I’m not down on coaches, honestly. For all of my railing against rigid system-think and bully coaches who get off on yelling at twentysomethings, I think a good coach means more in the NFL than in any other sports league. The coach is, ideally, the architect of a vision that tailors itself to the strengths of the team, matching the coach’s experience and knowledge with the unique talents of his players. What the coach is not, however, is the star of the drama surrounding his team. Even Bill Belichick had the sense to allow Tom Brady to become the star of the Patriots during the dynasty years, and that team relied on their coach’s system perhaps more than any successful team since then.
All of this brings us to Brad Childress, and the following question: Has any franchise allowed the insecurity of one individual to drag an entire team down like the Vikings have allowed Brad Childress to do over the last several years?
To review: Brad Childress drafted Tarvaris Jackson after trading up to get him, essentially anointing him the project quarterback of the future for his Vikings. Except when things got difficult in the first year, Childress scrapped that plan and moved to more stable, if infinitely less exciting veterans (a side note: The story of Tarvaris Jackson is nowhere near written), only to flip flop between his young prospect and established journeymen as time progressed. Eventually, the whole decision was taken out of his hands when Brett Favre was brought in to become quarterback, and for a season things functioned well, largely because there really wasn’t much for Chilly to do other than draw up plays for Favre to adopt as his own. This year, however, with tensions running high thanks to the absence of last years refreshing ease, Chilly has already fallen back into old habits, throwing his quarterback under the bus to pave the way for a return to “building for the future” with Tarvaris (SOMEONE WITH THAT KIND OF ATHLETICISM IS NOT A PAWN, GUYS). Then the most recent example: Chilly brings Moss to the Vikings, and when Moss gives a press conference in which some could infer that Bill Belichick runs a better program than Brad Childress (WHAAAAAAAA?!?!?), Moss is cut from the team as “not the kind of player we want”. Make no mistake; using that press conference as an example of Moss being bad for the team is like going for a swim and complaining about it being wet. To borrow from Chris Rock: Randy Moss didn’t go crazy; Randy Moss went Randy Moss.
In the end, this wasn’t as much about undermining the team as it was about undermining Brad Childress and the way his world works. The problem is that Childress’s world, in which his authority reigns supreme as he tries to discover how he should govern, has never existed in the NFL. You either earn credibility by winning without known stars in order to leverage that credibility to control them (as Belichick has done with success), or you accept that outrageous personalities may not accept tight management from someone they don’t revere (Rex Ryan is sort of pulling this off, and Gruden did this in Tampa Bay). You don’t get to do both, though, which is what Chilly is trying to pull here. You can’t be unwilling to earn cred while complaining that players who have don’t pay homage. The result here is akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes if people told the emperor he was naked and he responded by having them executed. In trying to impose his own authority on the team, Childress has lost any ability to establish his identity on the team. It’s embarrassing that in the end, after all of the players who have shouldered the blame for Brad Childress’s Vikings failing to achieve at their talent level, the most difficult personality for the Vikings to deal with, and the one that brings his career down, is his own.