ANALYSIS: Vikings players privately say team in turmoil with Childress at helm
ST. PAUL - In January 2006, still stinging from the infamous Love Boat scandal, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf hired Brad Childress to clean up his dysfunctional organization.
One of eight NFL owners with a head coaching vacancy that offseason, Wilf was enamored of Childress' pedigree -- Childress had been offensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin and with the Philadelphia Eagles -- and he quickly signed Childress to a five-year contract.
"He embodies class, character, discipline and is a great family man," Wilf said at the time. "Bottom line: Brad Childress is a winner."
And yet, the Vikings' circus atmosphere is back.
And Childress is the ringleader.
He led the Vikings to more wins each year in his first four seasons as head coach, culminating in a 12-4 record last season and an appearance in the NFC championship game. Many players and even some coaches tolerated him because of the results, yet Childress' penchant for bullying, contradicting himself and throwing players under the bus has fueled an embarrassing stretch that hasn't eased the team's 3-5 start.
Still, Childress always had the support of Wilf, until the coach dumped receiver Randy Moss -- after the team traded a third-round draft pick to get him last month -- without consulting ownership or other top executives.
Although reports suggested Childress would have been fired if the Vikings had lost to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, indications are Wilf is reluctant to
give up on this season, given the major investments the Vikings have made to make a championship run. But Childress might get ousted when (if) the Vikings notch a seventh loss.
The Vikings rallied from a 14-point deficit to force overtime and beat the Cardinals. Afterward, though, nary a player publicly threw support toward their beleaguered coach.
"We know that Childress doesn't have our backs, so why should we have his?" one player said. "We're playing for us, and we're winning despite him."
Childress' most egregious errors have been criticizing players after games and questioning effort during practices.
"He has absolutely no people skills," one team source said.
Recently, Childress unwisely picked two targets.
After a 28-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 24, Childress was critical of quarterback Brett Favre, who threw three interceptions.
"You can't throw it to them; you've got to play within the confines of our system," Childress said. "Sometimes it's OK to punt the football."
Favre wasn't the only one irked by that comment.
"For a lot of guys, that was a turning point," one player said.
Although Childress didn't help himself with ownership, three players said this week they supported his decision to dump Moss, one insisting that, despite his potential, the veteran receiver's production didn't justify enduring the antics.
Another Childress mistake: He questioned the effort of Percy Harvin, who was hobbled with an ankle injury, on Friday and threatened to make him inactive for the Cardinals game.
Harvin was animated in defending himself, but Childress responded by saying, "I can say whatever I want," according to one source.
The two had to be separated, but players said Harvin later was applauded by several teammates and even coaches for standing up to Childress.
Six Vikings players said they want Childress fired but that they refuse to give up on their teammates.
"We got too many good football players, and we won't lay down like Dallas," one player said.
"As much as I hate Childress," another player said, "I will keep playing."
During an interview with the Pioneer Press on Monday, Childress was asked if he cares whether his players like him.
"I always say it's like being a parent," he said. "If being a friend is a byproduct of that, great. I just want to make sure I do the right thing with players."
The Vikings have strong leaders in the locker room and among the assistant coaches, most prominently defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Interviewed several times for head coaching vacancies, Frazier is respected because he played in the NFL, for the Bears from 1981-85, and because he is always calm and collected.
"Guys trust him," one player said. "He's going to treat you a certain way. He doesn't single people out."
The Bears may be a flawed team, but they're in better shape than the Vikings right now, and they would push a rival one step closer to a season-ending implosion with a victory Sunday in Chicago.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.