Column: Time to stop blaming Childress for Vikings' problems
A tumultuous week at Winter Park was capped off by a last-minute comeback against the Cardinals on Sunday, but was it enough to stabilize the organization?
The Minnesota Vikings are trying to pull themselves out of a self-inflicted tailspin, but how did they get there, who's really to blame? Is it coach Brad Childress?
Blame Zygi Wilf.
The Vikings owner has created the atmosphere he worked so diligently to avoid.
When Childress dismissed Randy Moss last week he did it swiftly and without remorse. It was a move not all that different than the one that brought Chilly to Minnesota.
Wilf moved quickly to fire coach Mike Tice in 2005. The 9-7 Vikings finished the season with a victory against the Chicago Bears. It was a typical scene in the locker room afterwards with the coach addressing the media explaining the disappointing season and whether or not he would be able to keep his job. He was optimistic though, because of how the team finished. They won seven of their last nine games.
Tice had spent the previous weeks in discussion with Wilf on a contract extension but a decision was never made. At least he was never told how he stood with management. Minutes after that press conference Tice found out. Wilf followed him into his office and fired the coach on the spot.
The locker room was nearly empty at that point as most players had gone home. The public relations staff handed out a press release to the few remaining media members and players. It was swift; two-paragraph's saying the organization was moving in a new direction.
Koren Robinson and Darren Sharper were stunned. Sharper left without comment and Robinson questioned the timing, asking why they couldn't have waited until Monday at least.
The move wasn't all that surprising because it was clear that ownership wanted to change the culture of the team. The previous year was a veritable circus act and Wilf saw it as a complete lack of discipline.
"If there was any sense that we would look the other way regarding this type of behavior," Wilf said after the infamous love boat incident. "I want to make it extremely clear that this behavior will never be tolerated again."
Zygi was right to demand change. That ugly event capped off a year in which a Whizzinator (used to beat drug tests) was confiscated from running back Onterrio Smith at the airport and Tice was fined $100,000 for his role in scalping Super Bowl tickets. That fine was the largest ever levied on a head coach.
Wilf moved to create a code of conduct. It was a 77-page document distributed to all of the players, but he needed someone who could enforce it.
Tice was a player's coach. He didn't command the respect of his players; he was seen as just "one of the guys." He was only six years removed from actually playing for the team. Wilf wanted discipline and he needed to move quickly. After all, Zygi wasn't building a football team he was building an investment, and for that, he needed a new stadium.
Wilf built his fortune within his family's real estate business. He guided the growth from strip malls to shopping complexes. He knew in order to secure a new stadium, there needed to be excitement from the community but more importantly, confidence in the organization.
Competing with the Gophers and Twins for approval from the legislature, Wilf sought discipline within his organization. It took less than a week; he quickly chose the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Childress turned around the culture, but like an over-bearing parent he doesn't like to be questioned. He immediately released wide receiver Marcus Robinson on Christmas Eve in 2006, the day after he publicly questioned the disappointing 6-9 record. Troy Williamson didn't follow Childress request to rejoin the team the day after his grandmother's funeral and was subsequently fined.
Childress has made a number of questionable calls as coach of the purple, but his handling of Moss, along with his other personnel decisions follows in the footsteps of Wilf. So you can't really hold Chilly responsible, he merely did as he was asked.
Zygi spent last week at Winter Park evaluating the team and staff, but make no mistake. The owner is happy with his head coach. Childress provided the stability that Zygi was looking for and earned a contract extension last year.
The time to blame the guy running the show has past. Now it's time to blame the guy who accepts it.