Daily Herald
Things weren't always so good for Vikings coach Childress
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 1/21/2010 3:17 PM

Brad Childress

Born: June 27, 1956

Hometown: Aurora

Personal: Married to Dru-Ann, and they have four children, Cara, Kyle, Andrew and Christopher

High school: 1974 Marmion Academy graduate who played quarterback for state-ranked team. Honored with Marmion Centurion Award in 2008, which is awarded to distinguished alumni.

College: Briefly played quarterback and wide receiver at Illinois before transferring to Eastern Illinois, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology.

NFL coaching career

2006-present: Minnesota Vikings head coach, signed through 2013

2002-05: Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator

1999-01: Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks

College coaching career

1991-98: Wisconsin offensive coordinator, quarterbacks, running backs

1990: Utah wide receivers

1986-89: Northern Arizona offensive coordinator

1985: Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks/quality control

1978-84: Illinois running backs, wide receivers, graduate assistant

Source: NFL.com; news reports

Back in the 1970s, when Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress was a two-way starter for Marmion Military Academy in Aurora, he wouldn't have impressed most observers as someone destined for the NFL - at least at first glance.

"He was 140 pounds with bird legs, but he started every game and played both ways," said his coach at Marmion, Chuck Dickerson. "This was before the state playoffs, and we were the No. 1-ranked team in the state."

But there was much more to Childress' makeup, even back then, according to Dickerson, who went on to become a defensive line coach in the NFL, appeared in two Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills and tutored Hall of Fame defensive linemen Reggie White and Bruce Smith. And he saw something special in Childress more than 30 years ago.

"He was a great athlete, but a lot of guys have that," said Dickerson, who now resides in Elgin. "But he had more important qualities. He could lead others, and he never panicked."

Dickerson wasn't just observing Childress for a couple hours a day at football practice. He became Childress' de facto father when the 16-year-old's parents were struggling through an acrimonious marriage that resulted in a bitter divorce. He moved into the basement of Chuck and Shirley Dickerson's home at the request of Childress' father. The father knew his teenage son needed something more than his own family could provide.

"He needed a kick in the a--," Dickerson said half-joking. "Not really. Brad was not a bad kid, but there were internal things in his family that were hard to deal with. There was upheaval in the family that was hurtful to all of them (Childress has five brothers and sisters).

"He needed stability in the worst way. He was a tough guy, and he was competitive. He would go after you. We gave him the basis that allowed him to put himself back together. He was able to dedicate himself and become more involved with the right things. After a short period of time, there was a tremendous change in his attitude and to doing the right thing, which is something he always had to begin with."

But, as much as the stability of a structured family life did for Childress, Dickerson said the three-year arrangement proved more beneficial for his own family, including his grade-school-age son Chris.

"He did more for me than I did for him," Dickerson said. "He made our family more complete. "Brad brought into my home an older brother for my son. I was around young people because I was a coach, but not really in a social sense.

"After we took Brad in, we'd always have a half-dozen kids sleeping in our basement. With Brad here, we were able to socialize with these kids and their parents. He's like my son. We consider Brad as much our son as his own family."

Dickerson said he's not surprised that his former team captain and quarterback has his own team one game away from the Super Bowl. Thirty-five years ago Childress was already demonstrating characteristics of a good coach, even though he never mentioned any desire to enter the profession.

In one game as a senior, Childress asked Dickerson to call time out during the fourth quarter of a tie game. He told the coach that if he tweaked a sprint-out pass that the Cadets were running a certain way, it would allow a receiver to come wide open. It worked, and Marmion scored on the next play.

"I still don't know exactly what it was that he saw," Dickerson said. "But he saw something in that defense that even I didn't see from the sideline. He understood his position and what was going on in regards to that, but he was also able to see the big picture. He had great leadership abilities and tremendous competitiveness."

Childress played quarterback briefly at Illinois, where Dickerson had been an all-America defense tackle, but he graduated from Eastern Illinois University, the same school that produced New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Watching Childress on the sidelines now, he appears bookish. The top of his head is unencumbered by hair, and he wears glasses. It's difficult to imagine him running the 300-yard low hurdles in high school and being undefeated until the finals of the state meet. He had more hair and better eyesight back in the day, but his football vision has always been 20-20.

"He did well in academics," Dickerson said, "but I wouldn't say he had the shining glow of an intellectual. He was bright. But he was especially bright in the world of sports. He just knew instinctively how to do things. He knew instinctively how to get his steps right in between hurdles. I didn't teach him that, he figured it out. He knew that if you're facing a third-and-seven there's a difference between being on your own 40-yard line and the opponents' 40-yard line.

"The great ones see what others don't see. All through his career as a player and then a coach he's been that way."