Receiver Marcus Robinson was finalizing Christmas plans near his Chicago-area home Sunday when the phone rang. On the line was Vikings personnel director Rick Spielman, calling to tell Robinson he had been released.
Spielman offered no explanation for the highly unusual move, and Robinson said he never heard from coach Brad Childress. Robinson, who leads the team with four touchdown receptions, did not know why he was released, but said that "it would be hard to believe" that it is related to an interview published Saturday in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, in which he expressed concern about the Vikings' 6-9 season.
"I don't have the slightest idea what's going on," Robinson said. "Sure, I have voiced my opinion. I'm frustrated with how this season went. I don't think that's too bad of a thing to say. I don't know how [Childress] took that or anything else that has happened this season. I don't know if his feelings were hurt or he felt slighted or what have you."
A team spokesman confirmed the decision, but had no other comment. Childress is not scheduled to speak to Twin Cities media until Wednesday.
In an interview Sunday afternoon, Robinson said he and some other players have "a total lack of communication" with Childress, and said that offensive coaches rarely heed suggestions or other input from players. That sentiment corroborates a recent statement from quarterback Brad Johnson, who lost his starting job a day after saying he and Childress "never talk."
Cornerback Antoine Winfield and safety Darren Sharper also have criticized the team's direction, but as Robinson said, "They weren't cut, so I don't know why this would be different."
Robinson acknowledged that new coaches go through trial periods during which trust must be earned on both sides. But Robinson said Childress erred by not heeding suggestions that would have helped his offense merge with the team's personnel.
"We really didn't have a relationship whatsoever where we just talked back and forth," Robinson said. "That's not typical. Normally, head coaches make decisions and do certain things. But at least they talk to you. I mean, look at today. I'm a 10-year veteran being released a week before the season is over. I wasn't told a reason. I just got a phone call from [Spielman]."
Robinson caught a combined 13 touchdowns for the Vikings in 2004 and '05, but Childress has never seemed comfortable with him. Robinson caught a touchdown pass in the Sept. 11 season opener at Washington but essentially was a healthy scratch for the Sept. 24 game against Chicago and again for the Dec. 17 game against the New York Jets.
Childress has said he held Robinson out of the Jets game because of a hip flexor injury, but that was never listed on the injury report. "I was healthy enough to play against the Jets, but he made that decision," Robinson said Sunday.
Childress' relationship with Robinson was of particular significance, given the Vikings' struggles to score this season; they have 22 offensive touchdowns overall but have gone six games without one. They were 0-5 in the games Robinson missed this season and 6-4 when he played.
Robinson considers those figures an example of Childress allowing principle to overshadow practicality. He said he respected the coach's desire to install his brand of offense but said Childress could have avoided some of this season's problems.
"He's building a foundation of his type of offense, and that's fine," Robinson said. "But all offenses cater around their players. You can run your offense, but you want to cater to the talents of the players you have."
Indeed, Robinson was used sparingly in the red zone situations he has excelled at in recent years; his 6-3 frame often enables him to reach over the outstretched arms of opponents. Robinson said he made suggestions on that issue, but said: "It was just input. Nothing happened.
"That's what's frustrating about the communication," he said. "As a veteran, you can see certain things on the field. You're not a coach and you don't call plays, but I can come to the sideline and voice my opinion on what I see out there and hope you respond to it. With [former offensive coordinator Scott] Linehan, you'd come to the sideline and say certain things, and they would take advantage of that.
"I guarantee you, if you look at Peyton Manning, if you look at those guys Linehan has with the Rams, those players are giving a lot of input."
According to Robinson, the only time Childress asked for sideline input was Nov. 26, against Arizona, a conversation that Robinson said resulted in a 17-yard touchdown reception.
It was Robinson's last touchdown for the Vikings.