Vikings coach Brad Childress has read "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." He offers players daily affirmations, some extracted from favorite tomes, some culled from his family.

The former psychology major plies his players with inspirational quotes, even drawings that correspond to his philosophies. The day after the most embarrassing loss of his tenure -- 34-0 at Green Bay, a game in which some players laughed on the sideline -- Childress responded with aphorisms and an Oprah-like book recommendation -- "Get Off Your Assets!" by motivational speaker Desi Williamson.

Which confirms that Childress, as we suspected, is a different guy and suggests he's a different guy in a different way than we suspected.

Asked about his reading habits, Childress offered an invitation to his office, which was strewn with motivational books. "There are so many good things that people say, and I'm not smart enough to come up with all these things myself," Childress said. "I'll read something and say, 'Yeah, that fits into this situation.'"

We've had some fun with Childress the past two years, questioning every decision from trading Daunte Culpepper in his first offseason to calling a fake field goal last week.

Like him, loathe him or simply find yourself scratching your head after one of his heavily hyphenated sentences, you've got to give Childress this: The guy can take a punch.

The more criticism he's received, the more genial he's become. And when he seemed in danger of losing the team after the Green Bay fiasco, the Vikings responded with the best stretch of football during his tenure, winning three games in a row.

You can question the quality of the teams he's beaten, and how many games this team would win without the great Adrian Peterson, but this much is clear: Childress' players haven't quit.

"I think you need to tap into mind-sets," he said, sitting at the meeting table in his office, sunshine streaming through the window. "You need to change mind-sets. You've got guys that are ultimate competitors, they don't accept getting defeated, whether it be in a one-on-one situation or a game, but in this business it's going to happen to you. You have to keep going."

Childress is meticulous to a fault. After the past two games, he's begun his news conferences by pulling out an index card and revealing that he outlined his postgame thoughts before the game began. In his office, he keeps books like Tony Dungy's "Quiet Strength," Robert S. Eliot's "Is It Worth Dying For?" and D. Michael Abrashoff's "Get Your Ship Together."

He's read "Blink,'' Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating treatise on rapid cognition. One day this week his motivational message came from his daughter, who said, "Teamwork makes the dream work."

"I think you have to open yourself to some of these things," he said. "Me going up there and droning on and on like the train going by your window -- that doesn't keep it fresh. I think Larry Bird said, 'It's a video game era.' He said, 'Just give me two out-of-bounds plays, two of each kind of play, that's all these guys can look at.'

"So we're doing the PowerPoints and the ripped-from- the-papers stuff and the three [video] shots on offense and defense and the 'Grape Crush Hit.' You've got to keep changing gears with people if you want it to stick."

The conversation turned to former Vikings assistants Tony Dungy and Tom Moore, now the head coach and offensive coordinator of the champion Indianapolis Colts. Dungy and Moore always believed in keeping football simple.

Nodding in agreement, Childress pulled out one of his infamous sideline play charts. You know -- the Chinese menu-sized tri-folding laminated piece of aluminum siding he holds in front of his face when making a play call -- the one that could be recycled into a single-family dwelling for four.

Was this really happening? Was Childress about to reveal the Divine Secrets of the Much-Mocked Play Chart?

"We keep it pretty simple," he said. "I have one section here for reminders -- 'Third and 3-to-6, expect pressure. Use our play passes. Patience with the running game. Who are they doubling?' Those are things you need to remember during the flow of the game.

"I also have a little fold-over deal that has all the names of the officials, so instead of yelling, 'Hey, you!' I can say, 'Hey, Larry, let me talk to you.' Then I have my list of reviewable plays. No book quotations or anything."

Desi Williamson apparently helped him survive the Green Bay loss. Was that the lowest point of his tenure? Childress shook his head, remembering Culpepper demanding a trade soon after Childress got to town.

"In my heart and soul, I believed I was coming into a situation where I had a franchise quarterback," he said. "And so when you finally come to the epiphany that this ain't gonna work, and then you go through the machinations that come with him leaving and you finding the next guy, that's probably as difficult as it could get. You don't believe in your wildest dreams that could happen.

"So sometimes things aren't as they appear from afar. But you can only know that when you're on top of the situation."

Time for the two most crucial questions of the interview:

"Ya-Ya Sisterhood?" Really?

"I like reading James Patterson when I'm on vacation,'' he said. "One time, though, I end up picking up a book at the airport, it's on the bestseller list, and it's 'Ya-Ya Sisterhood.'''

A chick book? "I didn't know it was on Oprah's list,'' Childress said. "My wife saw it and said, 'What are you doing with that?' So now I'm reading it, and I'm going to stop?''

He smiled and said, "Hey, I had to get in touch with my feminine side.''

We never know where Childress will find inspiration.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •