From the day he became head coach of the Minnesota Vikings three years ago, Brad Childress sought to drop a curtain of secrecy around the inner workings of the franchise.
Under Mike Tice and former owner Red McCombs, the Vikings operated as one of the last mom-and-pop outfits in the NFL. Reporters often intermingled with employees and players in the hallways at Winter Park, and on Wednesdays everyone ate in the club lunchroom. Occasionally, a coach or player might drop by the media work room on the way out of the building to say hello and see what was up.
But in the ultra-secret, all-controlling, modern NFL, mom and pop no longer have a place. Childress fired the popular longtime coaches’ secretary and restricted media access in the main building, moving the media workroom to a building across the street. It’s more cosmetic than anything, and ultimately fruitless, since Childress’s failure to make the organization watertight manifested itself again this week.
The will-he-or-won’t-he gambit
Case in point: Wednesday, when Chester Taylor ruined Childress’ will-he-play-or-won’t-he gambit with Gus Frerotte by matter-of-factly telling WCCO-TV that Tarvaris Jackson would start Sunday at Arizona.
It’s easy to imagine Childress, behind closed doors, going Yosemite Sam when he heard about this. Nothing makes a coach more gleeful that knowing he wasted an opponent’s time, or more annoyed when somebody spoils the sham. Taylor’s forthrightness probably wrecked any competitive advantage Childress hoped to gain.
Both Childress and Frerotte tried to keep the uncertainty going Thursday, though it proved clumsy and unconvincing. In a morning interview on KFAN-AM, the Vikings’ flagship station, Frerotte claimed not to know if he had a fracture in his back (say what?) and remained hopeful that he might still start Sunday if he could practice Friday. Since he could not practice Thursday, Frerotte didn’t bother bringing his helmet to the indoor facility. Childress said Frerotte threw 25 balls into a net before reporters were allowed in.
Pressed on whether Frerotte had a fracture, which the Star Tribune reported, Childress turned coy. “I don’t know that,” he said. “Buying that one?” How about no? Childress insisted Frerotte might start, though Jackson certainly acted like the starter, staying late to throw more to receivers and backs.
‘Con’ can disrupt opponent’s planning
Why even go through the motions of a con that nobody’s buying? Because if Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast spends five minutes preparing the Cardinals for the stationary Frerotte, it’s five minutes less preparation for the mobile Jackson. Pendergast has a tough enough job guessing what to expect from Jackson based on 2 1/2 games worth of film from this season, almost all of it showing Jackson playing poorly.
Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, the former Chicago Bears cornerback, said he faced a similar lack of video information in the opener against the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, who had never started an NFL game. But at least Frazier had one quarterback to focus on. Two possibilities, with vastly different styles, change the dynamic dramatically.
“It’s tough,” Frazier said. “It creates a dilemma, because you don’t want to be chasing ghosts. You don’t want to have guys practicing something they aren’t going to see. But at the same time, you want to be prepared.
“You end up, because you want to be prepared, to do a little bit of both. And you’re going to have to live with the fact that you can’t hone in on anything, just because of the uncertainty.”
The flood of information from blogs, dot-com sites and the various ESPN Networks means every scrap of information criss-crosses the country much faster that it did when Frazier played in the 1980s. Frazier said he’s sometimes relied on text or cell-phone gossip passed along by players, though he always double-checks the league injury reports for confirmation.
“You put a lot of credence in what a guy says about what’s happening with the Dallas Cowboys or the Pittsburgh Steelers or whatever,” he said. “It depends on the source, who’s telling you the information, how reliable is this player, if they’re friends with such and such.
“As coaches, you try to tell your players, let’s not to talk about injuries with anybody — the media, your friends on other teams. You’re always stressing that. But these guys are friends, and they do talk. … I pay a little more attention to what the league puts out, rather than what a player might say.”
Frazier needs to find way to stop NFL’s top offense
Frazier has plenty to worry about this week. With the Bears’ win last night, the Vikings must win Sunday to keep their one-game lead in the NFC North, and they must keep winning. The NFC West champion Cardinals bring the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, keyed by quarterback Kurt Warner throwing to receivers Larry Fitzgerald Jr. (the south Minneapolis and Holy Angels product) and Anquan Boldin. Both wideouts have 83 catches, tops in the NFC, for more than 1,000 yards, and they’ve combined for 20 touchdowns. The Cardinals have won eight of nine at University of Phoenix Stadium since last year, losing only to the Giants.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson’s decision to extend his temporary injunction means Kevin and Pat Williams can play the next two Sundays, which helps.
If Jackson is the quarterback Sunday, the Vikings need to run the ball effectively to keep it away from the Cardinals’ offense. “We’re going to come out and establish the running game, and make big plays when we have the opportunity,” said NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson, who will shoulder most of the load.
But wouldn’t it be funny if third-down back Taylor, after talking straight instead of fudging, figured in this somehow?