A week and a half removed from his firing, Brad Childress took consolation that his work in four-plus seasons in charge of the Minnesota Vikings left the team in "a lot better shape" than when he was hired.
Childress, let go late last month after a tumultuous season marked by abrupt personnel decisions and player unrest, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Friday he was caught off-guard by the move -- but not completely.
"What a difference 365 days can make," Childress said in a telephone interview with the newspaper from his beach home in Bonita Springs, Fla. "You pull yourself into your work the best way you can each and every week, and you never expect something like this to happen. You go into every week thinking you'll win."
But a Week 11 blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers was the final game for Childress. His most lopsided home defeat as head coach dropped his overall record to 40-37, including 1-2 in the playoffs. It saw the Vikings fall to 3-7, a year after he got a contract extension as the Vikings came within a field goal of reaching the Super Bowl.
"I don't know if it's shocking," Childress said of the firing, according to the newspaper. "All you have to do is look around the league to know this happens. I didn't do everything perfectly, but I felt I coached my way. I left that job in a lot better shape than we were [in 2006]."
Childress went all-in with Brett Favre, riding his incredible 2009 season to the NFC Championship Game and then going down this year under the weight of his 17 interceptions. But the team's problems transcended the shaky performance of its 41-year-old quarterback.
"If you pull a couple of quotes from a locker room, it all gets exacerbated a bit," Childress told the Pioneer Press. "By and large, I know the support I had. It's a good group of guys in that locker room."
The untenable atmosphere was clearly palpable after a loss at New England. Receiver Randy Moss, acquired in a trade for a third-round draft pick just four weeks earlier, went out of his way to praise the Patriots and criticize Childress in a postgame rant.
The next day, Childress told his players he had cut Moss but never fully explained the situation to them or the public.
"Some players came up to me afterward and said, 'Coach, we would have been disappointed if you didn't do something,' " Childress said to the Pioneer Press on Friday.
Owner Zygi Wilf reportedly became angry that Childress didn't tell him first of his plan, and there were anonymous reports of growing dissatisfaction in the locker room about Childress. He and Percy Harvin got into a heated argument during one practice over an MRI test on the receiver's sprained ankle.
"It was never a week-to-week expectation with the Wilfs," Childress said. "They never told me win or else. It was just us trying to get back into what was a close game [against Green Bay] until the turnovers, and it all unfolded that day. I just said, '[Expletive].' We were just all more disappointed in what we put out there."
Fans had made no secret about their frustration, with thousands of "Fire Chilly" signs distributed Nov. 7 outside the stadium before the Vikings played Arizona and several chants breaking out from the seats during the game.
"You must say that they are passionate," Childress said, according to the newspaper. "It's interesting what they latch onto sometimes."
Childress wouldn't discuss his contract with the Vikings or whether they had negotiated terms of a buyout, the Pioneer Press reported.
"I didn't all of a sudden forget what I knew," Childress said about coaching. "I don't think you can slam the door on anything."
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who has interviewed seven times for NFL head-coaching jobs, was installed as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The Vikings beat the Redskins 17-13 in his debut.
"He's as good as any," Childress said of Frazier.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.