Friday, November 16, 2007

Bringing Up the Rear and Arrogance a Bad Combination

When, in the aftermath of the Minnesota Vikings' 34-0 loss at Lambeau Field last Sunday, word leaked that Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf was contemplating buying out the remaining contract of Vikings' head coach Brad Childress, Vikings' fans were put on notice of what appears to be a suddenly tenuous relationship between Wilf and Childress. The fact that nobody is denying the essence of the leak is telling regarding the extent of the strains between Childress and others within the Vikings' organization, including Vikings' players.

Sunday could well prove to be the denouement of this saga, as the Vikings host the addled Oakland Raiders. Against a team that has averaged 11.2 points per game during a current five-game losing streak, the Vikings should be able to take advantage of home field and polish off the 2-7 Raiders. If not, Zygi might well act on impulse and make a coaching move.

Among the hitches in any plan to relieve Childress of his coaching duties mid-season are Wilf's ability to work-out an acceptable buy-out plan and the Vikings' ability to identify Childress' successor. That successor is likely to be someone from within, with Wilf reportedly favoring relatively fan-friendly defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier.

Every Vikings' coach has had his issues. Bud Grant's teams never could win the Super Bowl, Les Steckel took pride in his boot camp approach to training camp and quickly turned the veterans, with the exception of punter Greg Coleman, against him, Jerry Burns kept offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker employed, Denny Green couldn't win when his team was favored to win in the playoffs, and Mike Tice made too many foolish mistakes. Of these coaches, only Grant, who retired, then returned to bridge the gap between the disastrous Steckel season and the Burns era, remains virtually untarnished in Vikings' lore.

Despite the blemishes of past Vikings' head coaches, no Vikings' head coach has been a greater lightening rod for fan disenchantment than has been Childress--not even Steckel.

The reasons for the fan disenchantment are evident. After a 4-2 start in 2006, following a 9-7 record in Tice's last season as Vikings' head coach, Childress has guided the Vikings to a 5-14 record. Only Oakland, at 3-16, has a worse record in that stretch of games.

Added to the results on the field has been Childress' cool, often arrogant approach toward media and fans. During a recent call-in show, Childress responded to one fan's inquiry about the wisdom of signing Koy Detmer to a ten-day contract, only to cut him after three days--a move that cost the Vikings $90,000.

Childress replied that the "ten-day contract is not a term that is used in the NFL, so we don't speak in those terms," and continued to speak down to the by now disconnected caller, noting that the team did what it had to do under the circumstances and implying that the entire process was beyond the comprehension of someone who did not deal intimately in the affair.

The point that Childress could have addressed, however, was whether, if former Eagle compadre Detmer were worth signing as a backup, he was also worth signing as a replacement not for Ronyell Whitaker, whom the Vikings cut to make room for Detmer, but for Kelly Holcomb, who appears to have no future whatsoever with the Vikings.

The bigger issue posed by the caller, however, was lost on Childress, who nevertheless was able to spot an insignificant flaw in the caller's question. That's the type of arrogance, in addition to the arrogance of forcing into the starting lineup a quarterback not ready to take snaps in the NFL much less lead a team to the playoffs, that distinguishes Childress from his equally arrogant, though successful, counter-parts, such as Bill Bellichek. And it is the type of arrogance that justifiably does not sit well with Minnesota fans.

If the Vikings manage to lose to the 2-7 Raiders on Sunday, Childress' arrogance combined with his on-field results might just trigger the move that now seems necessary from an organizational standpoint.

Up Next: More on the Childress-Wilf saga. Plus, comparing their ills to ours.


KSandbergFL said...

Wilf's hiring of Childress was a knee-jerk reaction to the Love Boat affair; Childress was a "character" guy who would see to it that the players and coaches would no longer embarrass the organization with scandal. Childress's presumed NFL coaching ability was second (or maybe even third) on Wilf's list, because Tice had coached this team to 9-7 - the Vikes were already playoff contenders, right?

