|Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press|
|Was Vikings owner Zygi Wilf's (right) hiring of Brad Childress as head coach in 2006 a typical result of politics?|
Brad Childress' time as Vikings head coach ended on Monday, and I sincerely feel bad for him. It's never easy for anyone to lose their job, especially around the holidays. At least Childress does have the benefit of having received a contract extension prior to the season, which will secure his family financially.
Yet the pain of losing his job will linger with him forever, and in spite of all the rhetoric coming from the Vikings organization about how they are better now than before Childress arrived, their team still must be rebuilt, redefined and re-energized.
But first, where did it all go wrong for Childress and the Vikings?
I would be lying if I didn't confess to at least a little disappointment about Childress' firing, as he provided much material for my weekly game management column. He never seemed to grasp the concept and, much like his mentor Andy Reid in Philadelphia, he kept repeating the same mistakes. As a fan you might wonder how Childress actually became a head coach without ever calling plays and just holding the title of offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. Yet, five years ago Childress was the really hot head-coaching candidate in the NFL, drawing strong interest from many of the nine teams that had openings that offseason. However, being the hot coach is much like being the hot political candidate -- it has more to do with politics than talent.
In Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Galdwell writes about his "Warren Harding Theory", which illustrates his argument using the story of former President Warren Harding, whom many historians have claimed rose through the political ranks to finally assume the office of the presidency based largely on the power of his classically attractive "tall, dark and handsome" physical appearance. Even in the new HBO hit series, "Boardwalk Empire" (I love the show), based on real life characters (my new favorite is Arnold Rothstein) from the 1920's, Harding is introduced to the audience as a mindless politician who might be able to gain entrance into the President's office entirely because of his political connections. Much like Harding's election for political office, becoming an NFL head coach has more to do with being elected rather than selected.
Childress rode the success of the Eagles to becoming a head coach, yet no one paid attention to his lack of leadership skills, or that he never called a game. He was "the candidate," and he had options, therefore, he must be good.
Most owners and executives in the NFL will choose to ignore sensitive questions, rather believing the political machine's propaganda. In the case of the league, the political machine consists of writers and coaches' agents who can put the right spin on the candidate, along with keeping the campaign booming. Another part of the political machine consists of endorsements from people in the league -- which always amazes me.
Information is always shared about coaches, but there can be only one victor. Why would one team want to help another when they are chasing the same prize? Why would Ford want to help General Motors? It doesn't make sense in the business world, but it makes sense to people in the NFL. One might say that isn't plausible, but then again, Harding got elected. Anything can happen when politics come into play.
Back to Childress, he became the head coach of the Vikings based on this political machine and then received an extension because of the play of Brett Favre last season. What made the Childress extension so unbelievable last year was that it was done during the season. Timing is everything, and Childress, along with his agent Bob Lamonte, used the momentum of success to secure his future.
With the dust settled and the season basically over, the Vikings' ownership group has to ask itself why it had to extend Childress at that point. Where was he going and who could they have possibly lost his coaching services to? These are difficult questions to answer, other than being caught up in the emotion of the season.
They failed to look back at Childress' ability to be a head coach prior to Favre. They also chose to ignore his mistakes in game management or his lack of communication skills. They completely ignored his lack of constructing an explosively creative offense (his key selling point before his hiring) or his ability to develop a quarterback. They chose to believe -- or hope for that matter -- everything would work out.
Never confuse hope for a plan.
Now, Childress is gone and this year's mess is left in the lap of interim coach Leslie Frazier. Frazier has interviewed for several head coaching jobs, but has been unable to secure one. Now he has one, but does he understand the magnitude of the problems he has inherited? Better yet, does the Vikings ownership group know, or are they going to assume that all these problems disappear with Childress?
The Vikings' roster does have talent, but it also has some severe problems. Without a future at quarterback, and a secondary that lacks players other than Antonie Winfield, this team has problems. Age in both lines makes a prior area of strength vulnerable. Making Frazier the head coach is a good idea for right now, as clearly the team stopped believing in Childress a while ago.
The players will play hard for Frazier, feeling like a black cloud has been lifted -- particularly the offense. I strongly suspect the Vikings will have their best game of the year offensively this week against the Redskins' defense.
But even with a win, the Vikings' problems won't go away, as they need to really define their identity moving forward without Favre and all the reasons Childress was originally hired (i.e., the West Coast offense). They have to re-evaluate themselves, and rejuvenate the organization to be reborn in a new style.
Is Frazier the right man to lead the rebirth? Hard to say now, but at least this time the ownership will have practical experience to make the decision, and won't have to rely on the political machine's propaganda.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.