The Vikings will close the regular season Sunday against St. Louis with no hopes of a playoff berth and plenty of questions about the job first-year coach Brad Childress has done this season.
If players were on the fence about Childress as a coach, he might have pushed many of them over the edge when he decided to cut receiver Marcus Robinson on Christmas Eve.
Robinson had spoken out about some of the issues with Childress and the Vikings offense in a newspaper article one day before being told he would be placed on waivers, but this was no way to treat a 10-year veteran. Players who returned from a three-day break on Tuesday — the Vikings were given time off after losing at Green Bay last Thursday — admitted they were surprised by the move.
Not surprisingly, none of the players spoke out against Childress, but don’t think for one second that the decision to cut loose Robinson this late in the season won’t be noticed by potential free agents around the NFL.
It also will be noticed all through a Vikings locker room where Childress has managed to create an air of negative tension throughout the season.
Many fans in Minnesota would like to see the plug pulled on Childress’ act after only one season but that isn’t going to happen. Owner Zygi Wilf gave Childress a five-year contract last January and the former Eagles offensive coordinator is going to get at least one more year to prove he can get the Vikings on the right track.
If Childress is going to last for the life of his contract, however, he will have to be willing to make some adjustments in his coaching style and handling of players. The key question facing the Vikings’ brain trust entering the offseason will be this: Did Childress learn anything and how can he build on that in 2007?
If Childress did not learn from 2006 — and worse yet, no one can convince him he needs to make some changes — things could turn as ugly in the locker room as they did on the field, at least offensively, this season.
Childress has said he will evaluate all areas of his football team this offseason, including his decision to be the chief play-caller. While it seems unlikely he will give up that assignment, it might be wise for him to make that move.
Considering offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s inexperience, Childress could be best served by bringing in a veteran offensive mind.
Childress has seemed overmatched in his attempt to call plays all season and isn’t able to devote as much time to other areas of being a coach, such as gaining the trust of his players and communicating with them.
The coach continues to believe in the West Coast system and recently called it a “kick ass offense.” But Childress’ insistence on trying to make the players fit into his idea of the system instead of working with what he was gives the impression that he is not flexible.
Having a veteran assistant whom he trusts could be the first step toward helping Childress fulfill the potential Wilf saw in him last January.
The Vikings’ 24-13 victory over the then-Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game on Dec. 26, 1976 put Minnesota in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in franchise history. That ended up being the last playoff game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. It was the second time the teams had played in the NFC title game.
The first time they played for the conference title, the Vikings topped the Rams, 14-10, on Dec. 29, 1974 but lost to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
The Vikings defeated the host Rams, 14-7, on Dec. 26, 1977 in their opening playoff game but lost to Dallas in the NFC title match-up.
The Vikings defense had five interceptions, including two by cornerback Brian Williams, in a 27-13 victory over the Rams last season. Safety Darren Sharper and cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield also had interceptions.
Rams head coach Scott Linehan served as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator from 2002 to 2004. He spent last season as the Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator.
Rams offensive lineman Adam Goldberg is a native of Edina, Minn., and played for the Vikings from 2003-05.
Most of the Vikings’ 2007 schedule has been set. The team will play host to Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Washington, Oakland, San Diego and the third-place finisher in the NFC South. The Vikings will play at Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Dallas, the New York Giants, Denver, Kansas City and the third-place team in the NFC West.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s definitely a different feel this week. You’ve just got to play for pride. You’ve got to finish the season strong. This is a week where you can look for next year and kind of get off on a good note with a win and that’s what we’re going to try to do.” — Linebacker Ben Leber on the fact the Vikings have little to play for in their regular-season finale Sunday against St. Louis.