So fans got their wish. Brad Childress is out. Leslie Frazier is in, at least for the next six games. After that, the coaching decisions really get serious.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf made the only choice he had when it came to Brad Childress. He gave Childress an extension too soon last November, when the Vikings were well on their way to their 12-4 record, but even in that playoff run there were signs that should have given Wilf pause.
In December, Childress considered benching quarterback Brett Favre in the Carolina game. That led to more tension between Childress and Favre and may have been the beginning of the end in their productive live-and-let-live relationship. The next month, the Vikings lost the NFC Championship game. The main problem in that game came down to turnovers. Brett Favre threw two interceptions and was credited with a lost fumble on an exchange with Adrian Peterson. As a team, the Vikings fumbled six times, losing three of them.
But they still had a chance to win the game in regulation. First-and-10 with 1:06 to play in regulation on the New Orleans 33-yard line (which would have been about a 51-yard field goal) turned into third-and-15 on the 38-yard line, a play that resulted in Favre throwing an ill-advised pass in the middle of the field that was intercepted. The biggest issue was a penalty on the Vikings for having 12 men in the huddle – coming out of a timeout no less. Childress was never able to live that penalty down, further cementing a perception – real or otherwise – that he was a below-average game-day coach when it came to managing pressure situations and decisions. His lack of success this year on fourth down – the team is 5-for-13 – also contributed to losses that were piling up this year.
Enough of the past. With Childress' firing, Wilf will have a monumental decision to make in the coming months – does he stick with Frazier or go for the glitzy hire?
Several factors will be pulling on his decision. The stadium issue can't be ignored. Childress' fan approval ratings were far worse than the team's third-down conversion rate. According to ESPN online polls, his approval rating hovered around or even below 10 percent. Getting approval for public financing of a new stadium shouldn't be dependent on the popularity of the head coach, but when the majority of the fan base – the taxpayers – don't support the head coach, it's even more difficult for the fringe fans to support the idea of their tax money going to that cause.
Either way, Wilf has to keep the big picture in mind. Consistently winning would have pacified even an anti-Childress fan base, but 3-7 isn't winning consistently, and Childress was losing (the players) consistently.
So the question now is this: Frazier for the future or the big name that reinvigorates the fan base?
The realistic, level-headed answer is wait and see, but we all know in the texting, tweeting, NFL rapid-reaction world, patience isn't a characteristic many football fans possess. Big names and quick actions sell, even if they don't always win – just ask Daniel Snyder.
Beyond Wilf making an in-season change and the stadium factor, there is another issue that makes this a multi-faceted decision – the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL Players Association and the league have yet to agree on an extension to the
CBA, and the owners decided to opt out of the current agreement. With no extension in place, the future of NFL football beyond the 2010 is uncertain at best and the 2011 season could turn into an endangered species the longer the strife extends. Talks have just gotten started, but there is clearly rhetoric and acrimony coming from both sides as the meaty issues are contemplated – what percentage of revenues should the players get, should the season be extended to 18 games (if so, what kind of payback to the players), and what sort of health care benefits should be extended to current and former players?
So what if labor talks turn laborious and no extension is reached by March (the start of free agency), May (the normal start to organized team activities) or even July (the start of training camp)?
If Wilf decides to go with a completely new coaching staff, he runs the risk that the new staff won't even be able to work with the players until shortly before the season if that's how long it takes to get an extension to the CBA. That could mean a full offseason of OTAs and minicamps spent learning new schemes on offense and defense that would be lost. That has to be a major factor, and free agents won't be added until a new CBA, making it even more difficult to figure out which teams are on the rise and which ones are falling.
All the uncertainty is a little disconcerting for a staff full of assistant coaching left to try to rally players who know the playoffs are likely a pipe dream.
"We've all been through it and the only thing you can do is prepare for next week. That's all you can do," said special-teams coordinator Brian Murphy. "We've just got to be on task and we've got to give our players the best chance to win the following week."
If Frazier is retained as the head coach in 2011, many of the assistants would likely remain. If he's not, the entire staff of assistants is likely to be let go as well.
"It creates a lot (of uncertainty)," said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. "Just like going through the season as a whole, you always feel like you're being evaluated, whether you're players, whether you're coaches, so this situation really is no different. Right now, you really don't know what the future holds. We're not really worried about that. All we can really worry about is this one game and being able to try and get it on the right track."
Bevell thought some of the coaches on staff were in its last year of their contract while others have a year remaining.
Bevell and the rest of the assistants can at least take comfort in one fact. The Vikings will have to interview a minority candidate for their head-coach opening, per terms of the Rooney Rule. Since the Vikings made a coaching change during the season, they didn't have to do that in promoting Frazier, but after the season is over, they will have to interview at least one minority candidate, which could be Frazier.
"The club must follow the mandatory interviewing process in choosing a new permanent head coach, unless the club had concluded a prior contractual agreement with a member of its coaching staff to become the club's head coach and this contractual agreement had been filed with the League Office at the time it was signed," the Rooney Rule states.
According to a league spokesman, that means the position has to be opened after the season, but the Wilfs could choose to make it as simple as formally interviewing Frazier and making him the head coach for the foreseeable future. Or they could interview him or another minority candidate and several other candidates that are often mentioned as the high-profile coaches available, guys like Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and John Fox (if the Panthers don't retain him).
No matter what happens, Wilf will have a lot of factors to navigate in making another important decision for the future of the franchise. While trying to retain more than a dozen free agent, secure public financing for a stadium and make the right decision for the future of the team, it's a monumental decision.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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