Field of Science

Sports and stats and why it doesn't matter

The big news last week in Minnesota is that Brad Childress the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings was fired after leading the Vikings to a 3-7 start this season. Admittedly the Vikings had self-destructed and a large part of that can be laid at the coach's doorstep. So the coach has to go right? Well, I think a few questions need to be addressed first. For example, why did the team self-destruct? and is this season a good example of a bad coach or an aberration?

Is Childress any good as a coach? Current conventional wisdom says the answer is a definitive "NO!" However, conventional wisdom in sports is as good as thinking with your gut when making foreign policy decisions. Let's look at some numbers to maybe get a sense of things. Childress took over in 2006 and the Vikings record each year was:

2006     6-10
2007     8-8
2008     10-6 playoffs
2009     12-4 playoffs/NFC championship game
2010     3-7*

So in Childress' first 4 years the Vikings continually won 2 more games than the previous year and got within a field goal of the superbowl last year. A consistent winner.

For comparison, prior to Childress, we had Mike Tice

2002     6-10
2003     9-7
2004     8-8 playoffs
2005     9-7

So Tice hovered around 50% the entire time he coached. Childress showed consistent improvement until the trainwreck of this year. So either the team got consistently better from 2006-2009 in spite of Childress or maybe Childress had something to do with it. Since the head coach is the head coach, Ill go with the latter hypothesis as most likely.

So why the trainwreck this year? I don't know, but I have a few thoughts. First, it seems likely that there was at least one poisoned apple in the locker room (Im looking at you Favre). One personality can be enough to ruin the good work of the rest of the group. Advice I got when I started my lab and have given others is that it is more important to get good people in your research group than simply warm bodies. These people have to work together and have to have the same basic goals. If one person comes in and makes for an unpleasant work environment or is constantly undercutting the lab head or other important person in the lab, bad things happen. When Brett Favre, almost certainly a hall of fame quarter back, comes in and disparages the leadership of coach Childress, bad things happen. Maybe you're not working as hard as you should and don't know the play book as well. Favre gives you an emotional crutch to not think about your personal failings or mistakes. See its the coach's fault, his play book is stupid, ask Favre, so why should I learn it?

Before Favre joined the team, 2009, the Vikings hadn't made it to the NFC championship game since 2000. So Favre must have made a difference. No question about from me, but the team was already much improved since Childress took over. With the drafting of Adrian Peterson in Childress' second year, the only position of dire need was quarterback. That position has been filled by journeymen since Duante Culpepper was traded after 2005. In fact, Favre was/is a stop-gap measure. So 2009 was phenomenal until the end (interception thrown by Childress Favre). However, there were already Favre-Childress problems, but I think winning kept those problems from flaming. After the loss, Favre retired and the Vikings needed to do something for quarterback....

...and looked no further than Tavaris Jackson before plan Favre II was quickly worked out. At the last possible second, so he wouldn't have to practice and Childress was desperate to the point of losing his hair. What? He was already bald? OK, and Childress was desperate to the point of sending 3 players to Mississippi on the down-low to get Favre back. So, virtually no practice with his receivers (of course it wouldn't have been helpful throwing to the back up for a few weeks before the primary receivers went down), still recovering from surgery, oh and a grandpa, Favre returns...and lays an egg. Now there are many problems this year and it is BS to lay the 3-7 record at Favre's feet, but Favre, I believe, fanned the fires of discontent for the coach with many others on the team. Favre became a poisoned apple.

Childress had a history fielding a playoff caliber team; Favre had a history of retiring. So now the coach is gone, the season is kaput (barring a non-sectarian miracle), and the quarterback that made the coach expendable is gone this year. Its like Favre left the gas on in the stove right after he moved out of his apartment. Now the Vikings might be fine next year, they need a quarterback and a coach. What I find amusing is that Wilf, the owner, had a coach that took a repeatedly mediocre team without a quarterback and made them winners. Wilf had a coach that added a (formerly) great quarterback and fielded a championship team. So Wilf fires one and will lose the other thereby returning to 2006.

But of course, the team is 3-7 now. Who the hell needs to look at last year, that was last year. I mean we make our own reality right?


Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

Well, yes, I think that it was an impulsive decision not based on analysis.

I don't think that people like Childress' personality. His nickname is, after all, "Chilly." He did what needed to be done with Randy Moss when Moss disrespected a catering crew and Let Moss Go.

I was not excited to see Favre back this year, frankly. I loved him last year, but could tell that this year was just not going to be the same. I would like to see the Vikings either shit or get off the pot with T. Jack. If they thought he had talent when they drafted him, at least let him prove them wrong on his own.

The Lorax said...

Mike, I agree that Childress was not the most personable, but neither was Parcells Landry Coughlin etc. The Moss decision was, I expect, the killer as far as the owners were concerned but I could be wrong (Im not).

I think last year was amazingly fortunate with Favre, I expected this year last year. I also think the T Jack experiment is over, how many times have we heard that his time to shine is now, just to have him put on he backburner again.

Just wait until I open up the Brady-Manning can of worms.