When the Vikings lost their third game in four tries this season and their thirteenth game in twenty games under head coach Brad Childress, there was less surprise than there was dismay at how the team managed its way to the loss. That dismay is amplified when the performance of the Vikings' coaching staff, specifically that of the head coach, is contrasted with that of the standard in the NFL, New England head coach Bill Belichick.
In 1991, Belichick entered the ranks of NFL head coaches much the same way that Childress entered the ranks last season, finishing his first season with a 6-10 record. Belichick followed that up with a slight improvement the next two seasons, guiding the Browns to 7-9 records in each season before making the leap to 11-5 in 1994. Following a dismal 1995 season, Belichick was let go by the Browns.
Five years after receiving his pink slip from the Browns, Belichick re-emerged as a head coach in the NFL. In his first season at the helm of the Patriots, he guided the Patriots to a 5-11 record. He has not won fewer than nine games in any one season since then.
For Vikings' fans convinced that Childress is anywhere near the coach that Belichick once was and on his way to the coach that Belichick now is, the most sobering question is whether it is worth the wait for a similar coach to establish himself in the NFL. For Belichick, the gap between entering the ranks of NFL head coaches and becoming a consistent winner was ten years. In a league that truly rewards teams that attempt to win today and punishes teams that work with building blocks year after year, that decade gap looks even larger today.
Hinting at how far behind Belichick Childress currently stands as a head coach are four key decisions from week four's games, two from the Vikings' game and two from the Patriots' game. While Childress withheld from play his best offensive player when he most needed that player on the field--the second time in two weeks that Childress has opted to keep Adrian Peterson on the sideline in crunch time--and refused to take shots into the endzone until the game was virtually out of reach, Belichick was making intelligent decisions at critical junctures.
Absent the services of injured running back Laurence Maroney, Belichick did what he seems to do best; he found a player to fill the void. Tabbing backup running back Sammy Morris, Belichick road his sub for 21 carries and 2 pass receptions for a total of 132 yards and a touchdown. At no time did Belichick express any trepidation about wearing out his sub by having him in the backfield for the majority of the game, despite Morris' previous high of 12 carries.
More telling of the difference between Childress and Belichick, however, was the red zone offense that Belichick employed that resulted in the Patriots' second touchdown of the game. Employing what was essentially a nine-man offensive line that featured three tight-ends and the starting fullback, Belichick lined up his backup fullback in the tailback spot. The ploy gave quarterback Tom Brady all day to find a tight end and a monstrous wall to run a monstrous tailback behind. The result, predictably, was a touchdown.
Ultimately, Belichick is not such a genius for doing things that seem incredible. Rather, he is intelligent for doing things that make sense under the circumstances when his counterparts, too wedded to the script and too afraid of failing when not following the herd, refuse to do so.
Childress has shown no inclination to stray from the herd, even refusing to stay at the front of the pack. That mindset, as much as problems on the offensive line, questionable decisions to trade up in the draft to take unproven talent, trades for players that have not worked, and a bottom-line losing record, not only marks Childress as leagues behind the standard for head coaches in the NFL, it also marks him for early extinction, absent an immediate epiphany.
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