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Teams often struggle to win the right way

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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RENTON, Wash. -- When Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress stepped to the podium today and attempted to explain the reasons he had for dumping Randy Moss(notes) back on the open market, he did so with all the eroded confidence of a man who long ago mortgaged any authority he'd ever had in his current position. Between picking up diva quarterbacks at the airport, and encouraging teammates of the diva quarterback to fly down to the diva quarterback's compound to get him to sign on the dotted line, Childress had established a system of ethical ambiguity in which "winning by any means necessary" often meant doing things precisely the wrong way.

Childress' recent press conference bulls-eyes on Brett Favre(notes) and the fact that he allegedly released Moss without consulting the team's owner pointed to a situation in which a man with no real juice in the grand scheme of things was trying desperately to regain authority he never really had. Childress cut Moss less than a month after asking the fanbase to embrace him, and responded defensively to the idea that once again, he was playing both ends against the middle.

"I have to answer for my decisions," he said. "In the long run with ownership, obviously, my name is affixed to wins and losses in this program here. So, it's not an attempt to deceive, it's just a matter of letting the people know that need to know. And when we came out with the statement, that's when all that had been done. That's why [Moss] didn't show up on the waiver wire that day, just because there is a process that's involved."

Childress' confusion [which will still be exacerbated by his ongoing schism with Favre] pointed to a balancing act coaches and general managers have to run - it is their obligation to win, and if they don't win they will be fired, but how much is too much when it comes to trying to accept physical talent that is also saddled with emotional baggage?

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has long been known as an iron-willed disciplinarian, but he had to modify his approach to a degree for his 2007 team to buy in to his approach and eventually win Super Bowl XLII. When asked about that tight balance, Coughlin pointed to the root belief structure every successful team must possess.

"It's an answer that certainly requires more than a one-liner," he said in a conference call on Wednesday. "I just think that you have those issues - you certainly have what you stand for, and you certainly talk to people before you bring [those types of players] in and tell them exactly what your beliefs are , what your thoughts are, and you try to do a good job with it. It doesn't always work out, and we all know that. But you have to stand for something. You have to set the standards, and then, the whole program revolves around that."

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll spent a few seconds during his Wednesday press conference explaining why Seattle wasn't going to be Moss' home under the waiver process, and then went on to explain his own thoughts about the need to win versus the need to win the right way. "It's a combination of elements that make up that player," he said "You can't go height-weight-speed and know who a guy is. You can't just go on personality and know who a guy is - you have to go on all aspects of it to make an evaluation. It depends on the standards of the staff, and what they think fits their mentality. It also depends on the stature of your team; who you can bring in and deal with and handle.

"Our team is made up of 53 individuals, and they're not all the same - they all bring different personalities to the mix. It's about sensing the blend that fits and works. You have to subjectively figure that out. [Seahawks GM] John [Schneider] both want great competitors first. If a guy is a great competitor, and it means everything in the world to him to be great, most of the rest of their makeup will follow. And it will follow in a way that you can deal with. That's where it starts, but we certainly want guys who are here for the right reasons. They want to be great team players, and they want to win championships in that fashion. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that's how we go about it."

When Carroll and Schneider traded for ex-Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch earlier this season, they had a support system in place to deal with any potential issues for a player who had encountered the wrong side of the legal system in the past. On one side of Lynch's locker is Cal teammate Justin Forsett(notes), who's about as straight an arrow as there is in the league. And on the other side was Quinton Ganther(notes) until Ganther's recent release - Ganther and Lynch played youth football together in Oakland. Having a culture of accountability, whether it's brought about by authoritative coaches, or leaders on the roster, or the knowledge that the next mistake could be a player's last - seems to be the most important aspect when it comes to dealing with the NFL's more mercurial personalities.

Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher is the NFL's longest-tenured at his position; he's a co-chair of the league's Competition Committee and one of the most respected football minds in the business. And if things work out with Moss in Tennessee, that's why it will happen. Because when it's all added up, the stability of the coach must counterbalance the instability of the player. If that isn't the case, the inevitable friction occurs.

Brad Childress, repeat offender, understands this as well as anyone. After this episode, he should understand it better than anyone.

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