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Ties are still binding
Childress, Reid close counterparts
MINNEAPOLIS - Their bushy mustaches look about the same, and their approaches to building and organizing their teams are similar. Heck, most of their fans want them fired, too.
But Andy Reid and Brad Childress have different personalities and divergent styles, and this branch of the NFL's coaching tree has several variations and twists.
"He's maybe a little bit more, if you can imagine this, flat line than I am," Childress said. "Hard for you to see that, right?"
The football staff at Northern Arizona University in 1986 spawned four future NFL head coaches. The bond formed between Reid and Childress during that season together in the high desert of Flagstaff and the high-scoring Big Sky Conference was strong enough that, 13 years later, Reid chose Childress as his offensive coordinator when he was hired to lead the Philadelphia Eagles.
Childress's chance to be in charge came seven seasons after that in Minnesota, and he has guided the NFC North champion Vikings to a wild-card game at the Metrodome Sunday against Reid and his old team.
"Well, I wish I wasn't seeing Brad in the first round," Reid said, "but I am proud of him."
Childress was the offensive coordinator at NAU, and Reid was the line coach. Future NFL head coaches Bill Callahan and Marty Mornhinweg, now Philadelphia's offensive coordinator, were also assistants with the Lumberjacks that year. Reid cracked the NFL in 1992 with Mike Holmgren and the Green Bay Packers and brought Childress with him to Philadelphia after his old buddy spent eight seasons running the offense at the University of Wisconsin.
They've shared plenty of anecdotes and advice about coaching, and their families remain friends. Despite their attempts to downplay the personal significance of this game, it's surely a source of pride for them - especially considering the hurdles their teams have cleared this season to get here, as well as the public skepticism they've endured about their ability and performance.
Childress adopted much of Reid's practice schedules, philosophies, and routines, both during the season and not, and hired his head athletic trainer (Eric Sugarman) and strength and conditioning coach (Tom Kanavy) away from Philadelphia, as well as other support staffers. The expertise of both Reid and Childress is on offense; Reid was one of Brett Favre's many quarterbacks coaches in Green Bay, and down the road in Madison, Childress was drawing up plays for Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ron Dayne.
The comparisons quickly turn to contrasts, though.
"Once you start talking about personal aspect, they are nothing alike," said Vikings offensive lineman Artis Hicks, who played four years for the Eagles. "They are night and day."
"He hardly talks. You've got to punch him, threaten him, or do something to get him to say a couple of words," Hicks said. "When he does talk, of course you take heed."
"He's a psychology major, so he's always challenging you," Hicks said, adding: "You can kind of get caught up in that fog and that haze, and it's good to engage in a conversation where you have to be snapped out of it and be a thinking man for a change."
There is also the difference in game plan preference. Though the Vikings would be foolish not to use NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson as much as possible, Childress has always been a run-first coach. Though Reid's strategy has been fueled by the success of quarterback Donovan McNabb, he would much rather pass the ball.
Another longtime assistant under Reid, John Harbaugh, became head coach of the Baltimore Ravens this year. With a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco, the Ravens were also a run-oriented offense.
"That's what they have chosen to do. That's their little wrinkle to the thing," Reid said.
So what about those mustaches? Who has the more distinguished look?
"Maybe Childress, because he's bald up top so his mustache probably means more to him," Hicks said.
The game Sunday against his friend and former colleague certainly means a lot more.