EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Brad Childress is gone, one season after he famously picked up Brett Favre at the airport, got a contract extension and came within a field goal of reaching the Super Bowl.
The Vikings fired Childress on Monday, ending an eventful and often tumultuous run with the team marred recently by player unrest, livid fans and an angry boss over everything from his abrupt decisions to a 3-7 start.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who has interviewed seven times for NFL head coaching jobs, will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Frazier and owner Zygi Wilf, who stormed out of the locker room after Minnesota’s 31-3 loss at home to rival Green Bay on Sunday, were scheduled to talk with reporters later Monday afternoon.
“I know it’s a tough one to take over because he was working for a guy he loved and was loyal to,” said Colts coach Jim Caldwell, a friend of Frazier’s who was also a candidate for the job here before Childress got it. “And it’s hard for all of us because Brad Childress is a good man and a good coach. But Leslie deserves an opportunity, and I know he’ll do a good job.”
Childress, who is the second NFL coach to be fired this season after Dallas cut Wade Phillips loose, thanked the Vikings for the chance to coach in Minnesota.
“I am proud of our accomplishments and believe the foundation of this football team is stronger today than when I became head coach,” he said in a statement released by the team.
The loss to the Packers was the final blow to Childress in his fifth season in charge of the team. His most-lopsided home defeat as head coach dropped his overall record to 40-37, including 1-2 in the playoffs.
Childress went all in with Favre, riding his incredible 2009 season to the NFC championship game and then going down this year under the weight of his 17 interceptions. But the team’s problems transcend the shaky performance by the 41-year-old quarterback.
And the players, for all their frustration with Childress and his style, put the blame on themselves after getting beat up by the Packers.
“We’re grown men. He’s not out there playing with us,” tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said when asked on Sunday about Childress’s status. “You’ve got to look in the mirror sometimes. We’re 3-7. You go 3-7, you always want to blame somebody else. Sometimes you can’t blame somebody else. Sometimes you have to focus on yourself and what you’re doing wrong.”
Childress took over for the fired Mike Tice in 2006 after spending seven years with the Eagles, including four as the offensive coordinator. He was chosen by Wilf to instill discipline and demand better off-the-field behavior from a team that was embarrassed the year before by a bye-week boat party gone bad and a number of other legal problems for players.
However, Childress stumbled in his first year and never fully gained the faith of the fans — or some of his players.
Childress infamously cut dissatisfied wide receiver Marcus Robinson on Christmas Eve, had trouble connecting and communicating with some of his players and often came across to the public as rigid and aloof.
The offense struggled without a clear solution at quarterback, and it wasn’t until last year, when Childress persuaded Favre to put off retirement a second time, that the Vikings finally put up points and became the dominant team that matched the Pro Bowl talent on the roster.
Still, they went from 6-10 to 8-8 to 10-6 to 12-4 in his first four seasons, losing in the NFC title game in overtime last January to the eventual champion New Orleans Saints. Last November, Wilf — pleased by the stability and the progress — gave Childress a contract extension. According to an ESPN.com report on Nov. 19, the deal ran through 2013 but the final year was the team’s option.
This season almost seemed destined for doom, given how smoothly it all went in 2009 until the very end and how well Favre played last year by taking care of the ball and making age-defying throws into the end zone.
This season, Favre didn’t show up for camp until mid-August, and the next week wide receiver Sidney Rice had hip surgery. Wide receiver Percy Harvin missed big chunks of time, mostly because of migraine headaches, and center John Sullivan was out of action for several weeks with a nagging calf injury.
Coincidence or not, the offense was out of sync to start, Favre began turning the ball over at costly times and the Vikings suddenly were missing last year’s magic.
The relationship between Favre and Childress, which was tense at times in 2009, seemed to sour further when Favre threw three ill-fated interceptions in the Oct. 24 game at Green Bay and the Vikings lost to Favre’s old team.
Childress, who was just 3-9 against the rival Packers as Minnesota coach, was sharply critical of Favre’s decision-making afterward, and the coach drew his own criticism for failing to challenge a Packers touchdown catch that could’ve been overturned because the ball was being bobbled.
Then the situation really went south following a loss at New England. Wide receiver Randy Moss, acquired in a trade for a third-round draft pick just four weeks earlier, went out of his way to praise the Patriots and criticize Childress in a post-game rant.
The next day, Childress told his players he had cut Moss and never fully explained the situation to them or the public. Wilf was reportedly angry that Childress didn’t tell him first of his plan, and there were anonymous reports of growing dissatisfaction in the locker room about the boss. Childress and Harvin got into a heated argument during one practice over an MRI test on his sprained ankle.
Fans made no secret about their frustration, with thousands of “Fire Chilly” signs distributed on Nov. 7 outside the stadium before the Vikings played Arizona and several chants breaking out from the seats during the game.
The Vikings rallied for an overtime victory over the Cardinals to table the firing talk temporarily, but a 27-13 loss at Chicago on Nov. 14 and the blowout against Green Bay cranked it back up again.
The Packers also blew out Dallas the day before the Cowboys fired Phillips earlier this month. Green Bay linebacker Desmond Bishop posted on Twitter on Monday that he hates to see anyone lose his job.
“However, that’s gotta be a record of some sort to get 2 head coaches fired,” Bishop tweeted.
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