On September 11, 2006, the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins opened the NFL season with the featured Thursday night kickoff game. The game was held at the Redskins' FedEx Field, and Brad Childress began his head coaching career. It was a successful beginning for the rookie head coach as the Vikings won in a thriller, 19-16, and for the first and only time in franchise history, defeated Hall of Fame coach, Joe Gibbs.
This Sunday the Vikings make their first return to FedEx Field since that late summer night. However, Childress will not be on the sideline this time. He will not be on the sideline because his head coaching gig with the Vikings ended one game short of returning to the site where it all began.
After last Sunday's 31-3 debacle, a pasting handed to them by their division and arch-rival Green Bay Packers, Vikings Owner, Zygi Wilf, finally stepped up and did what he should have been done weeks ago; he fired his embattled and very unpopular head coach.
Wilf should have carried that out three weeks earlier when - a day after the loss to the New England Patriots - Childress abruptly attempted to place Viking legendary receiver, Randy Moss, on waivers. Wilf reportedly put that transaction on hold for a day in order to decide whom to keep, Childress or Moss. Wilf made the wrong choice, he allowed his future Hall of Fame star to go, and now he has neither.
The Vikings could have still used Moss, not to mention the fact that they now have nothing to show for the third round pick they used to get him. Wilf has now made the right move, but three weeks too late.
Had the move been made then, with a record of 2-5, a major shakeup still might have been in time to salvage the season by making a run at the playoffs. The complete move that should have taken place at that time, was not only to rid the team of its coach, but to rid the team of its starting quarterback also. Canning the coach was just half of what was needed.
The other half of what was needed was returning the starting quarterback job back to Tarvaris Jackson, and saying goodbye to Brett Favre. When Favre - currently the 31st ranked passer in a league with 32 teams - left the Patriots game due to injury, Jackson filled in for relief. Jackson's first snap of the season was a touchdown pass. Good omen.
The Vikings should have seized upon that omen and made the quarterback switch good for the rest of the season. With Jackson ripping off a 33 yard first down run during the Vikings' next posession, the spark he gave to the stagnant Viking offense - an offense that only scores an average of 17 points per game, which currently ranks 29th in a league with 32 teams - was quite noticeable to anyone awake and paying attention.
Yet, instead of turning a completely new chapter after that Patriot game loss, Wilf continued to allow the train to run completely off the track and down into the ditch before taking corrective action. Now, the train has been set back on the track with Childress' former defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, taking over head coaching duties on an interim basis, but the same worn-out, 41 year-old broken-down engine that helped run the train off the track in the first place, has been senselessly left in place!
At Frazier's initial press conference, when asked who his starting quarterback would be, he replied that it would be Favre, and that he had no hesitation arriving at that decision.
If Frazier was merely being the "good soldier", and carrying out the orders from team ownership, that is unfortunate, because the last thing this new head coach needs is to be saddled by the burden of the previous coach's obsession with Favre. If this quarterback decision was made from upstairs, that would mean the owner would obviously still be willing to watch the train run right back off the track and down into the ditch again, perhaps because he would be safe, seated way up high in the owner's box.
If the decision to stick with Favre is truly Frazier's, either he is clueless, or was simply so focused working with his defensive players on the sideline all season, he never saw Favre throw his league-leading 17 interceptions, or commit his league-leading 22 turnovers. For those keeping track, that means amongst starting quarterbacks, Favre ranks 32nd in both categories, that is, in a league with 32 teams.
This stubborn decision to keep Favre the starter is baffling on two counts.
First, staying with arguably this year's worst starting quarterback does not give the Vikings the best chance to win each week, because the starting quarterback from the playoff team of just two years ago is healthy and ready to play.
For those who fall into the camp of questioning Jackson's resume, two years ago his quarterback rating for the season was 95.4. Currently, that rating would be the ninth highest rating amongst starting quarterbacks in the league, and better than two quarterbacks named Manning, (Peyton and Eli), better than three quarterbacks named Matt, (Ryan, Shaub, and Hasselbeck) and better than an assortment of quarterbacks named Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, and Donovan McNabb, just to name a few. Jackson is a better runner than any of those names listed also.
When Jackson helped guide the team to the playoffs two years ago - peaking during the crucial stretch run - he did so without having current Viking leading receiver, and last year's offensive rookie of the year, Percy Harvin, to throw to. While Favre's miraculous 2009 season justified moving Jackson out of his starting role, Favre's disastrous 2010 season provides no justification for keeping Jackson out of his starting role.
Secondly, even though Favre's NFL career has had more lives than a cat's nine, he nonetheless, does not represent the Vikings future. This season will not produce a playoff berth, so the only logical thing for the Vikings to do is look to the future. The Vikings have a suitable future quarterback in Jackson, and ought to allow him to get acclimated back into being the team's starting signal caller. Given that Jackson is a free agent after this season, the team needs to evaluate him further anyway in order to know how hard they should attempt to re-sign him.
Even if Favre's play were to improve - which is entirely possible, particularly given Childress' departure - that would do no good for this season. These final six games need to be used to see what the future of the team might look like with Frazier being the head coach, and the future certainly does not include Favre.
Firing Childress was a step in the right direction, but that move did not go far enough. The slate from the Childress/Favre experiment, with all of its baggage and destructive drama, needed to have been wiped clean altogether.
When Frazier makes his Viking head coaching debut in FedEx Field, he will do so with a 41 year-old former, one-time Super Bowl champion as his starting quarterback, his immediate predecessor made his Viking head coaching debut in FedEx Field with a 38 year-old former one-time Super Bowl champion, named Brad Johnson. It will be interesting to see if Frazier can get the same result as Childress did, but either way, starting out a season 1-0 has a very different outlook to it than just pulling to 4-7.
This season is not going anywhere for the Vikings, all there is to be gained at this point is trying to evaluate what they have to work with, and establish momentum for next year. The franchise took one step in the right direction this week, it should have taken two.