Kinder, Gentler Chilly?

Brad Childress came to the Vikings with orders to clean up an organization that had built a bad reputation. In his first year, his "bad cop" stance left some players at odds with his philosophy. A year later, it would seem Childress and his players are much more on the same page.

For much of the early portion of the 2007 season, the term "hot seat" was being thrown around the league for coaches that might find their current jobs in jeopardy. Topping that list were Romeo Crennel of the Browns and Brad Childress.

Three months later, as the coaching carousel begins in earnest, nobody is talking about Crennel or Childress. Both came within a game of making the playoffs and suddenly there is considerably more optimism surrounding both franchises. It would seem that, in his second season, Childress found a way to connect much better with his players.

Childress didn't make many friends when one of his first acts as head coach was to get into a head-butting contest with Daunte Culpepper. Childress wanted everyone on the same page and couldn't have a separate set of rules for his star quarterback – something that was clear under the Tice Administration if you looked closely enough. Instead of getting into a war of words that could divide the locker room, Childress simply got rid of Culpepper.

The frustration of 2006 was clear late in the season, as the Vikings dropped eight of their last 10 games to finish 6-10. This time around, the team finished 5-2 in their final seven games and showed flashes of being the type of team that can not only compete for a playoff spot, but take the next step to getting deep into the playoffs.

What was the difference? Improved communication was one of the factors. Childress had his cliché "one game at a time" theory about just winning each individual week and the players seem to have bought into it. In the offseason, Antoine Winfield was at odds with Childress' philosophy. If it had come a year earlier, Winfield might have followed Culpepper out the door. Instead, they had a sit-down and aired the differences and things were at least improved this season, which is what Winfield and some of the other players wanted.

"He was open," Winfield said. "Guys could come up to him and talk. He smiled a lot more. The first year, it was very rare if you would see him smile."

When asked about that comment at his year-ending press conference Thursday, Childress quipped, "I'm better medicated this year."

Jokes aside, it has become evident that Childress has seen the light that he doesn't have to be everyone's buddy to be a successful head coach, but that he can't be a dictator either. Those types of coaches don't last and, while his job initially was to clean up an organization that many viewed as a team of frat boys gone wild, it was apparent during the season that Childress has changed. He's not suddenly going to become a wacky funmeister any time soon, but it is clear that he has altered his style to be more accessible to other viewpoints.

Childress made some significant strides in being more accommodating in what he called "his second trip around the track." He started a council of veteran players that he met with weekly to hear what was on the minds of the players and what they would like to see in the way of personnel decisions during games. He also turned much of the play-calling over to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, something he never had under Andy Reid while the O.C. of the Eagles. His second year was much better than his first – and not just in terms of wins and losses.

"I think second-year relationships are huge – whether it be the second year in the system, the second year knowing the coach that is coaching you or the second year knowing the head coach that is standing in front of you," Childress said. "I thought I saw those things grow significantly this year."

Are we seeing a kinder, gentler Chilly? Maybe. But are we seeing a team that is buying into his philosophy a lot more than we did a year ago? It seems like it.

Brad Childress, you are now officially off the hot seat.

FRIDAY NOTES
* While Vikings fans had legitimate reasons to be worried about losing defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin when he interviewed with the Steelers last year and eventually was given the head coaching job, there shouldn't be the same level of panic that Leslie Frazier will get hired by the Dolphins. In his short time at the helm of the organization, Bill Parcells has already cleared out just about every vestige of the previous regime and seems to be molding it in his own image. He likely will pick a head coach that he has some personal experience with, something he and Frazier don't have. But it is a sign that yet another Vikings coordinator is on the short list of franchises looking for a new head coach and fans should get used to hearing his name pop up in those conversations.
* Another name being tossed out as a candidate for the Dolphins head coaching job is Mike Tice. It will be interesting to see how much consideration he gets for a franchise looking to build from the bottom up and a coach who had something of a reputation for being the dean of boys rather than a hard-nosed disciplinarian like Parcells.
* Childress said he has received permission from two teams to speak with a couple of his assistant coaches, but declined to specify which coaches or which teams had contacted him.
* There is some buzz that the assistant other than Frazier that has drawn interest might be defensive backs coach Joe Woods. Woods came to the Vikings with Tomlin, and Tomlin attempted to take him with him when he was hired by the Steelers. But because it was essentially a lateral move, the Vikings were within their right to prevent Woods from leaving. A year later, things might be a little different.
* The NFL and Pepsi have announced their five finalists for Rookie of the Year to be voted on by fans. Aside from Adrian Peterson, the other candidates are wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, running back Marshawn Lynch, offensive tackle Joe Thomas and linebacker Patrick Willis.
* A bunch of Vikings are going to go under the knife this offseason for surgeries. They include key veterans Pat Williams, Bryant McKinnie, Antoine Winfield and Bobby Wade.
* The Viking signed six practice squad members to 2008 contacts – guard Brian Daniels, cornerback Dee McCann, running back Arkee Whitlock and wide receivers Justin Surrency, Martin Nance and Joel Filani.

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