The Vikings locker room was barren Monday following the announcement that Brad Childress had been fired after a blowout loss to the Packers. Players were nowhere to be seen, whether intentionally or by design.
Viking Update spoke with one veteran Viking to get some insight to what exactly went so wrong during the first 10 games of the 2010 season.
The player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the players weren't surprised by the announcement. The pervasive feeling in the locker room was that it was going to happen eventually, the only question was when Childress would get fired. Was anyone shocked when the announcement came Monday?
"No, not at all," he said. "We all saw it coming. It seemed like he was almost waiting to get the axe. I don't know if he didn't see it coming, but it seemed that way to us."
He said that Childress didn't relate very well with his players on a personal level and that one of Chilly's trademark ways of asserting his authority was to yell at players. All coaches do that, he said, but he did it a lot and it didn't always have the desired effect.
"He had his way of doing things," he said. "One of those things is that he yells at players. … You can only get yelled at so many times and, after a while, you don't hear it anymore."
Of all that caused the Childress downfall, one of the main suspects has been and remains Brett Favre. The player confirmed that the relationship between Favre and Childress was frosty at best, going back to the Vikings loss at Carolina when Childress threatened to bench Favre during the game – only to be talked out of it. He said that his view of their relationship was cold, but respectful, which wasn't the case with other players – one in particular.
"It was more of a business relationship, but I don't think they liked each other personally," he said. "It wasn't like Randy Moss. Randy didn't respect (Childress) at all and that was obvious. Brett had respect for him as head coach, but he didn't like him very much. Last year (at Carolina), when he was thinking about benching Brett during the game was huge with the two of them. I don't think the relationship between them ever healed after that."
He said that Favre hasn't been the same player this year that he was when Childress picked him up at the airport in 2009 – "(Childress) caught a lot of flak for that one," he said. He said the distractions of the league investigation of the relationship between Favre and former Jets employee Jenn Sterger haven't affected the quarterback's play – "distractions happen all the time, whether they make news or not," he said – but there is a different motivation for Favre this time around.
"Last year, Brett came back because he wanted to," he said. "This time he came back because we sent guys down to get him. He had a vendetta last year. This time, he hasn't had that same push he had. He's been hurt since the day he got here. He's played through it. That ankle isn't good. This time he came back because I think he felt like he didn't want to let the rest of us down after we got so close last year. Last year, it was for him. This year, it was for us."
As many have speculated, the Moss signing and subsequent release became a flashpoint that kicked the Childress firing from idle chatter to reality. The veteran said that Moss wasn't the kind of player Childress brought to the team. From the day he arrived, it was clear they weren't a good mix and, after Moss told Wilf that Childress should be fired, Childress fired back the only way he could – getting rid of him before he became a cancer.
"I think he tried really hard to stick to his guns and do what he came to the Vikings with – that we have to have good people with good character," he said. "It came full circle with Randy Moss. (Childress) has never liked that kind of player. It was clear pretty quickly that he wasn't going to be his kind of player and, to be honest, he wasn't as good as we thought he was going to be."
Moss wasn't, however, a locker room disruption. Some believe that the Vikings locker room took on a different tone when Moss arrived, but he didn't. The Vikings have been missing the "It Factor" since the season-opener at New Orleans.
"Moss didn't change the dynamic," he said. "It hasn't been there all year. We've had some key injuries, but we haven't had that dynamic in the locker room that carried us throughout the year. It started right away and it's been different ever since."
He said that injuries have played as much of a difference on this year's team as anything. The wide receiver and cornerback positions have both been hit hard by injury, but, given the expectations that players came into the season with, they felt they could win regardless of who they put out on the field and wouldn't have been happy even if their record was reversed.
"This year has been an injury domino effect," he said. "Players have been hurt, not injured. If someone is injured, you put them on injured reserve, but guys who are hurt play through it for the good of the team. Expectations were so high coming in that if we were 7-3 right now, I don't think we'd be happy, because we didn't think we should have lost those three games. We have found ways to lose this year and it's still hard to believe."
The handwriting on the wall concerning Childress' demise came clear a couple of weeks ago when Zygi Wilf started asking players for their opinions on Childress' ability as a head coach. It made for a difficult dynamic for players, who witnessed firsthand what happened when a high-profile player spoke out against Childress to the owner.
"It makes for a hard situation when the owner asks players about the head coach," he said. "It was tough on us because the owner, in the end, is the boss – the be-all, end-all. You already had a player who spoke out (Moss) and he got cut. It was a different type of situation for all of us."
There were accusations that some players quit on Childress Sunday in the loss to the Packers. Already on thin ice after the Moss debacle and the much-publicized flare-up with Percy Harvin – "it happened and the timing of it couldn't have been worse" – at a practice, the final straw, it would seem, was the brutal performance on Sunday against the Packers. He doesn't believe any of the players quit, but that the level of their playing demeanor wasn't up to the magnitude of the game. After what many viewed as the team's best week of practice, they didn't come out on Sunday like most expected they would.
"I don't think any of the guys quit, but there has been a difference in motivation," he said. "It's like how your level of play and intensity rises from the regular season into the playoffs. We seemed to do the opposite. Everyone was trying hard, but there wasn't that level of intensity. We had some really high standards to meet and it has really been disappointing."
Will things change under Leslie Frazier? That question will begin to get answered this week at Washington. But, considering that their boss got fired, the feeling is that nobody is immune.
"I don't know," he said when asked if the intensity level will change. "One thing I do know is that guys are going to be more scared about losing their jobs. If that changes the intensity, great. This is a veteran team that was built to win now."
With Childress out and the interim tag on Leslie Frazier, many Vikings may find themselves wondering if they will be part of the future plans. Many expect (players included) that the Vikings might try to make a big splash to bring in a high-profile coach with a pedigree of winning. If that is the case, the final six games of the season post-Childress may be audition tapes for the next coaching regime. The unknown of the future remains, because, if a coach comes in that has a different scheme or mindset toward filling out a roster, many of the players currently in the locker room won't be there next year. The Childress Era is over, but the changes may go on for some time.
"Everyone is going to be looked at these final six games," he said. "If somebody comes in from the outside, you can bet that there will be a complete overhaul of this team. Whoever comes in, he's going to want ‘his guys.' You see it every time somebody new takes over a team. You fill your roster with players who fit your system. If somebody new comes in, we're all going to have to prove ourselves all over again."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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