EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Last month, a blurry photo featuring Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress dressed as a flight attendant with a black wig and a pink apron appeared on one of his player's Twitter pages.
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was the culprit, but he had more in mind than to embarrass the boss for his attempt to lighten the mood on the team plane.
Shiancoe stops by to chat
Visanthe Shiancoe, the Vikings' outgoing tight end, talked with NFL.com readers Friday about Brad Childress' headset choice, playing with Brett Favre and Jared Allen rocking a mullet. **More ...**
"I wanted to do that so people could see he's not that guy people see on the interviews, just so monotone and serious all the time," Shiancoe said. "He knows how to flip it on and off when appropriate."
The contract extension that Childress signed Thursday was a sign of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf's trust in the coach's guidance, as well as evidence of the team's connection with a man who made an unpleasant first impression.
Aloof and rigid to many players in his first year while the Vikings finished 6-10, Childress has learned to loosen up and positioned himself somewhere between pushover and dictator.
"He's more relaxed around the locker room, talking to guys more, trying to have an open relationship with everyone on the team," cornerback Cedric Griffin said Friday. "He's been doing a great job of coaching and bringing in the players and putting the right staff around us. I commend him."
The Vikings have steadily improved since Childress' first season in 2006, going 8-8 in 2007 and then 10-6 last season to win the NFC North. This season, they're 8-1 behind Brett Favre, whom Childress persistently courted to put retirement on hold again and be his quarterback, and on their way to a second consecutive division title entering Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Childress hasn't won a playoff game, and he remains unpopular with a significant portion of a fan base that's still bothered by his conservative style and stake in the Vikings' earlier struggles on offense -- and skeptical of his ability to win without Favre.
Even Shiancoe couldn't help but smile when jokingly asked whether Favre should receive a percentage of Childress' contract, which now runs through the 2013 season, a league source told NFL Network's Jason La Canfora.
While his drive for a new stadium has been hampered by the sluggish economy, Wilf has aggressively signed off on big-money contracts to keep top executives and key players in the fold. Even with all the negative public opinion toward Childress in his first few years, Wilf has consistently supported the coach.
Childress caught heat for failing to develop Tarvaris Jackson or find success with anyone else at quarterback, and then his seemingly desperate pursuit of Favre brought more criticism.
Childress once cut wide receiver Marcus Robinson on Christmas Eve and withheld wide receiver Troy Williamson's check after he missed a game for an extended stay in his hometown following his grandmother's death. Childress reconsidered and returned the money.
That, for many players, marked a change in the coach. He listened to his leadership council, a group of veteran players he assembled to voice opinions on logistics such as practice times, and ultimately won some respect in a locker room that still wasn't sure about him at that point in 2007.
"You could say that was the turning point," wide receiver Sidney Rice said. "It means a lot to us when he puts it in front of us and asks us. Not saying yes to us all the time, but just listening to our opinion is great."
Childress acknowledged that he has changed over his four years in Minnesota, but he hasn't strayed far from his principles.
"I just thought that it was important to do it my way," Childress said. "I can look myself in the mirror if they show me a door. It's the way that I wanted to do it. It's the way they bought into doing it. I didn't feel like those things should get compromised."
Childress made clear how uncomfortable he was with the attention on him, trying hard to deflect the focus to his assistant coaches and players. He mentioned receiving congratulatory text messages from players such as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and addressed the new contract in an appreciative talk with his team Friday.
"I think he was kind of teary-eyed," Griffin said. "I saw his eyes water up."
Childress, who has a psychology degree from Eastern Illinois, often has remarked about how much he enjoys working with this current group of Vikings players.
"It's a business, but people are going to be people first," Shiancoe said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press