Wilf, however, did not foresee that instead, the Vikes organization might suffer worse embarrassment by having a laughingstock-of-an-offense and the NFL's 2nd worst win/loss record in the past two seasons. The Vikings have had historically one of the more loyal fan-bases in the league - however, they are now having trouble selling-out home games. At least Green's "us against the world" and Tice's party-all-the-time Love Boater's could play football, and wanted to win for their coaches. The teams that Green and Tice fielded were generally always competitive, and not so boring to watch that fans would rather switch off the TV and go outside to rake leaves. The lesson Wilf has learned, the hard way, is -- fans don't care as much about "character" as they do about winning (or even having a fun football team to watch).

Childress's biggest problem is his alienation of his players. Items like - firing a 12-yr veteran on Christmas Eve, and publically calling out a guy for missing a game to attend a funeral, are no way to endear yourself to your players or the family-first Minnesota public. You cite the arrogant attitude Childress uses with callers and the media -- imagine how he treats his players?

Childress may be a "character" guy, but the guys on this team don't care about winning for him, and it shows.

SirFrancis said...

Much as I want to see Childress go, it's hard to fault Wilf in his hiring of him. Childress was listed as a top h.c. candidate year after year as the Eagles went deep into the playoffs and to the S.B.

Let's just hope he sees what a mistake it was in hiring him.

Joe said...

Francis is right of course. As said here previously one can scarcely imagine the hellfire that would have been unleashed had the Vikings let who was widely considered a top coaching candidate slip to a division rival reported likely to be pursuing the same person.

In the time since it perhaps has been proven that Childress may indeed have to go but as far as I'm concerned the "arrogant" tag is a long since worn out criticism locally.

Some professional observers and a persistent segment of fandom especially around here have demonstrated repeatedly that they prefer and eagerly exploit antagonistic relationships with team personnel - often seemingly only for fleeting entertainment value (any of the teams). Derision of Childress based on his personality alone started in earnest before his first training camp - creating kindling for flames ignited by any misstep and stoking the a potential inferno for a worst case scenario like this QB mess.

What's worse is that a guy like Tice, who, after watching his boss get flayed alive for years despite posting a more than competitive record, took great pains to be the other type of guy - the guy that is purportedly wanted....and was openly ridiculed for it, labeled a simpleton and worse. We are still living with the fallout from a couple of huge Tice mistakes (Williamson pick, the lasting carnage brought by bringing Smoot into the locker room) but the end of his relationship with the locals really does the beg the question of what people around here want. I'm not even sure it's wins sometimes because it's largely the same 'round these parts even when we get 'em.

It is astonishing how management of each of the local teams has failed on various levels concurrently and introspection brought by valid criticism can and should be part of the landscape but I'm often baffled about what people want anymore. For conflicting reasons we don't want or can't keep players like Moss, Culpepper, Garnett, Hunter, Santana, Sczerbiak, etc. and at the same time we don't want anyone running the teams that can't predict what it means to be "Minnesotan" at any given moment regardless of what circumstance they find themselves in with their team(s). The parochialism that pervades around here is self suffocating and DOES play a part in our perpetual defeatism. Woe to anyone that doesn't figure that out in short order or can't win enough to overcome or mask it as soon as possible.

Frank said...

It's true the Childress was on many teams' short list for interviews for their Head Coaching position. That said, I also believe Wilf based his decision to go with Childress largely on the latter's handling of the Terrell Owens escapade in Philadelphia. It was Owen's confrontation with Childress that led to TOs suspension and exit from Philly.

Next time, let's hope that if Wilf is interviewing first time HC candidates, he's more careful. I remember listening to the post-game show on radio after last year's final game, and many fans wanting to see Childress fired at that time. The hosts of the program kept insisting that doing so would be unfair because one year wasn't enough time. However, my fear was that after '07, we'd be in the same boat (6-10 or worse), and wishing we'd made the move a year earlier, and hired Mike Tomlin instead.

It's disappointing to have seven games left in the season, and to already be looking ahead to next year.

Jason said...

Hey, I live in packerland and there was no wringing of hands when the Pack didn't get "Valuable" coaching commodity Brad Childress, AND he's got a lot of Wisconsin connections. Packer fans weren't excited about McCarthy at the time, but I never remember hearing anything close to complaints about letting their rival hire a "top" head coach canidate.

Joe said...

