Starting a season 6-0 normally would disqualify an NFL head coach from residency on the proverbial hot seat. Not so Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress. With a loss at Pittsburgh suggesting that the Vikings still had some room from improvement against the handful of competitive teams remaining in the NFL, Childress found himself in another proverbial spot--limbo.
The Vikings' victory at Lambeau Field prior to their recent bye week softened concerns about Childress' ability to guide a talent-laden team, but did nothing to convince Vikings' ownership that Childress' contract, with one year yet remaining on an initial five-year deal, merited rewriting. Still, where Childress is today versus where he stood last year at this time, has to be comforting--at least to Childress.
Whether Childress deserves an extension is a question best reserved for next season. A sensible argument can be made that the Vikings' current head coach fits more the mold of caretaker coach than guiding force. That's fine, as long as the caretaker is surrounded by talent, as Childress is this season.
Few other teams, if any, can boast a top-three running back, top-five quarterback, and top-three defensive end, along with an offensive rookie of the year candidate, and at least five Pro Bowl players and several more All-Pros. Those benefits, along with solid special teams players, one of the league's best defensive lines, a strong linebacking corps, and consistency in the kicking game, are a coach's wet dream. In this year's Vikings' team, Childress has just such talent.
Given the high level of talent at every critical position on the roster--save starting center, and the putrid level of competition in the NFC this year, the Vikings' front office ought to expect nothing less than a 14-2 record at this point. And, if the Giants continue to falter, 15-1 should be within reach.
The Vikings' regular season record against a litany of scrub teams is irrelevant, however, if they fail to beat the better teams that they will not face until the playoffs. In the NFC, gaining any better perspective on whether Childress has risen above the role of caretaker coach might well require that the Vikings face the Saints at some point, as most of the rest of the league's talent appears currently to reside in the AFC. And that all but requires that the Vikings make it to the NFC Championship game.
In some respects, 2009 thus is a no-win situation for Childress. The Vikings have put together a team so relatively strong that even a replacement-level coach ought to be able to guide it to a highly successful season, with the only meaningful test being competition against teams that have every bit as much claim of ability to beat the Vikings as the Vikings have to beating them. With perhaps only one or two such opponents remaining on their pre-Super Bowl schedule, that gives Childress little window to prove his wares.
But at least he's not on the hot seat.
Up Next: Coaches Certain to be Gone by Season's End.