[size=13pt]Vikings Insider: Be it credit or blame, it's on the coach[/size]
Brad Childress' belief is that he can win with this team and that it's his fault if he doesn't.

Kevin Seifert
Last update: September 07, 2006 – 6:02 PM


Dozens of players made their way into Brad Childress' office this offseason. Some wanted to meet the new Vikings coach. Others were, uh, asked to be met. Some were visiting free agents, listening attentively to Childress' recruiting pitch.
They all heard a variation of the same speech.

"When I talked to them," Childress said, "whether it was a group or their wives or a 1-on-1, I told them that there is no guarantee that I am going to get three swings at this job. I might not get to be Bill Belichick and get two different jobs, or be Bill Parcells and coach three different places.

"I can only count on getting a chance to do this one time. So if I get a chance to do it one time and one way, it's got to be the way I know."

And with that revelation, Childress began a process that has made this season a referendum on his coaching ability. Although he shares decision-making authority with several Vikings colleagues, he has done them all a favor by arranging a public template that will hold him squarely accountable for the Vikings' performance in 2006.

Most new coaches receive some kind of grace period because the teams they inherit are in disarray, conditions that led to the previous coach's ouster. Turnarounds and culture changes take time, and in the first season, simple progress -- a better record, a late-season win streak -- can be considered a success.

Childress, however, not only has spoken about doing things his way, he has acknowledged the talent level already in place when he took over. In January, Childress said he pursued the Vikings job because "the personnel lends itself to having success in a hurry."

Childress inherited three first-round draft choices and nose tackle Pat Williams on his defensive line. He had the luxury of having quarterback Brad Johnson under contract when he decided to ship out presumptive starter Daunte Culpepper.

Childress had two above-average cornerbacks in Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot, an All-Pro free safety in Darren Sharper and the impending return of Pro Bowl center Matt Birk. The Vikings then further upgraded during free agency and the draft, most notably signing All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson, running back Chester Taylor and kicker Ryan Longwell.

Although their personnel is far from perfect, especially at receiver and linebacker, the Vikings hardly resemble the mess most first-year coaches are brought in to address.

So here's the rub: If you agree the Vikings have a roster at least as talented as last year's, the key variable in this season's outcome has to be Childress. If he and his staff do a better job than former coach Mike Tice and his staff, the Vikings should improve on Tice's 9-7 record and make the playoffs. Right?

Of course, other variables are sure to arise. The Vikings' early schedule -- which opens against three consecutive playoff teams in Washington, Carolina and Chicago -- is tough. Injuries are unpredictable, as is the proficiency of opponents in the NFL's annual rotation of top teams.

Nevertheless, it appears that Childress, in his first year as a head coach at any level, has set himself up for exceedingly and perhaps unfairly high expectations. Even some of the NFL's best coaches have fallen short of such achievements in the first season with their current team.

For every Jon Gruden, who went 12-4 and won Super Bowl XXXVII in his inaugural season in Tampa Bay, there is a Belichick -- whose first New England team went 5-11 in 2000.

Gruden, Parcells, Indianapolis' Tony Dungy and Seattle's Mike Holmgren all produced winning seasons in their first year. Belichick, Andy Reid (Philadelphia), Marty Schottenheimer (San Diego), Tom Coughlin (New York Giants) and John Fox (Carolina) all finished .500 or below.

Where will Childress land? It's all on him.