Both Minnesota football teams struggling to get 'Chilly' hot

The Vikings couldn't warm to Brad Childress as his path, and the team's mirrored that of Tim Brewster and the Gophers.
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  • AP Photos
November 22, 2010

By firing head coach Brad Childress on Monday, the Minnesota Vikings proved what everyone should’ve already known.

They’re the Gophers of the National Football League.

The Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. Unless you’re at least 50 years old, you probably think the Gophers have never won a national championship because it hasn’t happened since 1960.

(Wait, that’s not actually news, and Tim Brewster made sure everyone knew that the Gophers have won six national titles, regardless of how long ago they happened. Let’s try again.)

Amid weeks of speculation surrounding Brewster (fired as Gophers coach on Oct. 17) and Childress, the coaches had to listen to home fans chant for their termination. Then, both stood on the sidelines and watched their teams not show up in games that should’ve been competitive.

No, the 2010 Vikings are not as good as this year’s Packers, but Green Bay should never win by 28 at the Metrodome. If the spread in Sunday’s 31-3 shellacking had been MINN +28, the only people who would’ve considered betting on the Packers would’ve been the six unnamed Vikings who recently bashed Childress in the Chicago Sun-Times. A blowout of that magnitude for either side has only happened twice since 1996, both at Lambeau field. 

In Brewster’s final game, the Gophers offense didn’t cross midfield in the first half of a 28-17 loss to a Purdue team that allowed first-quarter scores in four of its first five games. The Boilermakers won with redshirt freshman quarterback Rob Henry and a not-very-fast running back named Dan Dierking torched the Gophers for 126 rushing yards.

Sure, it might be unfair to say the Gophers quit because they scored 17 points in the second half, but the Boilermakers aren’t even good enough to sell out for homecoming (And, yes, neither are the Gophers.).

And that’s just the on-field issues.

Both Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi made public statements that they weren’t satisfied with the teams prior to firing their respective coaches. With the way both teams played in the aforementioned games, the bosses had no choice but to send the coaches packing.

Now, two guys who likely spent this past summer wondering if they would ever again be head coaches assume interim roles for both teams. Gophers coach Jeff Horton lost his final 16 games as head coach at UNLV and didn’t win more than three games in any of his final four seasons with the Rebels. Meanwhile, Leslie Frazier (a former Trinity College head coach) was widely considered a top prospect for numerous NFL gigs, but he couldn’t land any of the seven vacancies for which he reportedly interviewed recently.

The end of the Childress era also cancels a nationally-viewed soap opera in which the lead character (quarterback Brett Favre) made it clear he wanted a divorce from his nagging wife (Childress) even though the two spent a great year together. Every Vikings fan still thinks the team should’ve won the Super Bowl last year.

When the wife (still Childress) sensed things were going downhill with her pompous husband, she began flirting with a younger, more exciting man (backup Tarvaris Jackson) at the advice of others. But she just couldn’t leave a man with a legacy as documented as her husband’s.

Okay, this is where the comparison slips a little only because Gophers quarterback Adam Weber is a standup guy who never spoke ill of Brewster. Weber is also not the center of an NFL investigation into racy cell phone photos.

However, Brewster, like Childress, should’ve worked in the backup quarterback (MarQueis Gray) when Weber struggled during what was a six-game losing steak (and later became nine). Instead (like Childress) he stuck with the veteran and is out of a job.

(The comparison works because Jackson and Gray are dual-threat quarterbacks who have actually played decent in their limited time. Over the last three seasons, Jackson has thrown 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions, whether Vikings fans want to believe it or not.)

But wait, there’s more. Neither Childress nor Brewster came into the positions with head-coaching experience higher than high school. Both played college football in Illinois (Childress at Eastern Illinois, Brewster for the Illini) and both filled in for coaches who, despite fans begging for them to be fired, actually did fairly well.

Glen Mason led the Gophers to bowl games in seven of his 10 seasons. He also had a career record of 64-57 that makes Brewster’s 15-30 mark in three-plus seasons look even worse.

Mike Tice posted a 32-33 record after taking the reins as interim coach from Dennis Green in 2001. In his four full seasons, Tice never won fewer than six games and never finished worse than second in the division. Childress leaves with a 39-35 record in four-plus seasons as the Vikings sit in third place in the NFC North at 3-7.

Now, Wilf and Maturi will be paying — literally — for their errors in judgment by hiring the now-fired coaches. Per a contract extension signed last year, Childress will receive an absurd $6.6 million for 2011 and 2012. Brewster’s buyout clause has him collecting $600,000.

So while both programs continue to dole out to their failed coaches, they must look for someone to lead them somewhere they haven’t been either in a long time or ever.

Both teams will have off-seasons filled with controversy surrounding the new coach and personnel decisions because that’s what happens, especially in college, when a new coach comes in and a veteran quarterback leaves — Favre will retire and Weber has graduated.

Both teams will also hope to find a coach who won’t need to be fired within his first five seasons because he failed to meet unrealistic expectations.

But the changes should be nothing new for Vikings fans and Gophers fans under 50 who have — unfortunately — had nothing but hope for their entire lives.

-Josh Katzenstein welcomes comments at jkatzenstein@mndaily.com.

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