Friday, November 12, 2010

Three Reasons That Minnesota Vikings' Head Coach Brad Childress Ought to be on the Hot Seat That Have Nothing to Do With Randy Moss

Over the past week, much ado has been made by the local Minnesota media about the continuing rift between Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress and the Vikings' fan base. Much of that media attention has been on the straw man created by certain members of the media that fan angst is directed toward Childress' dismissal of Randy Moss from the team. The bizarre conclusion, either directly stated or insinuated, is that Moss' dismissal has driven fans to respond both in an uninformed and irrational manner in calling for Childress' head.

With the notable exception of the fans that follow the team's play-by-play man to a local haunt every Friday, most Vikings' fans are far more rational than members of the media give them credit for being and, in many instances, far more rational than many of the media members propounding the straw man theory of fan dislike for Childress.

Only the most addled Viking fans would refuse to acknowledge that Moss' behavior in Minnesota was boorish. Most Vikings' fans probably even agree that Moss' petulance in team meetings, after games, and in games this year offered Childress legitimate grounds for dismissing the wide-receiver. As such, for most Vikings' fans, Moss' departure is a snapshot of Childress' greater issues rather than cause, in and of itself, for concern over Childress' ability to lead the Vikings. Those issues, when considered both individually and collectively, have created the overall anti-Childress sentiment, with Moss' dismissal merely offering the tipping point for venting frustration with the head coach.

Though Childress certainly has made some strides in his time as Vikings' head coach, there are numerous reasons to continue to question whether he merits the position he currently holds, none of which have anything expressly to do with Moss' dismissal or even with Vikings' player dislike of Childress. The following are three such issues.

Among the numerous problems that Childress continues to face is his persistently poor public image. What, for some unknown reason, receives virtually no attention in the regular media, is the fact that the Vikings' organization has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to have specialists work with Childress on presenting himself in public. That's almost too rich to believe. But that it is true makes it all the more remarkable that nobody has run with the story of a psychology major who cannot "psychologize"--as Childress might say, particularly as the angle meshes with the fact that the Wilf's hired Childress with very limited vetting. Childress' inability to make great strides in presentation of self in his five years with the team, despite the efforts of the team to assist him in this regard, ought to be cause for concern for anyone viewing any of Childress' other coaching liabilities.

One of those liabilities is Childress' continuing difficulty dealing with veterans, particularly those at skill positions. Last year, Childress attempted to pull quarterback Brett Favre from a game and replace him with the far more subservient, and infinitely less-skilled Tarvaris Jackson. That attempted move led to a heated sideline dispute out of which Favre emerged victorious, to a point.

But the real boiling point hit the subsequent week against the Chicago Bears when, frustrated by the chain-and-shackle conservative offense for which Childress has become a league punching bag, Favre erupted. The result was a torrent of points that almost allowed the Vikings to overcome a large deficit in spite of Childress' game plan. Other run-ins with the highly respected Brad Johnson, Matt Birk, and Gus Frerotte, and other players such as Marcus Robinson, Sage Rosenfels, Percy Harvin, Chris Kluwe, and Ryan Longwell, suggest an on-going control issue for Childress far beyond what normally could be expected of a head coach in the NFL. Clearly, Childress' control issues border on psychosis.

When Childress is not having difficulty with presentation of self and dealing with skill players, he seems irretractably unable to make the best use of the talent on his team. Much is made of the progression that Childress has made as head coach of the Vikings, moving the team from 6-10 to 8-8 to 10-6 to 12-4 last season. That's almost Brewster-like in its revisionism, however, in that it fails to note two extremely relevant qualifications to this progression. The first is that Childress inherited a 9-7 team. By that standard, he did not improve the team until year three of his run in Minnesota, and, then, only marginally so. Presumably, this is far less than even the Vikings' blindered ownership group anticipated when bringing in Childress to replace Mike Tice to coach a team for which, as Childress stated upon "picking the Vikings," was a team for which "the cupboard is not bare." The 10-6 record should have been expected in year one, the 12-4 in year two if things were progressing as expected--either that, or even Tice is superior to Childress, a possibility that cannot yet be discounted.

More damning in the face of Childress' purported success with the Vikings, however, is that, since Childress arrived in Minnesota, the team has upgraded talent virtually across the field and greatly improved its commitment to coaching salaries. Since Childress' first season with the Vikings, the team has added Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, Steve Hutchinson, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Cedric Griffin, Jared Allen, Ray Edwards, Phil Loadholt, and Visanthe Shiancoe. Somehow, Childress has managed to parlay that talent into a mediocre increase in victories and one playoff victory. That's inexcusable.

What's potentially even more indictable respecting Childress' failure to make more than modest progress with a team loaded with talent, however, is what his reported counterpart on defense, Leslie Frazier, has done. While Childress' offense did improve by 80 points in production from year one to year two of his regime--neatly coinciding with Peterson's arrival--it plateaued the next year before bumping up 90 points upon Favre's arrival. This year, it is on pace to regress to 2007 levels or worse.