I'm not saying Childress is or even (ever) was valuable. I am saying that he absolutely was a highly regarded candidate by more than one team that needed a coach at the time, including the Green Bay Packers. It's pretty disingenuous to float the idea that the Packers weren't interested in Childress at the time or stung by the missed chance to interview him. Being a good organization though they quickly moved on and got McCarthy...which has obviously and fortunately for the Packers worked out better than fine.

The observation is ultimately about the local scene here - not whether or not the Packers ever had hiring angst over Childress (which they did). Obviously no one here is now happy with having been so quick to hire Childress given the record he's fashioned but that's 20/20 hindsight and disregards the context/time when the original hiring decision was made.

Other posters above also point out very big factors (mandate to clean up the Smoot/Tice/Love Boat mess, etc.) that accelerated things. No doubt Wilf is learning this lesson the hard way.

Scott L said...

First - I am extremely impressed with both the author's writing style, and the quality of the comments so far. It is refreshing to read a blog that actually reads like a newspaper (or even better in this case.) Could it be that the humble author has editing duties for some sports outlet? ;)

On topic now, I cannot wait until the day that Brad Childress is no longer a part of the Minnesota Vikings. I live in the metro, and he is doing more to sink public interest (and therefore stadium support) than the Love Boat incident ever did. I truly believe that Wilf wants to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, and if only for that reason I see Childress' firing as imminent.

In addition to the great points made by Vikes Geek, Chilress has shown zero improvement in his two years as Head Coach. If anything, the Vikings regressed. There is nothing to latch onto where a fan could say, "If the players could only do *that* consistently, we'd be a contender." That is, unless a fan thinks AD will rush for 200+ every game!

Think of this irony: Culpepper could rejuvenate his career this Sunday fueled by his desire to show up Childress. This could in turn re-endear him to the Minnesota fanbase, and put the nail in the coffin on Childress' tenure. Culpepper and Moss are both free agents this offseason, and a new HC (please be Cowher!) could convince Daunte and Moss to rekindle the fire back home in Minnesota. Only this time there will be an elite RB and a very good defense to back them up.

DC said...

The mudslinging has already begun.

Viking Update's personnel analyst Kevin Brown refered to VG's last two posts in an opinion piece today and referered to this blog as "marginally credible."

Have a look.

scott said...

So, logically then, if (1) only the Raiders have had a worse record over the past season and a half, and (2) the Vikes lose to the Raiders on Sunday, then (3) Childress will have officially turned the Vikings into the worst team in the league.

That would seem to me to be a firing offense.

GW Mush said...

I never was a complainer when Denny Green and Mike Tice were coaching the Vikes. It certainly isnt easy being a consistant winner in the NFL, and Denny G. & Mike T. fairly well I thought.

Now Brad childress is a different story and Im rooting for Oakland to beat up on the Vikes sunday so maybe Childress is shown the exit.

Leslie Frazier is good enough for me as a replacement in 2008, Im just wondering how the heck we can solve the quarterback problem without having to sacrafice a couple of years.

bgman said...

This QB situation could burn the Vikings for a few years.

Tavaris Jackson has proven to be too erratic and fragile to be on the field to develop.

So the choice is to go with a so-called franchise QB with next year's No. 1 pick, which is looking to be yet another top 7 overall pick, or to bring in a veteran.

As much as I'd like for the Vikings to get a QB with their 1st round pick, it's such a crap shoot. QBs taken high in the 1st round are such a risk-reward gamble, that making a mistake could set the franchise back another two or three years. Just look at the 49ers with Alex Smith's lack of development or how bad the Houston Texans were in the David Carr years.

Even look at guys like Eli Manning or Jay Cutler (who the Vikings should have moved up to get two years ago). While both were good picks for the long-term sucess of their franchises, both QBs are still learning on the job and are a year or two away from playing the kind of football everyone expected coming out of college. It typically takes a QB about three or four seasons to come into their own and play up to their potential.

So if the Vikings draft a QB in the 1st round, expect inconsistent play and mistakes out of that position for a few years. Plus, I can't say I'm too excited about many of the top tier QBs in this year's draft.

That makes the other option of bring in a veteran QB even more necessary. Or at least a combination of drafting a QB and bring in a veteran to mentor and hold down the starting position for a few years.

