How much more patience can Wilf have?
Put yourself in the shoes of owner Zygi Wilf. He hired Brad Childress as his first head coach less than two years ago. For the most part, Childress has been exactly who he said he would be and appears to have pursued the vision that Wilf wanted for the franchise.
He has made tremendous strides in weeding out the bad characters and rebuilt the locker room with mostly high-character players. He has restored discipline to a team that appeared to be out of control. He has committed himself to developing young players and building for the long-term future. He has not succumbed to temptation to add any high-priced, quick-fix, end-of-their-career veterans. No, he has stuck his neck out to develop and build with young, unproven players at a lot of key positions – namely quarterback.
That philosophy at least appeared to come from the very top down, not just the head coach. But the locals are getting quite restless, and they may not be the only ones. There could be cracks from within the organization. And the nationwide speculation is beginning to run rampant.
How long can Wilf continue to support the man he hired? Right or wrong, at what point does your customer base get their way? Short of putting together some immediate string of wins on the field, Wilf is in a tough spot.
For instance, one marginally credible blog is reporting that a source close to Wilf is contemplating buying out the remainder of Childress' contract and elevating defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier for the remainder of this season.
True or not, reliable or not, just about every hardcore Viking fan has heard or read the report. It’s out there, and Wilf’s customer base has latched onto it.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield also transmitted another somewhat cryptic message earlier this week during an interview on KFAN (excerpted in the StarTribune ), saying there are no secrets to what ails the team.
“This game is real simple,” Winfield said. “You have to put certain players in position to make plays. If you’re not doing that, you’re going to get the result that we had [Sunday] – thirty-four-0.”
Not putting players in position to make plays would seem to point the finger at the coaches.
Again, true or not, it reveals serious dissention from within the ranks, as Winfield is considered a leader in the locker room.
Also after the Green Bay blowout, E.J. Henderson offered an assessment that doesn’t require too much to read between the lines.
As reported by one of the team’s beat writers, “They snuck up on us a little bit,” Henderson said. “But whatever they do, we’ve got to adjust to it. We didn't do a good job adjusting in the first half. In the second half, I think we did a better job. But we didn't do that from the start. We can't give up 100 yards in the first half and play our style of defense.”
The “we didn’t do a good job of adjusting” would appear to question the coaching.
“The thing about it is, everyone has to be held accountable, from top to bottom, on their individual performances, players and coaches included,” receiver Bobby Wade said in this report . “We just got to really look at ourselves.”
Wade does not leave out the coaching in his assessment.
These are not notoriously self-centered players. They are team-oriented guys for the most part. They aren’t specifically ripping their head coach. But it’s obvious that there is at least some level of frustration with the coaching they are getting. It is obvious that on at least some level they feel they are being out-coached.
Then there is the quote from Dwight Smith, who was apparently joking around on the sidelines during the team’s 34-0 loss to Green Bay last week. “What you’ve got to understand is, for fans and people like that, football is more important than it is for players,” Smith said.
This is a player who counted $1.2 million against the team’s salary cap last season. For the average fan, to whom more than $100 for a single ticket to a game is a LOT of money, Smith is the one who does not understand.
It begs the question: Has Childress lost control of the locker room?
The local media, with whom Childress has fostered a Chilly (pun intended) relationship from the get go, has recently compared him to the one-year, 3-13 Les Steckel. Like Steckel, Childress is a fine man, but the continued comparisons are painful to even recollect for any Viking fan who remembers 1984.
Florio points to several specific issues and suggests both in this piece and his website that the team’s veterans are on the verge of a mutiny and that some of the players are quitting on Childress. He documents numerous other specifics, from on-field results, meddling too much in the defense, and numerous off-field public relations blunders.
But again, back to the fan base. One doesn’t have to dig too deep to get a sense of where they are at regarding the coach. Granted, you cannot let this crowd call plays for you on Sunday or guide you in your roster moves, but they are Wilf’s customer base.
Childress himself is not naïve to the situation.
“The thing I told [the players] is that if they're not ready to play, that's my fault,” he said after last week’s loss. “I'm the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and that win or loss goes after my name. If I was a factor and I didn’t get them ready, I'll take that.”
Can Childress right the ship? This weekend’s game at home against the 2-7 Oakland Raiders with Daunte Culpepper at quarterback is as much a must-win game as Childress has seen since coming to Minnesota. Another loss, under these circumstances, might be too much to bear for Wilf.