Buddy Green was coaching football at Cherryville High in Gaston County, North Carolina when he sought a graduate assistant's position at his alma mater.
"Coach Rein told me to break it all down and send it back to him," Green recalled. "It was the old 18-millimeter reels and the first game took me 18 hours because I wanted to make sure I did everything right."
It was a test to see how much Green really knew and understood about the intricacies of football, and he passed with flying colors. "Coach Rein called me up a few days after I sent him all my notes and said 'You're hired.' I became the defensive (graduate assistant) and my job after every game was to break down the film for the coaches."
It was 1979 and Green would drive the game film to the developer's house and sleep on his couch while it was processed. He'd return to the football offices at 2:30 a.m. and spend the next five hours doing the breakdown so it was ready when the assistants arrived on Sunday morning.
That devotion to studying film would become a trademark of Green's during his 37-year career in collegiate coaching. Nobody on any staff watched more film than Green, whose last 14 years were spent as defensive coordinator at the Naval Academy.
Steve Belichick used to hang around the Navy football offices on the third floor of Ricketts Hall during the first few years of Green's tenure in Annapolis. They spent many hours talking football and Belichick no doubt discovered that Green was a film junkie.
That is a trait Belichick would have admired after making his mark as a scout while working as a Navy assistant from 1956 through 1989. Belichick's commitment to watching film was passed down to his son, the current head coach of the New England Patriots.
Green will become just the fifth recipient of the Steve Belichick Coach's Award, presented by the Touchdown Club of Annapolis. Established after the elder Belichick died in November 2005, the award honors coaches who made a major impact beyond the football field.
Stanton Community Center director George "Mr. Lassie" Belt was the inaugural recipient while three high school head coaches – Severna Park's Andy Borland, Broadneck's Jeff Herrick and Archbishop Spalding's Mike Whittles – are the only others. Green will be presented the award during the Touchdown Club's annual awards banquet on Thursday.
"This award is very special to me because I had the good fortune to get to know Coach Belichick," Green said. "He would come by the office, have a cup of coffee and read the paper. I remember sitting with Coach Belichick in my office on Monday mornings and talking about Saturday's game. He would say 'I know their players were bigger and faster so explain to me what you did to beat that team.' Coach Belichick had a sharp mind and really knew football."
Raised on ball field
Green grew up in Stanley, North Carolina – a small town located in Gaston County about a half hour outside of Charlotte. He lived across the street from the Stanley High sports complex and pretty much grew up on the baseball field.
Dick Thompson, the athletic director and football coach at Stanley High in those days, became an important mentor. "Dick Thompson practically raised me," Green said. "When I was the quarterback at Stanley, Coach Thompson used to give me pages and pages of hand-written notes about our upcoming opponent. That's how I got hooked on taking notes."
Green was a two-sport standout at Stanley High, a quarterback in football who set the Gaston County passing records and a shortstop in baseball. He played both sports at N.C. State and is proud to have been a key member of two Atlantic Coast Conference championship teams in baseball.
Green switched to defensive back in football and spent the majority of his college coaching career on that side of the ball.
Rein led N.C. State to the ACC Championship the year Green was a graduate assistant then promptly took the head coaching job at LSU. That's how Green got his first full-time job, although tragedy would soon follow. Rein died in a plane crash while returning to Baton Rouge from a recruiting trip to Shreveport.
"We lost a good one when Bo died. Coach Rein's the man who launched by coaching career so I'll always be indebted to him," said Green, who coached at LSU in 1980 under replacement head coach Jerry Stovall.
Green made his debut as a defensive coordinator at Southern University and was an assistant at Auburn when Bo Jackson won the Heisman Trophy. He returned to N.C. State as an assistant under Dick Sheridan and spent four of eight years as defensive coordinator as the Wolfpack made six straight bowl appearances.
“Coach Sheridan took over the program when it was down and turned things around. It went from a losing program to one that went to bowl games every year, which had never been done at N.C. State,” Green said.
Green left Raleigh to become head coach at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and was there eight years, also serving as athletic director for the last 2½. Green was instrumental in the construction of a new football facility (Finley Stadium-Davenport Field) and convinced a two-sport star named Terrell Owens that his professional future was greater in football than basketball.
"Terrell was the sixth man in basketball and I told him if he focused solely on football as a senior that he had a real good shot of making it in the league," said Green, clearly proud that Owens played 15 seasons in the NFL and was a six-time Pro Bowl selection.
