Former Steeler Kevin Greene stays waiting for Hall of Fame call
January 31, 2016 12:00 AM
Steelers Chad Brown, left, and Kevin Greene celebrate after sacking Oilers quarterback Chris Chandler. Greene ranks third all time in sacks, first among linebackers, yet still doesn't have a spot in the Hall of Fame.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Kevin Greene, a man of passion in most everything he pursued, was torn between two most dear to him. One was football, where the former Steelers linebacker with the third-most sacks in NFL history had entered a new stage coaching them for the Green Bay Packers.
The other was his family back in Destin, Fla., his kids growing up half a country away. In Green Bay, Greene coached the likes of six-time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews. In Destin, budding Niceville High School linebacker Gavin Greene had questions for his dad.
“I would come home and Gavin would say, ‘What did you show Clay today? Can you show me?’ I couldn’t justify continuing to pour myself into Clay Matthews and all my kids at Green Bay when my son was saying, ‘Dad, teach me that stuff, show me the tricks of the trade.’ I couldn’t ignore that.
“No amount of money could make me stay.”
So the man who played 15 seasons with four different NFL teams left his promising coaching career two years ago to return to Destin. There, he become a full-time father to Gavin and daughter Gabrielle, and husband to Tara, who once sang the National Anthem before a Steelers game.
He left Green Bay two years ago. Since then, Kevin Greene helped coach the linebackers at Niceville and not only answered his son’s questions about technique, but showed him on the practice field and in their living room.
Gavin, like his father, played defensive end and outside linebacker in high school, where he tied for the team lead in sacks — imagine that! While he has scholarship offers from smaller colleges, Gavin may walk on at another school later this year, as his father did at Auburn.
“It was awesome,” Kevin Greene said. “Working with Gavin was a phenomenal experience; we’ll both have memories that will last a lifetime.”
Now it is Kevin Greene’s time to turn back toward pro football. This would not require leaving home, but a chance for all his achievements playing the game to deliver him where he has belonged for quite some time — in Canton, Ohio, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He is one of 15 finalists, again, and on Saturday, he very well may break through to election. What has taken so long?
This is Greene’s 12th season of eligibility and he has been a finalist for the past five years. He retired after the 1999 season, waited his required five years and became eligible for the Hall of Fame with the 2005 class.
When he retired, his 160 sacks were more than any linebacker in NFL history, officially, and No. 3 among all players. Seventeen years later, no one has overtaken him for those spots. Of the NFL’s top eight all-time sack leaders, only No. 3 Greene and No. 6 Jason Taylor are not in the Hall of Fame and Taylor, a Pittsburgh native, is not eligible until next year.
Greene has been eligible for a dozen years, and at times it has frustrated him.
“It has been disheartening and confusing,” Greene admitted.
He has seen a number of pass rushers elected who could not match his production. Certainly, he does not include Lawrence Taylor in that group but even the man credited with popularizing the outside linebacker as a pass-rusher could not match Greene’s numbers. Taylor had 132.5 sacks, 13th on the all-time list.
Perhaps it is the fact Greene was a man without a country for so long. He played his first eight years for the Los Angeles Rams and, because that team left town, there is no Los Angeles representative on the Hall of Fame board of selectors, nor a passionate fan base there to support him. He then played three years for the Steelers, one for the Carolina Panthers, one for the San Francisco 49ers and finished his 15-year career with two more seasons in Carolina.
Yet over the course of his career, he led the NFL twice in sacks, twice had 16.5 sacks in a season, and over his final 12 seasons dipped under 10 just twice — in 1991 with the Rams and in 1995 when he had nine with the Steelers.
Or perhaps it is the wrongful thought that Greene was a “one-trick pony,” that it was rush the passer or bust. And that just is not true. With the Steelers for those three seasons from 1993-95, he played in their zone-blitzing 3-4 defense. That defense required everyone to drop into pass coverage, even big nose tackle Joel Steed at times. It required everyone to stop the run.
And that Steelers defense came alive when Greene joined it as a free agent, and became known as Blitzburgh.
Greene played on the strong side, the left side, in that defense, and that is where the outside linebacker better be able to stop the run. Greg Lloyd played in the primary pass-rush spot at right outside linebacker during that time.
Neither Greene nor Lloyd left the field — run downs, pass downs, short yardage, long yardage, medium yardage.
“I think that’s what most people don’t understand, I was the strong-side outside linebacker for a reason — I could hit the run really good and funnel the ball where coaches wanted it to funnel for Carnell Lake and Chad Brown and Levon Kirkland. I dropped into coverage with all the fire-zone concepts [defensive coordinator] Dom Capers wanted to run. Greg Lloyd and I dropped a lot.
“They liked to bring Levon on a crossing game inside, put Greg and me in coverage, and that was not a problem. We did it and did it well.
“People get enamored with 160 sacks — ‘Well, he surely can’t be good at anything else because he got all those dadgum sacks.’ But the outside linebackers in Dom’s scheme really have to play all three stages of the game really well in order to do be in that 3-4: Play the run, rush the passer, drop in coverage and you have to do all equally as good and equally as efficient.”
He was good enough at playing the run and the pass that when George Seifert became head coach in Carolina in 1999, Greene started at outside linebacker in his newly installed 4-3 defense, not a position that is ideal for pass rushers.
He covered, he played the run, he had 12 sacks and he started all 16 games at age 37 in his final season. In fact, in all 15 seasons, Greene played every game in 10 of them, missed fewer than two in only one.
Concurrently, he rose to a position of captain in the Army reserve for 16 years while playing in the NFL, and is as proud of that service as anything he did on a football field.
“I do have a passion and intensity for life,” said Greene, not only a former War Eagle but an Eagle Scout. “I think the only way to go through life is to have fun and passion for the things you love doing. Pour everything you have into it.”
He even took a brief turn at pro wrestling. Now, he would like to get back into coaching in the NFL.
“I think I was good at it. I think every kid they gave me in Green Bay — free agents, draft choices — I think I was able to improve them, teach them tricks of the trade and show them the position.”
He took time out to show his son, as well. Saturday, it should be Kevin Greene’s time again.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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