Even in the NFL's world of immediate dividends, no coach will tell you he's coaching for his job. No, he's coaching to win. It's the same thing -- victories earn, save and extend employment -- but it sounds much more noble.
So it was instructive to watch two key developments unfold this week at Winter Park, where the Vikings are 2-4 this season and 8-14 in coach Brad Childress' tenure. From one perspective, it seemed Childress was beginning to embrace a player who can get him more victories now while lightly distancing himself from another whose positive impact could be years away.
There were multiple signs that tailback Adrian Peterson is poised to emerge from the shadow of the Vikings' tortured backfield rotation. A mysterious groin injury to starter Chester Taylor, an interview Peterson gave to CBS and Childress' own admission that Peterson's "role will increase" were among the clues.
Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, meanwhile, almost certainly will be inactive for today's game against Philadelphia while he recovers from a fractured finger. The injury allowed Childress to make a clean shift to veteran Kelly Holcomb, but there were indications that Jackson no longer fit Childress' chief qualification for a starting quarterback: providing the team with its best chance to win.
Speaking last Monday about Jackson's ongoing development, Childress said, "You don't want to sacrifice those wins."
Considered together, the moves represent the first outward expression of win-now urgency in Childress' tenure. After starting last season 4-2, the Vikings have lost 12 of 16 games while trying to ease Jackson into the starter's role.
Holcomb is not the Vikings' long-term answer, and his short-term value is unclear after a shaky two-game performance earlier this season. But as they prepared for today's matchup against the blitz-happy Eagles, the Vikings appeared to prefer a veteran's knowledge of the pass rush over Jackson's mobility.
"When you are a young guy you say, 'Hey, this whole thing is storming down on me,' " offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "Whereas now that you are a veteran guy, and you may have seen more blitzes, you say, 'I have got just a little bit more time than I think to be able to hold this guy off and make a throw.' So obviously a veteran is a positive really in any regards, but including this one."
Is Childress trying to save the season, and hence his job? Is he merely trying to save face with an otherwise veteran team that might be a quarterback (Holcomb?) and an every-down playmaker (Peterson?) away from competing for a playoff spot?
While no one at Winter Park is happy with the start of the season, there has been no indication that Childress' job is remotely in jeopardy. The Vikings gave him a five-year contract in January 2006 and have since launched into an organizational rebuilding that has taken on the feel of an expansion team, one that is incongruous with a quick trigger on the head coach.
Owner Zygi Wilf said he believes he inherited a bare-bones operation from Red McCombs and has spent millions to upgrade Winter Park, overhaul the personnel department, pay competitive coaching salaries and acquire players. Childress largely has operated from a similar long-term perspective, most notably installing Jackson as his starter despite his nascent development.
That approach changed this week, perhaps coincidentally as national speculators began placing Childress on the proverbial hot seat of possible coaching dismissals.
Some of that conjecture is rooted in Wilf's well-documented impatience during the past 18 months. In that time period, Wilf fired former personnel director Fran Foley after 12 weeks on the job. He entered and exited an agreement to build a new stadium in Anoka County, shifting his attention to downtown Minneapolis. He signed an agreement to buy $45 million in land from the Star Tribune and then opted out before the deal was finalized.
Wilf, however, has insisted on patience for his football operation since acknowledging last spring that the team could take several years to become a consistent winner.
No one in the NFL operates in a vacuum, but from all indications, Childress' job is as secure as it could be under the circumstances -- certainly strong enough to endure another losing season.
Luckily for everyone, Childress doesn't seem interested in taking that risk. This week, he's coaching to win.
Kevin Seifert firstname.lastname@example.org