Sat, September 2, 2006
[size=13pt]New look Vikings[/size]
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings still wear purple. At least that hasn't changed.
With an entirely new coaching staff, redesigned uniforms, a renovated roster and new sod on the practice fields, the Vikings have undergone a striking overhaul during the past year.
"It is kind of like a fresh start," said centre Matt Birk, a four-time Pro Bowl pick who is back from a season-long absence caused by a series of injuries to his midsection.
It apparently wasn't possible, though, to completely escape the stench left behind from last season. Twice since training camp began, new coach Brad Childress has been forced to answer questions about off-the-field trouble involving his players, most notably receiver Koren Robinson's charges on fleeing police and drunken driving.
Then, starting safety Dwight Smith was cited for indecent conduct with a woman last weekend in a stairwell outside a downtown Minneapolis nightclub.
"Just because you are here for six months or eight months, that culture does not change immediately," Childress said. "But that is certainly the goal, and we are not going to stop trying to get that right."
One of the reasons owner Zygi Wilf and his partners decided to fire Mike Tice was the litany of non-football problems that plagued the Vikings during his four-year tenure as coach. Arrests for assault. Scalped Super Bowl tickets. The Original Whizzinator. The Love Boat party.
Tice's teams were just as unreliable on the field, and ultimately a 33-34 record with just one playoff win prompted his departure.
So while Childress has been charged with cleaning up Minnesota's public image, one that was tarnished by lawbreaking and boorish behaviour long before Tice was hired, he also is responsible for re-establishing the Vikings as a perennial post-season team -- let alone leading them to that elusive Super Bowl trophy.
Childress has not arrived quietly. He let all of Tice's assistants go, even getting rid of trainer Chuck Barta after 21 years in the organization.
He let 15 free agents go, retaining only Robinson and backup safety Willie Offord. And Robinson, facing a possible season-long suspension for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, was cut last week.
"Change is tough. It's hard. There's nothing easy about it. You don't change for change's sake, but you don't stand pat because change is hard, either," said Childress."When there's change, there's people that are uncomfortable. This is not a comfortable business. It's not all squishy. You just want people that kind of know what to expect."