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Jackson's failure shakes Childress

9/17/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- During his three years in Minnesota, I have seen coach Brad Childress stand at a podium and defiantly explain his stance on a key issue. I've watched him sneer at some questions and wax poetically on others. He's expressed sympathy, anger, humor and intelligence.

Wednesday, I saw something new: Uncertainty.

As he announced the decision to bench quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, Childress hardly seemed the confident offensive guru that the Vikings eagerly hired in January 2006. Instead, Childress seemed shaken to his core on the day when he admitted the quarterback he has groomed and built his program around had failed.

Childress suggested that part of Jackson's struggles "may" be related to a lack of experience and said: "I know Gus will give us that."

That's hardly an enthusiastic endorsement for a quarterback who was just entrusted with the final 14 games of the season. But it's the best Childress could muster after making the most complex -- and clearly the most wrenching -- decision of his career.

Let's be clear: Childress had no choice after watching Jackson struggle through the season's first two games. But in turning to Frerotte, Childress knows he is indicting his own reputation. A head coach should never give his owner a reason to doubt him, but today the Vikings' Zygi Wilf has to be wondering about Childress' purported strength in developing quarterbacks.

Childress was closely associated with the maturation of Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb and in Minnesota has demonstrated some hubristic tendencies at the position.

He never connected with incumbent Daunte Culpepper and willingly cast aside a player who had an MVP-like season in 2004. A month later, Childress signed off on drafting Jackson out of Division I-AA Alabama State, referring to him as a "piece of clay" who only needed some professional coaching in order to become the Vikings' long-term starter.

As he worked with Jackson, Childress benched veteran Brad Johnson and ran through a carousel of short-term backups. Childress' designated No. 2 quarterback flopped in each of his first two training camps, forcing the Vikings to give up draft picks to acquire Brooks Bollinger in 2006 and Kelly Holcomb in 2007 for emergency depth.

And it took only incremental improvement -- from terrible to better -- in 2007 for Childress to commit to Jackson this season, an especially weighty decision given Wilf's eight-figure investment in the free-agent market. Most owners won't spend $60 million in guaranteed money for a team that is still developing its quarterback. The understanding was that Jackson was ready, even though he had never showed it on the field.

If anything, Jackson actually has looked worse in the season's first two games than he did at the end of 2007. His mechanics were flawed, his passes inaccurate and he couldn't explain why he wasn't sliding at the end of his runs. In short, he played like a rookie after three years in the Vikings' offensive system.

It's like Childress put 51 cards in Jackson's hat, saving only one in case of emergency. And now he has played that card -- one that's hardly an ace -- in the middle of September. At a time when Childress believed the Vikings would be reaping the benefits of his essential skill, they instead are reeling because of his hubris.