Eagle Scout Kevin Greene, whose 15-year career as a physically gifted and mentally tough NFL linebacker landed him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died on Dec. 21 at his home in Florida. He was 58.
In a 2016 interview with Mark Ray for Eagles’ Call magazine, Greene shared that Scouting was a constant in his teenage years as his Army family moved from base to base across the country.
“Those are some of the values, quite honestly, that I took with me throughout my entire life,” Greene said. “I just think the Scouting values help a young person grow up to be a winner.”
Greene was, indeed, a winner. After playing college football at Auburn and being named the best defensive player in the Southeastern Conference, Greene was a fifth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 1985.
Over an NFL career that included stints with the Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers, Greene amassed 160 sacks, which is still third on the all-time list. His list of sacked quarterbacks includes a roster of fellow Hall of Famers: Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.
Greene retired after the 1999 season with Carolina — a season in which he recorded 12 sacks at age 37 — and had a brief pro wrestling career before returning to the NFL as a coach.
After leading the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX as a player (a game the Steelers lost to the Dallas Cowboys), Greene found himself in another Steelers Super Bowl 15 years later. This time, though, he was on the other sideline — as a linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers won that game (Super Bowl XLV), and one of Greene’s linebackers recorded a sack on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
That player, Frank Zombo, was undrafted out of college. Under Greene’s leadership, Zombo became an accomplished player who sacked a Super Bowl champ.
“Skills and athletic ability are not end-all things for me,” Greene told Eagles’ Call. “For me, it’s looking in a man’s heart and seeing his motivation and what drives him. Because I know everything else I can pretty much teach.”
Another member of that Super Bowl-winning linebacking corps, Clay Matthews, wrote on Twitter that Greene brought “fire and tenacity” to coaching.
“So much of my success was a direct result of him, but he was so much more than a coach,” Matthews wrote. “He often referred to me and the other OLBs as his kids and taught us how to be a professional in all aspects of life.”
The Hall of Fame call
Greene stepped away from coaching in 2014 to spend time with his wife, Tara, and children, Gavin and Gabrielle.
And then on Feb. 6, 2016, he found himself with his family in a hotel room in San Francisco, waiting to learn his Hall of Fame fate.
Here’s how Mark Ray described it for Eagles’ Call:
A knock on the door would signal his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame; a phone call would mean better luck next time. With the clock approaching 4:15 p.m., Greene began explaining to his family how he would handle the phone call — one he had received three times before. But then a series of “big, ginormous knocks” told him his patience had finally paid off.
On Monday, Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker was among the countless members of the NFL family who shared condolences to Greene’s family.
“I regarded him as a personal friend and a true Hall of Famer in every sense,” Baker said. “He possessed the most incredible can-do attitude of anyone I ever met. He was a great player, but more than that, he was a great man.”
Growing up in Scouting
Greene told Ray that some of his fondest memories from childhood came from Scouting excursions with his older brother, Keith.
It’s a reminder that, for a man who earned so much respect, notoriety and success in his life, Greene never forgot where it all began.
“I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever put my hand to in life,” he said. “I think that has something to do with Scouting.”
In his 2016 Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, Greene gave a special tribute to his Eagle Scout dad, Therman, an Army colonel who served in Vietnam.
“My dad was a full-time dad, and he was actively involved in my life — never letting me stray too far from the straight and narrow, although I’m sure that I tested his patience a little bit every now and then,” Green said. “But my dad had me goal-oriented and squared away at a fairly early age. … He put us in Scouting, in the Boy Scouts, and he was either the head Scoutmaster or the assistant Scoutmaster. He set the standard for Keith and me through his actions and the way he carried himself with discipline and regimentation.”
That acceptance speech speaks to Greene’s character as someone who understood that no person can achieve their goals alone.
“I am standing on the shoulders of many, many players, many coaches, many people,” Greene said. “The good Lord has smiled upon me my entire life, a reoccurring theme is that he has surrounded me with people of high character and great integrity.”