Coaching failures hurt the Vikings’ potential

Published 8:31 am Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What happened to the Minnesota Vikings?

Fans are upset with coach Brad Childress after the team Sunday lost a playoff game to the Philadelphia Eagles 26-14. But you know what? The fans are correct. And I’m not the sort of fan to say that quickly. I usually back the coaches.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying fire the coaches. Let’s get that off the table. Some fans go to that step too quickly. Give credit where credit is due. The Vikings won the NFC North and made it to the playoffs.

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However, I do think there are some offensive sideline decisions that are hurting the on-the-field performance.

I think defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier runs a smooth operation, and the defense works hard. They get worn out from being on the field for far too long, but they play smartly and try hard. He probably will be made the head coach of another team for next season.

But when the offense is on the field, it seems Childress and his coaches are debating decisions at critical moments. They exhibit clock-management problems, most noticeably at the end of the New York Giants game but also at other times, such as the end of the first half against the Eagles. Are these signs of bigger problems?

It’s hard for the players to exhibit confidence when the coaches can’t figure out what they want to do. Is he at odds with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell?

And the play calling is questionable. In the game Sunday, the Vikings would run on first and second downs, fail to get many yards, then have to convert on third down. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson would miss his target, then the lackluster punting squad would come on the field.

I know. I know. We have great running backs. We should run them. I agree. But if our play calling pattern becomes so predictable that I can guess run or pass from home, imagine what a field day Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson had.

The Vikes had some great players this year that I hope return. Running back Adrian Peterson, running back Chester Taylor, defensive end Jared Allen (I want his jersey because he plays with such passion), kicker Ryan Longwell, defensive linemen Pat and Kevin Williams, safety Darren Sharper, receiver Bernard Berrian, center Matt Birk (a bad mistake Sunday but usually reliable), linebacker Chad Greenway, tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Jimmy Kleinsasser.

Jackson probably can play well. When he is hot, he can hit his targets, like in the game against the Arizona Cardinals. Was that the guy we were waiting for, the one who was good in camp? But he gets flustered easily and his passes lose accuracy, like in all the games since then. Maybe we just need the kid to age a little. Maybe he plays better as a backup.

But Childress is so stubborn about Jackson being the starting quarterback, even though the young guy really isn’t ready, he’s willing to lose a playoff game over it. It was hard to watch Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb throw the ball accurately so often, then watching Jackson miss, even on short tosses. He seems scared. He didn’t want the victory like McNabb did.

Perhaps that stubbornness is the downfall of Childress. Stubborn can be good when you have a vision that you want to see through, yet are open-minded enough to let up when your decisions aren’t working. It can be bad if you continue to do it your way just because you’re the boss.

After the loss to the Atlanta Falcons Dec. 21, Childress should have turned back to Gus Frerotte, who was 8-3 as quarterback this season. Frerotte led the Vikings to victory over quality teams such as the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears. He isn’t mobile, but he can put the football where the receivers can catch it.

Another example of stubbornness: It was three-and-out madness on Sunday, yet Childress never adjusted his game plan. On one play, Fox showed Jackson looking to the sidelines for a play, and when he got it, the look on his face was a grimace, as if he disliked the choice. I wondered if he thought: “This didn’t work last time.” The play was a bust.

Congratulations to Rick Spielman, vice president of player personnel for the Minnesota Vikings. It seems to me that Spielman and the front office of the Vikings have stocked the team with enough quality players to make the NFL playoffs.

Coach Brad Childress and his staff need get the wrinkles out of their system, play the best players and in fall 2009 come out crushing their opponents. They need to find a way to have this team playing at full potential.

And from the sounds of the fans online, it seems they think replacing Jackson is part of the solution.

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.