Sunday, November 11, 2007

At Least Tice Was Affable

When the Minnesota Vikings made their hasty decision to hire Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator Brad Childress following the 2005 NFL season, there was reason for concern among the fan base. Childress had never called offensive plays in a game under Andy Reid and, at best, had helped orchestrate an offense that always seemed to muddle at the worst possible times.

That did not deter new Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf, who jumped on Childress the way Childress jumps on washed up former Eagles. Stopping for a brief photo op on his way back to Philadelphia after agreeing to terms of a head-coaching contract with the Vikings after less than a day of vetting by the Vikings' organization, Childress pointed out that he picked Minnesota more than Minnesota picked him. "This is the most ideal opening in the NFL," Childress commented, clearly indicting Green Bay's organization--an organization with which he was to have met but for his agreement with the Vikings.

Unfortunately, Childress either was bad at assessing talent at the time he was hired or he has been bad at coaching that talent as head coach as the Vikings have now gone 9-16 under the overmatched coach. Sunday's 34-0 white-washing by the Packers was merely the dung at the bottom of the retaining pool.

The Vikings' blunder in selecting a head coach in 2006, as it turns out, was Green Bay's gain. After a rocky first season under new head coach Mike McCarthy, Green Bay has solidified its offense and improved on a defense that appeared adrift after the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Bates. No such issues were evident on Sunday, when the Packers even seemed to solve their running back woes despite facing a purportedly stout rush defense.

The Packers have improved under McCarthy while the Vikings have regressed under Childress in spite of McCarthy's installation of a new offensive system, one that quarterback Brett Favre initially resisted, and far more personnel concerns at several positions than the Vikings have ever had under Childress. While the Vikings lament their offensive line woes, continuing to receive mostly unacceptable play from three-fifths of the offensive line, the Packers continue to put up points behind an offensive line consisting of two guards and a center with combined NFL experience of six years prior to this season. And while the Vikings bemoan their lack of depth at receiver, the Packers throw virtually anyone in the slot and march down the field slinging the ball. The fact that that production is mainly on Favre says what one needs to know about Childress' approach to identifying quarterbacks that can "manage" a system, rather than finding a quarterback who can play with the talent on the field. The difference, of course, is vast, but clearly is and always has been lost on Childress.

Tiers of Coaching

There are four levels of coaches in the NFL and most any sport. At the highest level are coaches who can take lesser talent and get positive results. One rung below are the coaches who can take good talent and make it even better. Below that level are the coaches who struggle with below-average talent. And below that level, at the bottom of the hierarchy of coaches, are the coaches who struggle to get results from talented players.

In the highest category of NFL coaches are coaches such as Tony Dungy and Bill Bellichek. Both coaches have taken teams with lesser talent than their opponents and won. At the lowest level of NFL coaches are coaches such as Norv Turner and Brad Childress, coaches who have struggled to get positive results from a talent pool that excceds the performances on the field.

The common denominator for coaches in the highest category of NFL coaches is their willingness to fit their play-calling and to make adjustments to fit the situation. Both Dungy and Bellichek have excelled in this regard.

The common denominator for coaches at the lowest rung of the NFL coaches' hierarchy, conversely, is their commitment to a system that does not fit the talent on the field or the circumstances of the moment. Turner and Childress each excel at this.

If there were any doubt about where Childress fell in the hierarchy of NFL coaches, consider his post-game comments on Sunday. "If the team was not ready to play," Childress stated, "I take responsibility. If they didn't come out with fire, that's on me." That's coach speak these days for "I'll take responsibility as long as it is understood that it's not my fault--it's the players' fault."

But even if one were to accept at face value Childress' post-game mea culpa, the statement is equally damning for what it says about Childress' understanding of the Vikings' primary faults on Sunday. What Childress seems not to understand is that the Vikings' horrific performance on Sunday was not the result of the team not being "hyped" to play. Rather, it was the result of a stale formula for playing football that has been rejected by organizations that embrace changes in the rules and in the speed, size, and quickness of the players on the field. The YAC offense of Y.A. Title is simply not appropriate for the modern NFL, but that's what Childress wants to run and what, to his dying day, he appears prepared to shove down the throats of fans unfortunate enough to benefit from his tutelage of their favorite team.

After 25 games of the same system, and ample time for his players to "adjust" to the purported intricacies of an offense that appears to have none, Childress' willingness to accept blame for his players' performance is thus beyond the point of wearing thin.

Up Next: Scouting Childress' Successor.

1 comment:

J. Lichty said...

I think Major Dad is gone after this year. I think the ham-handed Troy Williamson affair and this game may have sealed his fate.

Ironically, only an injured Adrian Peterson may now save him by papering over the other deficiencies of the team.

Fran Speilman will probably stay, but at least he had a good draft.

Maybe we'll get a coach in here to improve the team so that the great bandwagon fans in LA will not have to suffer with a bad team.