Posted on Sat, Sep. 09, 2006

[size=13pt]Striding toward a positive reputation[/size]

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf continues to support coach Brad Childress in holding players accountable for negative actions on and off the field.

BY SEAN JENSEN
Pioneer Press


Although his overhauled team hasn't won a game yet, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said his franchise already has made significant strides this year.

After lying low much of the preseason, Wilf pledged support for the job coach Brad Childress has done in creating a "culture of accountability."

"We know it's going to take some time," Wilf said, "but we feel that all the steps that we're taking are in the right direction. We hopefully will see immediate results, both off the field and on the field."

Wilf said his team might still find itself in the news for negative reasons.

"You can't have perfect individuals," Wilf said. "But they have to understand the philosophy of what we're trying to do. And through that, we will constantly improve on and off the field."

Much to his disappointment, the Vikings cast themselves in a negative spotlight twice last month. Receiver Koren Robinson was arrested after a high-speed chase that ended near the Minnesota State Mankato campus, where the team was staying for training camp. Eleven days later, safety Dwight Smith was cited for indecent conduct in downtown Minneapolis.

Robinson, who signed a three-year, $12.7 million contract in March, was released Aug. 26, though the club never gave a specific reason for the dismissal.

Asked if Smith has been disciplined, Wilf said, "I leave that up to the coach.

"But we're on the same page on those issues."

Childress has been mum about how he plans to handle misconduct. But Wilf promised last October to fine, suspend or even release players involved in the infamous boat-party scandal. Punishments for the two players charged, cornerback Fred Smoot and left tackle Bryant McKinnie, have not been confirmed. In fact, McKinnie agreed to a seven-year, $48.5 million contract extension on Friday.

Asked why the club hasn't announced punishments, to publicly prove its commitment to accountability, Wilf said, "Fans will see over time," adding the Vikings didn't owe any "explanations."

"We won't air out everything that happens to our players," Wilf said. "There might be things that are disciplined inside the organization that no one knows about."

Wilf, though, insisted the code of conduct he introduced after the boat-party incident remains intact.

Asked if new players were required to sign the code of conduct, Wilf said, "Absolutely."

Vikings safety Darren Sharper said he respects the accountability Childress and Wilf demand from the players.

"It should be like that," Sharper said. "Although a lot of guys don't want to take the onus of being a role model and looked up to, it's like that when you're a professional athlete in any city. And you're going to be accountable for all your actions to yourself and your team, because a lot of that rubs off on how the team is portrayed."

Sharper said he and his teammates appreciate that Childress doesn't jump to conclusions and tries to keep their issues private.

"I think that's the best way to handle it, because we're a family, and every time there is something that happens within the family, you want to work them out amongst one another," Sharper said. "And a lot of times, you have to wait and see when all the facts come out. So you have to keep it in-house, so you don't automatically say, 'OK, we're going to fine this guy because we heard something bad happened.' That's how you keep things together. A lot of guys appreciate that, and I appreciate that."

Although Childress has been patient in handling issues, Sharper said players have to brace themselves if they did something wrong.

"You know that your actions are going to have consequences if you don't do the right things," Sharper said. "But he's not just going to come out and say, 'This guy was wrong for doing this or that,' when everything hasn't been found out."

As for the decision to hire Childress, Sharper said he knew Wilf wanted to emphasize someone who was mindful of signing players of high character.

"The Wilf family wanted to bring someone in who was definitely going to make that a big issue and make sure that is something we're going to clean up," Sharper said. "That's why it's been stressed so much."

Specifically, Wilf said the Vikings passed on a lot of players in free agency and the NFL draft.

"We red-flagged those players coming out of college that we felt might have had character issues," Wilf said. "We passed on them throughout the draft, no matter how high up they were.

"We're doing our best to make character a central point in who we're going to get because players of character are respected by their teammates," Wilf said. "That's an important part of the chemistry makeup."

Sean Jensen can be reached at [email protected]