Posted on Sat, Sep. 16, 2006

[size=13pt]Vikings' Triangle whole again[/size]

Wilf happy with energy Spielman brings to team

BY SEAN JENSEN
Pioneer Press


The Vikings' Triangle of Authority is working, now that Rick Spielman has replaced Fran Foley as player personnel vice president.

Only the name doesn't work for Spielman, who teams with head coach Brad Childress and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski to run the Vikings for owner Zygi Wilf.

"To me, it's a not specific shape," Spielman said. "There is so much interaction that happens between me and the coach, and me and Rob on business decisions. So to put in a geometric shape doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever. It's one team, and guys working together for what's best for the Minnesota Vikings."

Because Childress generally has been cast as the singular public voice of the organization, and because the team has been so guarded about the individual roles of the trio, it was easy to question the influence of Brzezinski and Spielman.

But Wilf now said he has been thrilled with the energy Spielman has infused at Winter Park and the synergy of his football triumvirate, a direct reflection of the business model he uses to run Garden Homes Development, his family's multi-billion-dollar company.

"I think it was important to bring Rick Spielman into the mix," Wilf said. "I felt that was a part of the team that we didn't have full control over, and Rick brings stability to that decision-making process."

That replaces the instability during Foley's tumultuous three-month stint that ended in May, following disagreements with staff members, including Childress, and heavy scrutiny of his resume. In came Spielman, a former Miami Dolphins executive who last was working as an analyst for ESPN.

"Right now, the chemistry is really special," Brzezinski said. "There are no personal agendas. Everyone understands their role. I believe we're set up for optimal performance."

Wilf insisted that there is no "fixed rule" on the percentage of authority Childress, Brzezinski and Spielman wield, and that he expects them to come to a consensus on every decision. Yet Wilf emphasized the importance of Spielman's expertise in the decision-making process.

"We brought in Rick Spielman because we need someone who had a full understanding of the players throughout the league," Wilf said. "The coach is busy running the team. He can't keep an eye on who's available. Rick needs to know what Coach needs and the type of player coach is looking for.

"I think so far, in the short time, it's worked out quite well."

Brzezinski, Childress and Spielman each report directly to Wilf, although they are constantly communicating. Spielman deals with Childress more than anyone else.

"Rick is the bridge," Brzezinski said. "During the season, there's a lot of bullets flying, and the coach is swamped. Rick spends a lot of time with Coach on personnel and our roster."

Spielman and Brzezinski also talk regularly, often as early as 6:30 a.m., when the former puts the latter through his rigorous workout. But Spielman and Brzezinski recognize Childress' input on all their decisions.

A lawyer by training, Brzezinski developed his reputation as a salary cap expert. He easily is the senior member of the triangle, a member of the organization since 1999 who was the de facto general manager since 2002. Former owner Red McCombs, hoping to save money, had resisted hiring a traditional personnel executive, so Brzezinski essentially served that role.

Although proud of the job he and his staff did, Brzezinski said he felt a more traditional approach would enable the Vikings to ensure "every stone was turned."

"We're more streamlined," Brzezinski said, "and it's nice to have an expert here, who can focus in that area, 24/7."

Brzezinski recommended the hire of a top personnel executive and even suggested Spielman as a candidate. Spielman's interpersonal skills have blended well into the front office. He said he and his staff might identify a "great player," but that is not enough if that player doesn't fit into Childress' system.

"Why bring in a square peg to fit the round hole?" Spielman said. "That won't work."

"This is Brad's football team," Brzezinski said, "and there is no decision that's made without a lot of deference to the head coach.

"He's got his pulse on the football team, and he knows more than anybody what's most important."

With all the decisions that need to be made throughout any organization, there are bound to be disagreements. Spielman acknowledges as much. When there are, he said, the new triangle discusses them and tries to decide what is best for the franchise.

"Everybody in the media gets hung up on structure and all that," Spielman said. "But we get hung up on what's best for the organization. Whatever the decision comes up, and if one guy agreed and one guy didn't, everybody better be 100 percent behind that decision. That was a decision that was made, and we'll move forward.

"We'll have some good decisions, and we'll have some bad decisions. But we move forward. And if you have a bad decision, you cut your losses and move on."

Sean Jensen can be reached at [email protected]