The tension between the two could not be kept from the public eye and was beginning to affect both people. To their credit, both responded like mature adults and embraced their conflict as an opportunity to build their relationship. In the end, everyone wins.
The source of their conflict goes back to last season when a couple meetings between Childress and Winfield reportedly ended in rather heated fashion. The specifics are really known only to Childress and Winfield, but it’s safe to say that both were able to push some buttons in one another.
The downside of the situation was beginning to manifest itself in a few critical areas:
1. The issue was clearly a distraction. Both parties could downplay it, but it was an issue that distracted from preparing for the 2007 season.
Winfield said at the mini-camp he attended: “I don't want to be a distraction to what [owner Zygi] Wilf is trying to accomplish.” Despite Winfield’s efforts to choose his words carefully, the fact that he said he didn’t want to be a distraction to the owner, but omitted mentioning his head coach, his defensive coordinator, other assistant coaches and his teammates, telegraphed that his problem was with Childress.
2. It undermined Childress. Wilf chose Childress to be the head coach. So when a player who is perceived to be a veteran leader is not on board, it sends the message to future up-and-coming stars on the team that when they are good enough it will be okay to second-guess the guy in charge – never a healthy environment for a winning organization.
3. The young players were being deprived of Winfield’s veteran contribution, both by example and by his presence, on the field during each workout.
All three of these points hurt the potential success of the team, but they personally hurt Childress and his ability to lead the entire team.
To his credit, Childress easily could have played hardball on this one and been too stubborn to reach out to Winfield to resolve the issue. After all, the rap on the coach has been that he’s a little too much “my way or the highway,” which eventually wears thin with some people (players included). So either Childress has grown through experience, or he’s never actually been as bad as he’s been painted and/or perceived.
Either way, the results of resolving things with Winfield and his role in the matter speak for themselves.
From Winfield’s side, he was beginning to lose some credibility himself. Both younger players and even key veterans either publicly questioned his stance or at least indirectly “took sides” with Childress.
While he was out, younger guys were getting more and more reps at his spot and doing well (which is fine). But at some point every player in this league is going to get old and lose a step. Given Winfield’s stance in opposition to the head coach, he likely would not be getting any benefit of the doubt had he allowed things to continue to fester.
He was also putting himself under the microscope with fans, something that a cornerback already faces on game day. If he were to get burned in pass coverage it wouldn’t take the fickle fans of Minnesota long to turn on him.
After all, it's not the Minnesota Winfields...but it's not the Minnesota Chili's, either. Neither player or coach are more important than the team.
So in the end, both Childress and Winfield were proactive in working to resolve things and open up the lines of communication. Childress probably understands who Winfield is as a person and how to communicate with him more effectively. And Winfield probably better understands the overall vision Childress has for the team.
Winfield has gone on record saying he respects every coach and player on the team. Childress stated he is excited to have Winfield’s leadership back and called him a “talented veteran.”
Reports are that Winfield and Childress met a few times, talked on the phone, exchanged text messages and even had dinner a few times.
It’s a testimony to both individuals they were able to resolve their issues. Because more often than not, in a business so infiltrated with significant egos, it just doesn’t happen. But it’s also a reflection of the kind of character Antoine Winfield and Brad Childress have -- the very character this regime is trying to instill in the TEAM.