The problem with this option is no one lets a quality veteran QB hit free agency or is willing to trade, unless there is some issue.

Cleveland's Derek Anderson is a restricted free agent, but it sounds like the Browns either will retain him or the cost to get him could be pretty steep (I believe 1st and 3rd round picks).

Buffalo's JP Losman is another QB who has has a few years of experience who could be made available, but the Bills recent win streak with him starting could complicate that. Losman was a 1st round pick in the same draft as Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers and has a strong arm. He has had the typical young QB inconsistent play the past few years, but could be on the verge of coming into his own.

Anderson or Losman could be long-term solutions for the Vikings. Otherwise they will need to fill in for the next few years with a veteran while they develop someone else.

It seems like Donovan McNabb is the name that keeps being mentioned. While I don't think his days as a starter are over, I just don't see Minnesota being a good fit for him. Maybe it's just that I don't want anyone coached by Childress coming to this team after he's (hopefully) gone.

But McNabb would be a better option than either Chad Pennington (dead arm) or Dante Culpepper, who I don't think would be welcomed back the way his career ended here and the circumstances he left under.

mikethevike said...

I just want to stress on previous comment that Tice wanted to draft a little known linebacker by the name of Shawn Merriman! He was overruled by the "Braintrust". I really think this is a great example of how we need a General Manager and not collective group of decision makers.

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

Good blog. It sure is a pleasure to read informed posts after slogging through the crap that passes as such on the Strib's AccessViking blog.

We have a big Vikings fanclub here in northern Virginia composed of MN expats (I lived in St. Louis, Park as a kid although I grew up primarily in VA) and Vikings fans in general. Now onto Chili.

I've always been one to give any coach three years to prove himself but I'm going to break that rule here because Chili just reminds me too much of Steckel with his insistence that his system will work regardless of personnel. Just plug in whatever parts and it will go.

Fact is the Vikings don't have the personnel to run an effective "West Coast" offense. That requires a quarterback who can throw accurately, a top-notch tight end, and physical receivers who can shed their defenders on slants and such.

And on defense, well, the Cover 2 worked fairly well last year (keep in mind that the Vikes were in nearly every game until the last few when it didn't matter) but even then the shortcomings in personnel were exposed in the NE game. For maximum efficiency, the Cover 2 requires a strong base four rush, linebackers who can drop effectively into coverage and safeties with good range.

We don't have any of that here. The base rush is a joke (Kevin Williams is not getting pressure up the middle) and while EJ's been stout against the run he still has troubles in coverage as does Greenway and it's clear to me that Sharper has lost more than a step. Now people continue to call for the blitz but if you're going to blitz you damn well better get to the qb or at least get in his face because our corners simply haven't shown that they're capable man-to-man defenders although they showed promise against SD.

Looking ahead, obviously the qb position has to be addressed but the question is how. The overall level of qb play this year in the NFL is awful and I'm not sure we want to go with a no. 1 pick this year in a mediocre class of college qbs. So if McNabb's available after this year, I say make a play for him.

If Wilf is going to fire Childress he needs to get rid of Spielman too and hire a real g.m. (make Scott Pioli an offer he cannot refuse?). Forget about Cowher, he's not going to come to MN. Now before everyone laughs me out of the place, one guy who I wouldn't mind seeing coming in is Marty Schottenheimer who, like Wade Phillips, has been a winner everywhere he's coached.

J. Lichty said...

Bill in Arlington. You do have a nice NoVa Vikes fan club. I had the pleasure of watching Childress' debut against the Redskins in your bar in Crystal City. Great crowd.

It's funny, because I remember that game, Childress outcoached his counterpart. He was very calm on the sidelines. Brad Johnson managed a decent game and I thought that this was a nice change from the emotional rollercoaster sideline circus of Mike Tice. It was nice to see a coach manage a team to an ugly but solid victory on the road in his debut.

Boy was I wrong, wrong, wrong.

This team will go nowhere with Major Dad at the helm. This team is not that far away from being very good, which is the good news. The bad news is that under this system, even Joe Montana and Jerry Rice would go 6-10.

It will take some good FA signings (something has become more difficult as the cap has increased) and an even better draft than last year to right the ship even with a new coach.