When the end of the tumultuous Brad Childress era in Minnesota at last arrived Monday, I couldn't help but wonder if the team's deposed (and some would say despised) head coach had any second thoughts about his decision to go with the terrain.
Remember back in August, after once again luring Brett Favre off his tractor in Hattiesburg, Miss., how Childress had pithily described his team's almost unseemly and desperate pursuit of No. 4?
"When the terrain varies, you go with the terrain,'' Childress said, explaining away Minnesota's whatever-it-takes approach to Favre's recruitment, which included having two of his assistant coaches lie to the media while an intervention-style mission to Mississippi was being undertaken by three Vikings team leaders.
Right from day one of this doomed season, the terrain varied all right for Childress and Co. And the Vikings most definitely went with it, almost blindly so. But in the end, it led nowhere but failure, and now to the unemployment line for the Minnesota head coach.
The story of the Vikings' 2010 season will now forever stand as an NFL cautionary tale. The reminder to be careful what you wish for has never been more timely or apt. Minnesota staked everything on the return of Favre, their 41-year-old quarterback, and that transparently risky proposition didn't pay off. That's the thing about all-or-nothing bets like the one the Vikings made this year. When they fail, they often fail spectacularly.
There was something that made me more than uncomfortable with Childress's Favre-first approach in Minnesota all along. I wrote
When you follow terrain that varies that much, you're venturing into dangerous territory. No player should be bigger than the team, and when you consciously disregard that tried and true approach for short-term gain, you almost ensure nothing good comes from it in the long run. As this season's year-long melodrama in Minnesota seemed to bear out.
Childress never seemed to care that he had flipped that coaching script to such a degree, and if he did, it was clearly too late to turn back now. He was heavily invested in the Favre Rules, and couldn't re-write the terms of their agreement after the wager had already been made. He might have privately come to chafe at the idea that Favre was the tail that wagged the dog in Minnesota, or even taken a postgame pot shot or two at his turnover-prone QB. But clearly this was a mess of Childress's own making. Who could he blame but himself for creating the Favre monster that wound up pillaging the Vikings 2010 season?
Childress's over-confidence in his own judgment was somewhat predictable. Most of the moves he made in his first four years in Minnesota pretty much worked in a bottom-line sense. He had added two wins a year to the Vikings victory total every season on the job, and by that measure, last year's 12-4 record and trip to the NFC title game led to only one logical conclusion: This year would be a Super Bowl season in Minnesota. But getting Favre back was the one essential piece.
The Vikings did whatever it took to coax Favre back -- even at the expense of any team-first mentality -- but then the plan started to unravel. This was not 2009. It was 2010. What worked magically last season didn't have that same mojo this time around. (See Sidney Rice, hip injury.) And both Favre and Childress became more powerless to stop Minnesota's slide as the weeks went by.
Ultimately the Vikings' Favre-first approach will be remembered as a partial success last year, followed by this season's colossal failure. Even by the NFL's typical star-system standards, Minnesota pushed the envelope and lost. Favre has been sadly reduced to playing out the string in his 20th and final NFL season, and the 3-7 Vikings have an interim head coach to show for their Super Bowl-or-bust approach.
It's maybe the easiest Monday morning quarterbacking in some time, but going with the terrain wound up being the worst call of Childress's career.