Following the Minnesota Vikings' 41-17 defeat of the New York Giants on Sunday, Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf commented that he had full confidence in Vikings' head coach Brad Childress and has "never waivered" in this confidence. While Zygi can be forgiven his exuberance, his remarks ought to be taken with a grain of salt and a dash of reality.
Prior to the 2007 season, reflecting on a sour finish to 2006, Wilf commented that the Vikings were operating under a three-year plan of returning the team to championship-contending status. That was news to many Vikings' fans and, undoubtedly, to the several, key Vikings' veterans who dotted each side of the line of scrimmage, who expected a much earlier return to form.
The purpose of Wilf's statement was two-fold. First and foremost, he was attempting to provide damage control for a fan base on the verge of tuning out--or at least refusing to turn out at the Metrodome on game day. From a PR perspective, Wilf's comments were not well thought out, as the majority of the Vikings' fan base rebelled at the notion of paying more money and investing more time in a team promising only incremental improvements while the rest of the league was operating under a win-now philosophy.
From a bottom-line perspective, however, Wilf had another reason to set forth a three-year plan. That reason was the long contract to which he had recently inked first-time head coach Brad Childress. With his chosen coach inked to a five-year deal at a considerable sum of money, Wilf clearly felt the need to provide to the fan base a timeline for team success while giving his head coach an opportunity to learn on the job.
Entering the 2007 season, Wilf thus clearly sought from Childress nothing more than the thinnest of reasons to retain his head coach beyond 2007. When the Vikings began the season 2-5, Wilf remained silent.
Wilf's silence came to an end, at least behind closed doors, however, after the Vikings' 34-0 loss at Green Bay. Despite what Wilf is now contending--that his support for Childress has never waivered--nothing could be further from the truth as Wilf seriously contemplated replacing Childress mid-season in the wake of the Lambeau debacle.
The cost of making such a move, however, clearly was too great, and the alternatives too slim, for Wilf to act on his impulse in week 11. Then there was the fact that the Oakland Raiders were coming to town and likely would be fodder for whatever the Vikings could put on the field, and Wilf decided to wait it out.
The Vikings' home victory over the Raiders gave Wilf the peace of mind of knowing that his team was better than the worst team in the NFL. The road victory over the Giants, one that Wilf celebrated with the team on the sidelines, merely convinced the Vikings' owner that he could sell Childress to the Vikings' fan base at least for the remainder of this season and possibly through next season.
While the Vikings' victory over the Giants was unexpected both in absolute terms and with respect to the margin of victory, it should not be lost on Vikings' fans that the Vikings defeated a team that is very much like the Vikings in key respects, but for how it appeared on Sunday.
With a team built around establishing the passing game with the running game, the Giants were exposed as at least momentarily one-dimensional on Sunday when they attempted to set up their passing attack without the services of either of their top two running backs, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. Jacobs and Ward had combined for over 1,100 yards rushing on the season, despite both missing time to injury. The tandem's replacement against Minnesota, Reuben Droughns, had amasses a less stellar 222 yards on 67 carries.
Droughns' inability to establish the rushing attack against Minnesota forced the Giants increasingly to rely on their quarterback, Eli Manning, to move the offense. For the Giants, that's become akin to the Vikings asking Tarvaris Jackson to set up the Vikings' rushing attack with the pass--it simply isn't in the cards.
When Manning began to press, the Vikings pounced. And when the pouncing worked, the Vikings pounced more, forcing Manning into uncomfortable decision-making territory. For those familiar with Manning's history under such circumstances, the results were predictable.
As Wilf congratulated Childress on the victory over the Giants and used the moment to express his unwavering support for Childress, he clearly either ignored or was blinded to what team it was that the Vikings were facing on Sunday. The Giants, relying on Manning to win the game, were what we thought they were--a team that could still win the game, but a team that was just as likely to implode. That undoubtedly matters little to Wilf, who is just happy to have a "big win" in which to ensconce the coach to which he signed a long-term contract.
Up Next: How Hubris Beats Even the Best of Teams.