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.