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On Monday afternoon, Minnesota coach Brad Childress lost whatever remaining control he had over the Vikings locker room. In his own way, Childress has become the Captain from "Cool Hand Luke," a smarmy, cruel and vindictive person. Yeah, he runs the show, but there is no respect.
In announcing the team's intentions to release Randy Moss(notes), Childress confirmed what many in the Vikings organization have believed about him for years: His management of people is questionable, his willingness to listen is nonexistent and his reaction to criticism is punitive.
"When he told [the players] that he was cutting Randy, it was like a double-shot of pure caffeine," a team source said. "It was one of those moments where you're just jolted up, like, 'Whoa, what just happened? Did he really just say that?'
"Really, I thought he was joking, then I realized it was Chilly and he doesn't joke. Well, he jokes, but it's not funny."
Said another team source: "I just thought, 'You're kidding, right?' This is nuts. We're just getting to the point where he's getting on page with [quarterback] Brett [Favre] and the offense is starting to really move the ball and then we do this."
When it was mentioned that Moss' production hasn't been that good since being acquired four games ago in a trade from New England – Moss had 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns, and only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots on Sunday – both sources scoffed.
"Look at the tape. Look at the coverages," one of the sources said. "Look at what he does for everybody else. Percy [Harvin] is running free all over the field right now. The running game is moving along. I don't even care about the fact that he's smarter than everybody on the coaching staff. He's a game-changer.
"Make it work."
Instead, Childress did the opposite. When Moss, whose brilliance as a player is often obscured by his bizarre rants and on-again, off-again playing style, dared to second-guess the coaching staff after the loss to New England, Childress couldn't handle it.
Never mind that the team was averaging a touchdown more per game with Moss (21.5 points the past four games versus 14.3 points in the first three games). Scoring be damned, Childress had to maintain control.
Rather than work with Moss, Childress is about to fire him. It's one of the greatest mistakes that can be made in this league. Yes, coaches need to be in charge, but players must also be heard. Sometimes that means they have to be coddled.
Some people will say that Childress isn't doing anything that Bill Belichick didn't do earlier this season when he dealt Moss. If it's OK for Belichick to trade Moss, why isn't it OK for Childress to cut him? The problem with that comparison is that Childress is missing three things.
Or three rings, as it were.
Belichick has earned the right to make a bold move with a player like Moss because he has proved he can win without him. Even more, Belichick is smart enough to know how to work with troubled guys.
Early in his run with the Patriots, Belichick dealt with cornerback Ty Law(notes), a player who would often walk out of meetings or even be disruptive. Former Patriots assistant coach Eric Mangini, who was Law's position coach, used to come into Belichick's office on a regular basis and tell Belichick that Law needed to be cut.
Belichick, who also was the defensive coordinator with the New York Giants during Lawrence Taylor's heyday, would politely remind Mangini of one simple thing: Law was one of the main reasons the Patriots won on most Sundays.
Childress has never proved that he can win without his best players. In fact, when the Vikings lost Sidney Rice(notes) before the season, the wheels came apart to the point that they had to deal for Moss – after failing to land the San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson(notes).
That's a sign of weakness, not strength.
This only confirms the growing tension that already existed in the Minnesota locker room before the season. Everyone in Minnesota knew back in training camp (and actually long before then), that Favre and Childress don't get along. Favre doesn't respect Childress, viewing him more as geeky impediment rather than a sophisticated football mind.
The difference with Favre is that Childress knows he needs Favre to have a real chance. Once Childress got Favre, there was no turning back. Make no mistake: Favre runs the show in that battle of alpha males.
When it came to Moss, Childress wasn't going to let another player run roughshod over him. When Moss criticized the coaches Sunday after the loss to the Patriots, that was the tipping point.
"I tried to prepare," Moss said. "I tried to talk to the players and coaches about how this game was going to be played and a couple tendencies here, couple tendencies there. The bad part about it – you have six days to prepare for a team, and on the seventh day, that Sunday, meaning today, I guess they come over to me and say, 'Dag, Moss, you was right about a couple plays and a couple schemes they were going to run.'
"It hurts as a player that you put a lot of hard work in all week, and toward the end of the week, Sunday, when you get on the field, that's when they acknowledge about the hard work you put in throughout the week. That's actually a disappointment."
Childress took that as an affront. To many others on the team, it was a cry for sanity.
"Randy had a point. Should he have said it to the media? Probably not, but that's the way Randy is," said one of the team sources. "When he wants to say something, he's going to say it. Deal with it."