When former Minnesota Vikings' head coach Mike Tice became the team's coach, he pledged accountability, attention to detail, and a return to the Super Bowl in three years. None of these pledges came to fruition under Tice.
Enter Brad Childress.
Brad Childress came to Minnesota with less boisterous promises than those that Tice had offered, promising merely to find quality players who were also quality people. In the world of the NFL, the latter is subjective and, even at that, elusive, while the former is abundant and more readily attainable. As the good teams have demonstrated, however, the key to success is locating the proper mixture of talent and character throughout the team.
Childress recently has received accolades for holding players accoutable for their off-field actions. Specifically, people have pointed to his dismissal of Koren Robinson and his one-game suspension of Dwight Smith.
While these moves are laudable in some sense as demonstrating a commitment to team character, they are probably just as explainable by the realities of the game that have nothing to do with character. Robinson, a curious addition by the Green Bay Packers on Monday, likely faces a full-year suspension for his third violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. That made him worthless to the Vikings in 2006, no matter his abilities. And Smith, even without his recent stairway encounter, was on thin ice with Childress for his overall play--the very problem that made him available to the Vikings earlier this year.
Then there are three players on whom the Vikings plan to rely heavily this season and, apparently, beyond--Mewelde Moore, Bryant McKinnie, and Fred Smoot--all of whom, by all accounts and by admissions by Smoot and McKinnie, were involved in off-field incidents at least the equivalent of that in which Smith was involved, but who received no playing suspension. Smith was expendable because his backup, rookie Greg Blue, has outplayed him. For better or for worse, nobody is outplaying either McKinnie or Smoot at the moment and Moore is needed on special teams.
Thus, while Childress clearly desires to have a team of character, he also clearly desires to have his starters play the full schedule of games absent a viable substitute. And that creates a conflict for his commitment to character.
More attainable and more apparent than Childress' commitment to character is his pledge of accountability. Childress included in this pledge a promise of personal accountability for himself and for the coaching staff. That's something that Tice forever claimed existed during his tenure despite considerable evidence to the contrary.
With one notable exception--one that ought to be addressed this week--Childress so far has met his pledge of coaching accountablity. For, with the exception of the decision to have punter Chris Kluwe hold on field goal attempts, the Vikings' coaching staff performed nearly flawlessly.
Even the decision to have Kluwe hold for place-kicks was defensible, if not necessarily the best option. The logical choice to hold is Brooks Bollinger, but Bollinger, as third-string quarterback, was not eligible to play unless the second-string quarterback went down with injury. And the second-string quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, is not a holder. That made Kluwe, a sure-handed punter, the next best option. With one exception.
Clearly the best holder on the Vikings is quarterback Brad Johnson. Johnson not only has sure hands, but also has served as holder for each of the teams for which he has played in the NFL. And with Kluwe's extra-point miscue on Monday night--a miscue that could have cost the Vikings a victory--Childress might well and reasonably be considering a move to Johnson as holder for the remainder of the season.
The rationale for having Johnson hold is bolstered not only by Johnson's experience and resume as a solid holder but also by the fact that Johnson has the ability to pass if confronted with a bad snap. Kluwe, as we learned tonight, does not.
What's nice about this dilemma for the Vikings is that it is relatively minor and it is about the only thing for which the Vikings' coaching staff can be criticized after the Vikings' sound 19-16 victory over Washington. In previous years, Vikings' fans would have spent this time wondering what might have been had the head coach not wasted timeouts on silly challenges, failed to challenge blatantly blown calls, had the right number of players on the field at critical junctures of the game, not played prevent defense, not called a gimmick play when more traditional plays already were winning the game, and not curled up in the fetal position once the scripted plays had been called.
In short, while in previous years the outcome of the Vikings' games owed as much to predictable coaching gaffes as to players' talent, the current team appears to have coaching leadership that is intent on ensuring that talent and execution finally will determine the outcome of the game. And that's a refreshing change from recent years.
Up Next: Inside the numbers--coaching competency has yet to translate into competency at all positions. Plus, market value?