Brad Childress’ season wrap-up press conference at Winter Park this morning featured no blockbusters, and only a few things that make you wonder what’s going on behind those Hugo Boss glasses.
1. The starting quarterback job is up for grabs. Childress would not name Tarvaris Jackson the starter, and Childress isn’t sure whether Gus Frerotte — still annoyed that he lost his job due to injury — will return. Frerotte has one year left on his contract but misses his family in St. Louis and may not trust Childress anymore.
2. All the assistants, including special teams coach Paul Ferraro, will be back if they want to stay — a minor surprise in Ferraro’s case after the Vikings finished last in NFL in punt coverage and allowed four returns for touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier remains on the head coaching interview circuit, and Childress said he has possible replacements in mind if Frazier bolts.
3. The club hasn’t decided whether to make offers to free agents Matt Birk, Darren Sharper or Jim Kleinsasser. Hard to tell whether Childress’ complimentary comments about Birk and Sharper were meant to open a door or send them on their way.
4. Childress brushed off a Yahoo! Sports report quoting an anonymous Viking saying, “Our sideline was in total disarray,” late in the Eagles game. The author, Michael Silver, is the well-connected former Sports Illustrated writer. Childress used the lack of an exact time in the piece as an excuse to dismiss the question. “I didn’t feel any disarray going on at any point in time,” he said.
With the quarterbacks, Childress acknowledged what most of us saw the final weeks — Jackson improved over his disastrous first two starts but made too many mistakes in the wild-card loss to the Eagles amid his 15-for-35, 164-yard day.
Three years into the Childress regime, the Vikings built strengths on both sides of the ball — stout run defense, a fast-rising linebacking crew, reliable defensive backs, and a terrific run game with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor.
“This is a fun team to coach,” Childress said. “I think there is a good foundation laid here, a good core group of players that we can continue to build around.”
With a consistently competent quarterback — and at least one more good wide receiver — the Vikings can be a Super Bowl contender. Jackson clearly isn’t that guy yet, and though Childress expects improvement, he can’t waste another season waiting for Jackson to develop.
“We just look at all our avenues there,” said Childress, meaning free agency, the draft and trades.
Ferraro’s return means Childress blames the lousy punt coverage on two or three knuckleheads who repeatedly blew their assignments, not the coach. That doesn’t speak well of the Vikings’ depth at defensive back and linebacker, positions that usually provide the bulk of your coverage people.
“That’s a thorn in all of our sides to give up that many returns for touchdowns,” Childress said. “I just think it’s a matter of continuity, the same guys playing, all 11 guys doing their jobs. If one guy doesn’t do his job, it sticks out like a sore thumb.”
With Birk, Childress called him “a dynamic part of this organization” and a “great, great man.” He thinks Birk, 32, and Sharper, 33, have productive years left, but whether the Vikings commit more money and years to them, or Kleinsasser, remains to be seen. Kleinsasser, who turns 32 on Jan. 31, appears expendable with the emergence of Visanthe Shiancoe.
“No decision has been made on them, as of right now,” Childress said.
Although Childress blew off the Yahoo! Sports report, he took more seriously a post-game complaint by wideout Bobby Wade last Sunday that the coaches failed to make second-half adjustments to exploit the Eagles’ defense. The Vikings gained only 106 yards in that half and did not score.
“They played better than we played in the second half. That’s the short and long of it,” Childress said. “I know that he would like to have more balls his way. I know he likes to throw into softer coverage. We thought we were being aggressive in attacking what they did. Now, were we able to execute what we were attacking with? We weren’t always able to do that. That comes down to us as a staff and the 11 guys on the field.”
It’s doubtful whether any of this will placate the Purple minions who long ago declared Childress an idiot and Jackson a failure. Silver’s story (the Vikings stuff is sprinkled throughout the piece) may make a few weep with laughter, especially the part where another anonymous player declares Jackson had a “deer-in-headlights” look — not unexpected for a kid facing blitzes from everywhere in his first playoff.
On messages boards, a handful of posters threatened to cancel their season tickets if Childress returned as coach. We’ll see if they follow through.
Owner Zygi Wilf, in a brief conversation with MinnPost last week, stressed the need for continuity but refused to comment about extending Childress’s contract, which has two years to go. Wilf’s family has owned New York Giants season tickets for more than four decades, and he still remembers the chants of “Goodbye, Allie” (to the tune of “Goodnight, Ladies”) that preceded the firing of Coach Allie Sherman in the 1969 preseason. The Giants floundered for years after that, not making the playoffs again until 1981.
It’s hard to maintain a strong organization if you fire the coach every time the fans squawk. Whether the fans like Childress or not, the Vikings advanced far enough in three years that he deserves to see his program through to the end of his contract. Improved play by the quarterback, whoever it is, will be the best way to ensure that.