The rap on Brad Childress, fired as the Viking head coach today, was his loss of control of the locker room. He may have been guilty. But the unforgivable sin was igniting a rebellion of the Minnesota football masses, which threatened the box office and a new $800 million stadium. So the judgment by Zygi Wilf and the Viking ownership family was swift.
Childress is out as the head coach in the wake of the Vikings’ ugly 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday and Leslie Frazier, the Vikings’ defensive coordinator, was installed as the interim head coach who will lead this bumbling football team against the Washington Redskins in Washington Sunday afternoon. The Vikings scheduled a news conference later in the afternoon to introduce Frazier in his new role and to explain the circumstances.
There was no special mystery about the decisions. The Vikings are in the midst of a horrific season with a record of three wins and seven losses, less than 10 months after coming within one play of reaching the Super Bowl. Among the fans and clearly among substantial number of players, the blame rested primarily with Childress, his handling of some of the players and his perceived futility in finding a way out of the team’s nosedive in the last few weeks. It has been an underachieving team from the start of the season, a performance compounded by the differences between Childress and his star of stars, quarterback Brett Favre, who made no secret of his lack of respect for Childress’ coaching style.
The internal problems were magnified when Childress abruptly got rid of the quirky Randy Moss after only four weeks in a trade with New England that cost the Vikings a third-round draft choice, a decision Childress made in disgust after Moss created a scene during a catered team lunch and then went on television a few days later to embarrass the Viking leadership with an odd recital of love for the New England organization that had just let him go.
Frazier’s choice as an interim coach was clearly a popular one. He is admired by virtually all of the Vikings players and has been seriously considered for a head coaching position by several National Football League owners. The decision to silence the critics by firing the head coach was a clear copy of the Dallas Cowboys eviction of Wade Phillips two weeks ago and the stop-gap hiring of Jason Garrett, the offensive coordinator. It paid instant dividends. Dallas has won two straight after playing itself into ignominy and out of the playoffs. The fan base was revived, and Garrett is now being seriously mentioned as the new Cowboy head coach in 2011.
It could happen in Minnesota. Frazier is competent and will have the support of a team hungering for something positive. It has the personnel to win again, and the rest of the team’s schedule is soft. It’s theoretically possible — although not very likely — that they could run the table in the last six games and finish with a 9-7 record that might qualify for the playoffs.
But the questions involving a new head coach for the 2011 season are dominated by the possibility of a lockout and player strike and it’s not likely the Wilfs will be making a decision on that until early winter.
Childress’ demise was tied in directly with the Favre saga. He was seen from the beginning as a kind of errand boy when the negotiations bounced around for weeks last year and then again ever longer and more absurdly this year. From the beginning, Favre was the guy, not Childress. Favre pretty much dictated the terms of engagement both with Favre’s contract and his timetable for his appearance for practice. His spectacular season last year captivated the crowds and his sizable ego and comical indecision didn’t bother the fans, although they got to be a trial for Childress.
Childress’ personality, although sociable and sometimes witty, never reached the fans and not all of the players, although he had considerable support from some of them when his job obviously was at stake. He insisted on responsible behavior away from the playing field, and told his players often, “don’t be the last one who gets it,” meaning decency and civilized conduct in public.
But he was easily caricatured from the beginning as an egghead, and despite his remarkable success of the last two years, he drew scant public support when Favre’s season imploded and the Vikings collapsed.