Commentary

Bench Brett? No can do for Childress

It's too late for Vikings coach Brad Childress to bench Brett Favre, for better or worse

Originally Published: December 22, 2009
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

There is the obvious knee-jerk response to Sunday night's "heated discussion" between Brett Favre and Brad Childress. You know it by heart: What if that was Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco or Randy Moss or any other number of the talented coach killers who are routinely vilified for showing disrespect to either the game or their bosses? What then?

That's the easy way to look at it, which doesn't automatically make it wrong. (And we know the answer: The main difference between those guys and Favre is that Favre won his argument while the others wouldn't have.) We all know that the alleged bad guys, and those like them, get an inordinate amount of grief for being petulant and ungrateful and not sufficiently penitent. And if it's any consolation to them or the people who defend them, there are signs that Favre is inching closer to changing his legacy from the grown man with a lot of little boy in him to the little boy who needs more grown man in him.

But aside from the psychological and hierarchical issues at hand -- and there are many -- how about this: What if removing Favre from a game in the third quarter with the Vikings leading was the right coaching move? And not the right coaching move from a protection standpoint -- that is, removing Favre so he doesn't disappear overnight only to show up in Julius Peppers' dental floss the next morning -- but the right coaching move from a strategic standpoint. Seriously, what if replacing Favre with Tarvaris Jackson was the right move for the good of the Vikings?

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
AP Photo/Mike McCarnHe hasn't played all that well down the stretch in recent seasons. Maybe it really is time to bench Brett Favre.

Maybe Childress knows trends. Look around the league and see what all the cool kids are doing: They're changing quarterbacks when things get tough. Some take too long (the Titans with Vince Young) and some do it out of abject desperation (the Raiders), but it's hard to argue this: The fastest way to energize a struggling offense is to make a change when your quarterback is having a rough time.

First, a disclaimer: Favre has been better than anyone could have possibly expected this season. For all his me-first ways -- from showing up when he wants to, to playing even when Childress doesn't want him to -- he has been one of the best two or three stories in the NFL this season. The Vikings might have won the NFC North without him -- check that, they probably would have -- but they wouldn't have either the record or the national profile without him.

But there's no denying that Favre, at age 40, is fading as the season winds down. Maybe Childress sees this as more inexorable than temporary. Maybe he feels he's gotten what he can out of Favre, and he wants to have a contingency plan if his offense's late-season slowdown turns into a dead stop in the playoffs. If he picks his spots, making a change when the opportunity allows him to chalk it up to a lopsided score or injury risk, he can at least create an option for himself when he reaches the point where Favre is hurting the team and a change is needed.

It's a strategy that makes perfect sense when you're dealing with an old quarterback who has a documented recent history of playing his best football in the first eight weeks and his worst in the last three or four.

Put simply, it's good coaching to give Jackson enough playing time to make sure he's a viable option in the playoffs.

The problem is, Childress has relinquished his ability to make the right move when it comes to Favre. He handed his coaching power over to Favre the day he became his valet. When the white smoke appeared above Hattiesburg, Miss., indicating Favre had decided he'd missed enough training camp to resume his career, Childress drove to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to pick him up and drive him to the team's headquarters.

You can bet every Vikings player viewed that as a transfer of power, which wasn't a problem as long as the team was winning and Favre was playing well.

[+] EnlargeBrad Childress
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Vikings' performance Sunday night had Brad Childress yelling in a lot of different directions.

Well, now it is.

And by the way, after he'd figuratively castrated his coach and gotten his way in such a public fashion Sunday night, why did Favre feel the need to wave the knife in Childress' face afterward? Were Favre's postgame comments a pre-emptive strike against Childress in case he decides to raise the issue again? Because rationally speaking, Favre would have made a lot of points if he'd had the grace to acknowledge, thank or apologize to Childress in a public setting.

But that's not the Favre way. If you're Favre, you humiliate him further. You recount the episode in your own terms, refusing to give an inch. And after you express your ignorance of Childress' reasoning, you say, "That's his call," when the whole world just saw that it isn't.

Childress spent a lot of his Monday news conference discussing the issue, and he repeatedly termed his end of the conversation with Favre as a "stream of consciousness," as if he were somehow engaging in an existentialist soliloquy midgame. If so, he might go down in history as the first NFL coach to be that dreamy with his quarterback over the topic of a potential benching.

The way it stands now, Childress is out of options. He can stick with Favre, or he can argue with Favre and then stick with him anyway. He made the choice in August. Sunday night was just the most flagrant reminder.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

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