Following a pattern

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

When it came time to make his first big decision as Minnesota's new owner, Zygi Wilf looked east and hatched a plan. He would figure out a way to spell "Vikings" using "E-A-G-L-E-S."

In January 2006, Wilf made plans to hire Philadelphia's offensive coordinator as the Vikings' head coach and its linebackers coach as his new defensive coordinator. He wanted the Eagles' top personnel man as his general manager, and he was sold on the personnel and schematic approach -- draft a young quarterback to run the West Coast offense, upgrade the offensive line and blitz the bejeezus out of opponents -- that has made the Eagles a playoff team in seven of the past nine seasons.

"What we wanted was to be a first-class organization," Wilf said. "We wanted an organization that was patient and did things the right way with a goal of being a consistent winner that could challenge first for the division championship, and then for the Super Bowl, every season. We still have improvements to make, but that's always been what we have strived for."

As it turned out, Wilf hired Brad Childress as his head coach but couldn't lure talent evaluator Tom Heckert to be his general manager. The Eagles blocked Childress from hiring Steve Spagnuolo as his defensive coordinator, but a year later Childress tapped another former Philadelphia assistant -- Leslie Frazier -- for the job.

And in building the team that will host the Eagles on Sunday at the Metrodome, Childress has emulated his former employers on a number of levels. Among them:

  • Signing a prominent free agent offensive lineman to a mega-deal with hopes he would add a level of nastiness to the offense. The Eagles did it in 2000 with right tackle Jon Runyan. The Vikings followed in 2006 by acquiring left guard Steve Hutchinson.

  • Drafting a quarterback early in his tenure and put him on the developmental fast track. The Eagles had Donovan McNabb in the starting lineup by Week 10 of his rookie season. Tarvaris Jackson started the final two games as a rookie in 2006.

  • Hiring all of his athletic trainers as well as his strength and conditioning staff from Philadelphia. Eagles coach Andy Reid blocked Childress from taking any position coaches to Minnesota, but several Vikings assistants nevertheless have Eagles ties. Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy played for them in 1999, Childress' first year as an assistant in Philadelphia. The Vikings' current quarterbacks coach, Kevin Rogers, was McNabb's position coach at Syracuse. And tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson was once an Eagles intern.

  • Authorizing Frazier to mix creative blitz packages into the Vikings' cover-2 base defense. Frazier played in Chicago's "46" defense of the 1980s, but he learned the fundamentals of blitz schemes from Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson while serving as Philadelphia's defensive backs coach from 1999-02.

  • Calling his own plays during the 2006 season, as Reid always did in Philadelphia. And coincidence or otherwise, Childress handed those duties to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell not long after Reid gave that role to Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Childress was once Reid's boss when the pair worked on the Northern Arizona staff in the late 1980s; Childress was offensive coordinator and Reid coached the offensive line. So even after they reversed roles in Philadelphia, Reid and Childress continued to share an egalitarian relationship based on mutual respect rather than a chain of command.

They continue to speak regularly, connecting via cell phone as recently as Sunday night.

"We've always been that way," Reid said. "You go back and look at when we started off coaching together. He was a coordinator and I was a line coach. So I don't ever look at the hierarchy of things. I don't put people into those categories, so that part has never changed. He's a good football coach. He's a good friend. He's done a nice job."

Yet for all of the ways he has emulated Reid's program-building methods, Childress has displayed one independent streak that stands as the most notable difference between the two franchises. Even after working in Reid's pass-oriented version of the west coast offense, Childress has built his own offense around a power running game. He signed Chester Taylor as a free agent in 2006, added Adrian Peterson in 2007 and this season ran the ball on 53.5 percent of his offensive plays.

The Eagles, on the other hand, passed on 58.7 percent of the time this season. Over the course
of a 1,000-play NFL season, that's as diametrically opposed as two teams can be.

Childress blazed a path most recently followed by Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, another former Eagles assistant who added more running to Reid's offense.

"That's their little wrinkle to the thing," Reid said. "They have done it more than probably anybody in this system and done it very well. Brad has one of the best, if not the best running back [Peterson] in the National Football League right now, maybe the MVP of the National Football League. He's given him the ball a lot and I understand that."

With so much familiarity on both sides, who will have the advantage on Sunday? The key, Childress suggested, is predicting the wrinkles each team almost certainly will unveil.

"I imagine they'll have some surprises," Childress said. "They've got surprises. I know that. You try to be ready for them. ... I don't particularly relish playing those guys just from a personal standpoint. [They] will give it [their] best shot and we will give it our best shot."