Despite being dealt a secondary which, save for Antoine Winfield, should be far worse than anything that Denny Green ever put on the field, Frazier, conversely, has managed to maintain a defense that has retained a top five position in yards allowed and a top-third position in points allowed. That's even more impressive given significant injuries to EJ Henderson, Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, and Chris Cook, and the aging of Pat Williams, all of which have limited the Vikings' ability to blitz and, thus, to put pressure on the quarterback.

These are but three of the primary reasons why, Moss' departure aside, Vikings' fans have very rational reasons for questioning whether Childress is the right fit for this team and why they have fodder to consider that Frazier might be the better option. And while this certainly takes more time to lay out than the straw man argument put forth by some in the local media to explain the "irrational reason" why Vikings' fans would like to see a change at head coach, it is the grist upon which the Vikings' owners most assuredly will grit their teeth when deciding Childress' fate either later this season or at the end of the year.

Up Next: Da Bears. Plus, the real stadium solution.

10 comments:

Dave said...

WE WANT FRAIZER!

Dave said...

Especially because if he ends up on the hot seat, the obligatory "Down goes FRAZIER" headlines will be everywhere.

HBandM said...

VG,

What are your thoughts on “promoting” Childress to some sort of a management position in the front office and letting a more hands-on and less cerebral coach inherit the gameday and player work?

The laundry list of talent certainly speaks well to ownership and Childress’ ability to pursue and retain quality players, even assuming some personality clashes with talented players that have left the team. You touched on what seems to be a recurring problem, which is an inconsistency to lead this talent to be greater than the sum of its parts. He seems to try behind the scenes (think of Bryant McKinnie’s twitter photo a while back of Childress dressed up as a waitress on one of their flights) but it never seems to win over the players.

As a Vikings fan it’s refreshing to see the organization move so much money and manpower to try to put together a winning football team, and as much as you hate Childress he does understand the psychology of the game and the strategic requirements of football.

GW Mush said...

Wow wow wow. I disagree in maintaining Brad Childress in 'any management position', what could he possibly add to the Vikings organization?

The Wilf's want to win, and I admire their passion and effort to make the Vikings a winner, and their love for the game. I expect big changes in the offseason and things are going to get turned around.
I wouldnt bring back Brad Childress even if they won the superbowl this year.

Cabrito said...

Great post, VG -- you covered a lot of ground. However, you neglected to mention one pertinent factor contributing to Childress's poor public image, namely the fact that he scarcely seems capable of uttering a coherent sentence. I hope Frazier, or whoever replaces Chili, is able to express himself articulately rather than speak gibberish most of the time.

vikes geek said...

Band,

I think Spielman and Childress have done some good things identifying talent, but I'm not sure who has done what on each of the moves. I do know, however, that Childress consistently pushes for former Eagles' players and "yes-men" over anything outside of the Eagles' box and certainly over anyone with a modicum of spine. Childress brought in Greg Lewis, Hank Baskett, Naufahu Tahi, Vinny Ciercieu, and others suspect players, though he did also have a significant hand in bringing in Visanthe Shiancoe, Chester Taylor, and Bernard Berrian (who has had some moments). Where Childress loses me on the judgment side is with picks such as Tarvaris Jackson (traded up to take), Ryan Cook, Toby Gerhart, and Tyrell Johnson, and his inability to move beyond trying to prove that his picks ultimately will pan out (see Cook and Jackson) when other options seem far more viable (see Rosenfels and anyone not named Ryan Cook).

I also do not believe that Childress would view such a role as a good career move, given that he believes that he is a good coach and is meant to coach. Staying in the organization that let him go would probably cause him far too much angst and likely make his head explode.

VG

vikes geek said...

Dave,

No question, Frazier would be on the hot seat following his first loss--then you could call it out.

VG

vikes geek said...

Mush,

Careful, there are many Vikings' fans who feel precisely the same way as do you. When too many people start thinking the same way, you know it's time to re-assess your position. The question regarding Childress is what the tipping point is between herd mentality and common sense. I suspect, in support of your position, that we have not yet reached that point, despite the 92% plus unfavorable rating.

VG

vikes geek said...

Cabrito,

I think Childress' speech is as much a symptom of attempting to fit into the NFL as it is of Childress' dysfunction. Childress can speak, he just tries so hard to sound like his contemporaries (or who he thinks his contemporaries are) that he sounds ridiculous. He makes matters worse by attempting to paper over his flaws, when called upon to explain them, by attempting to sound more intelligent than he is (at least that's what I think he's doing).

VG

mwebster said...

You imply that Mike Tice may have been a better coach than Childress. I believe there can be little question of that , and I have said so since the coaching change took place. Despite a few blunders and some lax discipline off the field, Tice accomplished more with less than Childress ever could have.
It is worth remembering that the success the Vikings had in Tice's final two years was achieved with a ridiculously stripped-down, underpaid coaching staff as a result of Red McComb's legendary penury. Tice was working without an offensive coordinator and with several assistants whose names have since vanished from the coaching ranks. And he still managed to field a vastly more imaginative, effective offense than Childress has produced with substantially better talent on the field.
It is, I suppose, impossible from a PR standpoint to bring Tice back, but Zygi could (and did) do a lot worse.