run the team's first practice without Green.
"It's a great opportunity to lead coach Green's team into Baltimore," he said.
Green was a popular coach, and many players were tearful about his firing. Others were angry.
Travis Prentice, who was happy to get out of Cleveland when Green acquired him in a trade in September, angrily threw his jersey into his locker and wouldn't talk to reporters.
Safety Tyrone Carter was among several players who credited Green for his personal success.
"He's one of the reasons I'm here," Carter said. "He believed in his players, and gave you an opportunity to prove yourself."
"I don't know what to say, I'm as shocked as all of us," linebacker Jim Nelson said. "We have one game left, and this will be a distraction a little bit, but we still have to play."
Under Green, the Vikings won four division titles and went to the playoffs eight times. They also lost two heartbreaking NFC championship games - in 1998 when they were 15-1 and favored over Atlanta, and last season when they were humiliated 41-0 by the New York Giants.
Green guided the Vikings to the best record in the NFL over the previous three seasons, but things got off to a rocky start in 2001 with the championship game loss. Then, on the second day of training camp, offensive tackle Korey Stringer collapsed of heatstroke. Stringer, a Pro Bowl player and team leader, died the following day.
In recent weeks, wide receiver Randy Moss has been inconsistent and said he only plays when he feels like it. Green was criticized for appearing to tolerate Moss's attitude. And Green's relationship with receiver Cris Carter, a longtime leader on the team, had cooled.
On Dec. 11, McCombs gave Green a vote of confidence despite the turmoil. Asked then if he could say Green will be the Vikings' coach next season, McCombs replied: "Yeah. Absolutely."
McCombs said he hadn't had time to compile a list of potential replacements, but Tice appears to be one. ESPN reported that Dungy, a former University of Minnesota quarterback and Vikings defensive coordinator, would be a leading candidate. But a source close to Dungy, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that it's unlikely Dungy would want the job.
University of Texas coach Mack Brown also has been mentioned as a possible replacement.
Moss avoided reporters Friday. His agent, Dante DiTrapano, said the wide receiver did not want to see Green leave.
"I could just tell you that if coach Green is gone, I'd say that Randy is disappointed," DiTrapano said. "He's extremely loyal to coach Green. ... Coach Green is the one he wants to play for."
Punter Mitch Berger said he respected McCombs' right to change coaches, but said he was surprised to see Green go.
"When you walk through this building, the guy in charge is Denny Green," Berger said. "And for that not to be anymore is very strange to me."