Future of Childress, stadium reaches this pivotal moment

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 28, 2008 - 2:04 PM
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Brad Childress

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There is a tendency to overdramatize in these situations, and perhaps that's the case in making this statement: Brad Childress is early in the biggest week of his three-season tenure as Vikings coach.

There was the week before Christmas a year ago, when the Vikings had the chance to reach the playoffs by beating Washington in the Metrodome. The Purple offered a clunker and lost 32-21.

The difference then was that Childress' job was in no danger, win or lose.

Ten months later, the Vikings return from the bye week at a disappointing 3-4, and owner Zygi Wilf has been silent for several weeks on his assessment of the situation.

When last seen in public by Star Tribune reporters, Wilf was described as leaving the visitors locker room in Soldier Field with his head glowing an angry red.

A victory over Houston on Sunday would bring that contented postgame smirk back to Zygi.

A loss punctuated by rollicking chants of "Fire Childress!" and this could turn into a downward spiral that does the following: 1) dooms the coach; 2) kills the tiny breaths of political life that remain in the Vikings' stadium effort; and 3) increases the disillusionment of the owner.

There would be sub-clauses to that disillusionment: 3a) Wilf wanted in the NFL so badly 3 1/2 years ago that he paid a new-stadium price and continues with no end in sight to play in a low-revenue stadium; 3b) he has allowed his football people to spend money like intoxicated Marines to reinforce the roster; 3c) he's been financing a losing operation (17-22 since firing Mike Tice in favor of Childress); and 3d) Wilf's post-Love Boat insistence that his athletes behave like Boy Scouts off the field has been only marginally successful.

You can't put the latest negative headline strictly in the off-field category, but it was impossible to miss when the Vikings returned to work Monday: 660 pounds of defensive tackle in the room.

Kevin and Pat Williams, the best elements of this entire team, could be suspended for taking water-reduction pills that are considered a masking agent under the NFL's anti-steroids policies.

Childress had hoped to present the picture of a rested, reinvigorated Purple at Monday's news conference, but the first 14 questions he faced concerned the Williams lads and surrounding issues.

Somewhere in the barrage, Childress insisted the uncertainty over P. and K. Williams will not be a distraction. That makes sense, since the tackles are going to play Sunday, and full focus is his team's only option for success against the explosive Texans.

The Vikings were 2-3 in the five-game start that was supposed to be the toughest portion of the schedule: at Green Bay, home with Indianapolis and Carolina, at Tennessee and New Orleans.

So much for preseason theories when it comes to NFL schedules.

The Vikings are now in a six-game stretch over seven weeks that looks every bit as tough as the season's start. It opened with the split with lowly Detroit and improved Chicago. What follows are home games with Houston and Green Bay and trips to Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.

A loss Sunday and, presto, the Vikings could be 3-8 before Thanksgiving and playing out the final weeks of Childress' time as an NFL head coach.

A victory Sunday, the Vikings are .500, everyone is juiced for the arrival of the Packers, and there's hope -- for the playoffs, for the coach, for the owner and for the fans.

Meaning, this is the key moment in the season's drama, and the coach's big chance to unveil an improved post-break product. How about it, Chilly?

"We looked at a number of different things as a team to go forward," he said. "I expect 'em to get better and better and better. The good teams get hot and play well as they finish through November and December. There's no reason to believe we can't get hot."

Actually, there are several reasons to believe that, including the potential suspensions of the best part of this team, but what matters is beating Houston on Sunday.

If Andre Johnson spends too much time strutting into the end zone, it could trigger a mudslide that sweeps away the coach, suffocates the last gasps of the stadium effort and gives permanency to Zygi's angry-red glow.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

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