After Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf spoke with members of the organization, including players, prior to Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, he left some with the impression he was still contemplating firing coach Brad Childress regardless of whether the Vikings won or lost, several sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.
The scenario given prior to kickoff: If the Vikings win, Wilf is expected to measure the manner in which the team played and how Childress managed the game; if the Vikings lose, there is a growing likelihood he would promote defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to replace Childress, the sources said.
Before the game, Wilf spoke to reporters briefly and said he "has nothing to say about that."
The Metrodome crowd booed as Childress emerged from the tunnel leading to the field, and the "Fire Childress!" chants were audible several times throughout the afternoon. Finally, as the Vikings rallied from a two-touchdown deficit late in the fourth quarter and pulled out a 27-24 overtime victory over Arizona, the chants changed to "Let's go Vikings!"
"I think they came expecting to see an execution," Childress said afterward. "And it ended up a pretty good football game at the end."
Wilf was downright giddy after the game, greeting everyone from Childress to the last guy on the roster as they entered the locker room by exclaiming, "Great heart, fellas! Great heart!"
Before the win, members of the Vikings organization, including players, offered vivid descriptions of the environment Childress has created around the team facility, including "we're walking on eggshells" ... "the air has been sucked out of the building" ... "nobody's having any fun."
Childress should have already coached his last game, some Minnesota players told ESPN's Ed Werder.
One veteran said: "I think there was a great window of opportunity this past week to make a change."
That player said the issues are the same as in recent years but have become more intolerable because of the team's record. He said Childress has never been popular in the locker room.
One player described Childress as untrustworthy. Another said: "The players have had enough of his BS. He needs to go."
Wilf's displeasure with the Vikings coach built on an almost daily basis and the owner strongly considered firing Childress last week, league sources said.
For starters, Wilf did not approve of the way Childress handled Brett Favre's injury situation before Minnesota's game against the New England Patriots. The fact that the Vikings coach said he was unsure who would start at quarterback while Favre said he expected to start bothered Wilf, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Sources also told Schefter that what upset Wilf even more was Childress' decision late in last Sunday's second quarter to go for a touchdown rather than kick a field goal during a tie game. Had Childress opted for the field goal, the Vikings could have taken a 10-7 lead into the half. The half ended 7-7, and New England controlled the game from that point on.
Asked if he felt he was playing for Childress' job this Sunday against the Cardinals, Favre said, "I felt like I was playing for mine. I'm just being honest. ... Have I always got along with my coach, head coach, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator? No. Do I always agree with the plays that are called? No. Why should that factor into me wanting to be the best player I can be?"
Childress' status became more tenuous after a confrontation Friday afternoon between the coach and receiver Percy Harvin grew so heated that coaches and players were forced to separate them to prevent a physical exchange, according to team sources.
According to sources, Childress questioned Harvin's effort during the practice. When Harvin took exception, Childress suggested Harvin submit to further testing on his ankle. The debate escalated and "was as close to physical as you can get," according to the source.
After the two were separated, according to sources, a teammate told Harvin: "You just did what a lot of us have been wanting to say for years."
Sunday, Childress chalked the argument up to emotional people playing an emotional game. Harvin shrugged it off, too.
"It was about whether I was going to get an MRI or not. It was a little dispute, but we settled it. Me and Coach are fine," Harvin said after the win.
The erosion of support for Childress isn't merely the fallout from the coach's decision to abruptly cut Randy Moss. In fact, Childress said Vikings players agreed with him, saying many current players told him in recent days they would have lost all respect for him if nothing was done.
"This might be the eruption that awakens us," Childress said at the time.
But another veteran player told Werder he has his doubts, saying, "It's so crazy around here that no one would even believe it outside the building."
Favre told Werder before Sunday's game that hope remains, but just barely.
"I believe the guys on this team are committed to turning it around. But if you lose another game or two that you've got one foot in the parking lot," Favre said.
Childress has said he has always made decisions with a what's-best-for-the-team mentality and downplays internal criticism, saying "there are adversaries or perceived adversaries in most all 32 NFL locker rooms."
But despite the win, the embattled Childress couldn't avoid an awkward moment when asked after the game if he wanted any assurances from Wilf that he would keep his job through the season.
"No, I'm not going to stand here like Brett Favre and tell you, compassionate, I need a hug," Childress said. "I'm all right."
Taken out of context, it would appear that Childress was jabbing his 41-year-old quarterback just minutes after Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards and led two touchdown drives in the final five minutes of regulation to push the game into overtime.
Analysts on NBC's pregame show criticized Childress for making the remark and several national media outlets and blogs jumped on it, using it as more evidence of the frayed relationship between the coach and the quarterback.
However, Childress was jokingly referring to Favre's answer to a question on Wednesday.
While questions about Childress' job were swirling following his abrupt release of receiver Randy Moss, Favre was asked at his weekly news conference if Childress was a "compassionate" coach.
"Is he compassionate as in give us a hug or something?" Favre asked with a wry grin. "Boy, I sure could use one, too. But he hasn't given me one."
But Favre did indicate to ESPN's Werder that he might be done soon unless the Vikings start winning, saying: "There's still hope for us. If I thought there was no hope, I'd sit down."
For at least one week, the Vikings don't have to worry about that.
ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, NFL reporter Ed Werder and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.