Green led UTC to its first winning record in six years and a national ranking in Division I-AA before going back to his alma mater a third time in 2000 to serve as defensive coordinator under head coach Chuck Amato.
When Paul Johnson was head coach at Georgia Southern, he played against Tennessee-Chattanooga several times and was impressed by how well Green's teams defended his triple-option offense. When Johnson was hired as Navy head coach in 2002, he wanted Green as defensive coordinator.
Green visited Annapolis and met with Johnson and athletic director Chet Gladchuk to hear their vision for the program. Even Sharon Green was surprised when her husband returned to Raleigh and announced he was taking the job at Navy, which had gone 1-20 in the previous two seasons.
'Best move of life'
Green played a pivotal role in rebuilding Navy, which has posted winning records in 12 of the last 13 seasons. The Midshipmen captured the coveted Commander-in-Chief's Trophy 10 times and won six bowl games during Green's tenure.
"I could never, ever explain how special it's been to coach here at Navy," Green said. "This institution stands for so much and the mission is so important that it's a real honor to be associated with the Naval Academy. Above all else, I've had an opportunity to work with some of the finest young men you would ever want to meet. This is the greatest place and coming here was the best move I've ever made in my life."
Sharon Green works as a manager of the Drydock Restaurant in Dalghren Hall on the campus of the Naval Academy while son Todd Green served as a video coordinator for the Navy football program before taking a similar position at Clemson.
"Navy has been very good to our entire family and we've all come to love the academy," said Green, who cherishes a photo of himself and his son in the Navy locker room following a victory over Army. "Sharon absolutely bleeds Blue and Gold. We've developed so many close friendships over the past 14 years. The Naval Academy will always have a special place in our hearts."
Green grows emotional when he thinks of some of the players he's coached at Navy, especially some of the standout defensive backs he worked directly with. Blake Carter, Jeff Deliz, Kevin Edwards, Drexel King, Keenan Little, Wyatt Middleton… the list goes on and on.
"There's nothing greater than the relationships I've had with my players. These are special, special kids that amaze me every day," Green said. "I understand the sacrifice that takes place with these young men. We teach them about playing football, but all my players knew the ultimate goal was to graduate and become an officer and defend their country."
Green spent the last eight years working for head coach Ken Niumatalolo and called the experience gratifying. "There is no better person and no better football coach than Kenny," he said.
Riding to sunset
Green retired from coaching following this season due to health reasons. Complications from neck surgery sidelined him in 2015, which he spent working as a consultant to the Navy coaching staff. Next month, Green will undergo a knee replacement after moving to his long-time vacation home in Sunset Beach, North Carolina.
"Buddy Green was a critical and essential person in the success of Navy football over the last decade. He was a great coach and is one of the finest people that you will ever meet. He is a dar friend and has a heart of gold," Niumatalolo said. "The Navy Football Brotherhood loves Buddy Green!"
Gladchuk got to know Green quite well over the years and said the entire Naval Academy athletic department appreciates the contributions he made to the football program from 2002 to 2015.
"Buddy has been the benchmark for consistency and a real role model to all of our other coaches," Gladchuk said. "Nobody devoted more time and effort to reaching excellence than Buddy. We preach quality continuity and Buddy was the very definition of that. He inspired other coaches and had the total respect of his players. Buddy is what a coach is all about."
Middleton, defensive captain of the 2010 Navy football team, remembers the "Wave Drill" that defensive backs went through at the start of every practice. Green designed the drill to hone quickness, speed and agility. Members of the secondary did the drill until they got it right.
"We called it The Annihilator. It was brutal and set the tone of practice," Middleton said. "Coach Green was kind of crazy on the field, but had the great ability to guide players off the field. He stood by you and supported you in any way. There were a lot of times I hated going into the film room because Coach Green was so hard on me, but he motivated me and made me a better player. Definitely a special coach and a special man."
Captain King, a Marine Corps officer who is serving as a company officer at the Naval Academy following several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, remembers being told by Green to go over to the sideline and "do up-downs until I tell you to stop."
"There were a lot of times during practice when I didn't like Coach Green very much. Looking back, I love and appreciate what he did for us," King said. "Coach Green's philosophy was that he was going to pressure us so hard in practice that the game was easy by comparison. He empowered players by giving them the skills and knowledge to succeed. I wound up adopting the same approach with my Marines."
TD CLUB BANQUET
Thursday, 6:30 p.m., at DoubleTree Annapolis. Tickets are sold out.