MANKATO - A common complaint heard around Winter Park during Brad Childress' tenure as coach was that player input was rarely -- if ever -- welcomed on offense.
That drove a wedge in the relationship between nearly every quarterback who walked through the door, starting with Brad Johnson and ending with Brett Favre. So imagine the surprise of many players this season when they arrived and were told by new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave that their thoughts would be gladly received.
"That's very important because we're going to be the ones out there playing, and the thing is the more we can bring to this equation of success, the better it is," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "I feel like that's a big step when it comes to the mind frame of just like this whole organization and what they want to accomplish."
What Musgrave wants to accomplish is getting the most out of his players while running an offense that will be similar to what he was part of as Atlanta's quarterbacks coach. Musgrave realizes that if he installs the system and expects the players to just fit into it, the desired results might not be achieved.
The most important player in all of this is new quarterback Donovan McNabb. Obtained less than two weeks ago, McNabb is stepping into a system he must learn on the fly. This makes his communication with Musgrave even more important since there are sure to be things the veteran would like to see tweaked.
This is a perfect time for an exchange of ideas. Wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who played in Atlanta the past seven seasons before being released and signed by the Vikings, said the tweaks can be made in games on the sideline.
"I told [McNabb] from the get-go that we have a system that we intend to teach to him, the quarterbacks and all the players," Musgrave said. "But it's really his system. It's Donovan's system. So if something happens here in the month of August that he would like to tweak -- maybe call something differently in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, maybe want to teach differently -- to definitely come and talk to us about it because we're open-minded about it. We like to tailor-make or customize our system to fit our players."
Said McNabb: "As we know, some coaches can be stubborn. Some coaches say it's my way or no way. You become robotic. That's when you pull away from your style of play and the things that made you successful. But when you're on the same page with the guy or with the group or whatever, then everybody has a better understanding of each other."
It certainly isn't only Childress who didn't adopt this philosophy. Plenty of coaches have told players that the offense is the offense and that opinions should be kept quiet. Leslie Frazier was the Vikings defensive coordinator under Childress and now is head coach.
"That's a plus when you have that [communication], and I think it's important to have a system, but not to be so rigid that you don't allow a Percy Harvin or a Donovan McNabb or whoever it may be to have a suggestion or an idea," Frazier said. "I played for coaches and have been around coaches that when you come up with an idea, they go, 'Nope, this is the system. This is the way it is, even if it fails.' I don't think that's the way you need to go, not with the way defenses and offense are constantly changing from week to week."
A cornerback for the Chicago Bears' Super Bowl championship team in 1985, Frazier remembers defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan welcoming input. That is something Frazier also tried to do as a coordinator.
"The players are the ones that are playing," Frazier said. "You want to have a system, but to be able to listen to the players. The buy-in is far greater when that's the case because if Adrian Peterson has some suggestions based on what he sees and if you listen and you say, 'OK, Adrian, maybe we'll try that.'
"It just does something for that player to be able to say, 'Man, they'll listen to what I have to say. I've watched tape, I've prepared and I've seen some things that are happening in the game and I hope that the coaches will listen.' When you do, that guy feels like I've got to make this work because the coach has empowered me to go out and make it work."