The National Football League’s offseason is always filled with promise, regardless of what your team did or did not do in the previous season. Whether you are in Pittsburgh celebrating yet another Lombardi Trophy, or in Detroit off the worst season in franchise history, there are glimmers of hope and reasons to think positive about the 2009 season.
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the optimism is running just as high as every other NFL city in this great country. However, things are not all sunshine and rainbows when you look deeper into the Minnesota Vikings.
Entering his fourth season as head coach of the Vikings, Brad Childress has one of the hotter seats among the NFL Coaching Fraternity. Following a division championship and playoff berth, as well as an offseason that helps to fill some of the holes left at the end of their 2008 season, expectations are high in Minnesota.
Knowing this, as well as the fact that Childress is in year four of a five year deal with the possibility of an extension on the horizon, it is easy to see the pressure mounting. Looking further into the team, we can see a coach desperate to do whatever it takes to keep his job, given a fanbase that to this day, still shows general disapproval of what he has done.
We now examine several happenings from both this season and last that show us the desperation of one Brad Childress.
Following an 18-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Brad Childress shocked the world by benching Tarvaris Jackson in favor of veteran Gus Frerotte. Eleven games and eight victories later, Jackson would return only after an injury to Gus Frerotte prevented him from playing. This offseason, the quarterbacks are different, but the ambiguity remains.
Sage Rosenfels comes to the Vikings via a trade with the Houston Texans, presumably to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting quarterback spot. In addition, the media circus continues to tell us that Brett Favre will be playing for the Vikings this fall.
Whether or not this is true, the point still stands that Brad Childress is looking at quarterbacks not named Tarvaris Jackson to lead the team. Given Childress will do anything in his power to prevent Jackson from failing, this is quite the tremendous statement as to how Childress feels about his job security.
Kick Ass Offense?
Over the past few days, the Vikings have run their mandatory offseason minicamp. In attendance was first round draft pick Percy Harvin, the electrifying wide receiver from Florida. While many questioned his ability to keep his head above water off the field, most doubts about his on field talent were erased this past week.
Historically, Childress has shown an inability to cater his offense to the talents of his players. It was akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole in the sense that it didn’t matter how ugly or ineffective it was as long as it got in the hole, if it did.
Criticism of this approach led to the phrase which is still a tool of mockery years later, “It’s a kick-ass offense...” were the words of Brad Childress describing one of the most statistically inept offenses in franchise history.
However, this past season the Vikings offense featured more deep passes, which carried over to minicamp with long balls caught by Percy Harvin and his teammates. In addition, spectators at Winter Park saw the Vikings practicing...Wait for it...Grab a seat for this one...The Wildcat?
Believe it or else, the Minnesota Vikings ran Percy Harvin out of the Wildcat formation. I’m not sure what’s more shocking, that Brad Childress’ offense, for arguably the first time in his coaching tenure, shows creativity, or that, for arguably the first time in his coaching tenure, Childress is attempting to cater the offense to the talent he has on the field.
Either way, this is a stark contrast from the KAO of old. In addition, it appears to be a turnaround in the mindset of one coach Brad Childress.
Winning is Expected?
In hindsight, you have to give Mike Tice a lot of credit, as bad as that sounds. With an ownership that refused to put financial backing into the team and got rid of arguably the most electrifying talent on offense, he not only managed to put together two winning seasons, but also made the playoffs, beating the Packers in the process.
Now, with a new ownership group that is doing everything in their power to make sure the cupboards are overflowing with talent, it appears that the supposed upgrade at coach has done nothing but tread water at best.
The impression given to the fans is that Childress is the type of coach who would rather lose every game doing things his way as opposed to winning by an effective strategy.
Childress appeared more concerned with showing how smart he is, and how he pulled a fast one over other teams, such was the case in drafting Percy Harvin before the Patriots could take him.
However, with the admission that perhaps there are better quarterbacks than Tarvaris Jackson, and the admission that perhaps you have to work with your talent, it appears that the stalwart Childress may be having a change of heart.
The bad news for him is that he almost has to, because with the soft schedule for the Vikings in 2009 (.420 winning percentage, second weakest in the league) and the talent on this roster, anything short of a playoff berth, and likely winning at least one playoff game, could mean the beginning of the end for Chilly.
Given what’s at stake this season with the chances of making the postseason, the possibility of a run at the Super Bowl, and the Vikings’ continuing efforts to get a new stadium in Minnesota, it is apparent that winning is at a premium.
Taking into consideration the turnaround in mindset and practice of Coach Childress, it’s apparent that he knows this.
Ownership is certainly aware that the fans do not hold the coach in high regard, as evidenced by “Fire Childress” chants last year, and an approval rating of 43 percent to end last season in ESPN’s Fan-based Coach Approval Ratings despite 10 wins and a division title.
It seems clear that Childress’ head will be on the chopping block if the Vikings do not deliver in 2009, and just as clear that he is resorting to desperate measures from his point of view to retain what job security he has.