Frazier to draw on playing, coaching past

Leslie Frazier has waited a long time and been a regular head coaching candidate, but, with the firing of Brad Childress, Frazier got the head coaching position he was looking for in the last place he thought he would find it. He has a six-week audition period to make his case to get the interim tag dropped from his title and remain the head coach of the Vikings.

Until Monday, Leslie Frazier had been the NFL equivalent to Susan Lucci.

Lucci, famous for her role on the daytime soap opera "All My Children," got nominated for a daytime Emmy Award 18 times, but didn't win until her 19th try. It seems as though Frazier's career has mirrored that of the soap star.

Since replacing Mike Tomlin as the Vikings defensive coordinator in 2007, it seems as though he has been a head coaching bridesmaid. Over the last three offseasons, Frazier interviewed for the head-coaching gig with seven teams - Buffalo, Seattle, St. Louis, Miami, Atlanta, Denver and Arizona. He didn't get any of them.

When the call to duty came, it was from a surprising source. One year and three days after signing a contract extension through 2013, Brad Childress was fired and Frazier finally lived out his dream of being a head coach, but it was nowhere close to how he envisioned the announcement of his hiring.

"It's not the way I expected it to be," Frazier said. "I didn't expect to be at a press conference here in Minnesota under these circumstances. At the same time, it's a great opportunity for myself and our team to take advantage of it and do what we've been called to do, what we've been asked to do – as in my case, the head coach – also with our players to go out and perform at the level we know we can perform at. It's an opportunity I want to take full advantage of, and the way we do that is to go out and perform."

Frazier comes to the head coaching position with a wealth of experience, both as a player and coach. He was a starter for the 1985 Chicago Bears that ran roughshod over the rest of the league and cemented their place as one of the all-time great teams in league history. Unfortunately, what should have been his greatest triumph was his ultimate tragedy. He suffered a knee injury in the first half of Chicago's Super Bowl win and never played another down in the NFL – ending his career after just five seasons.

His coaching career has been impressive in its own right. He joined the league as a defensive backs coach with Andy Reid and the Eagles, where he worked with Childress, who was the Eagles offensive coordinator at the time. He moved to defensive coordinator with the Bengals from 2003-04, but when the Bengals coaching staff got fired, he went to the Colts to serve as defensive backs coach under Tony Dungy. He developed a professional and personal relationship with Dungy and, after winning a Super Bowl, when Childress came calling for a defensive coordinator to replace Tomlin, Frazier was the first and only choice.

He's waited for the chance to become a head coach, and now that it's here he said he hopes to emphasize the things he has learned as a player and a coach to lead the Vikings out of the massive hole they have dug themselves during the 2010 season. When speaking to the team for the first time after being promoted, he said he wanted to emphasize some of the basics needed to be a successful team.

"The one thing I tried to address was that you want to be a good teammate," Frazier said. "That's part of being successful in our league. We're going to address a number of different things in the days and weeks to come, but being a good teammate is paramount to having a successful football team. If everyone buys into that and understands the importance of encouraging one another when you are going through tough times, sometimes adversity can bring out who you actually are. We are going through adverse times. This is a day, in some ways, that is a day of celebration for our team. This is a chance to embrace the opportunity we have as a group, focus our energy on the Washington Redskins and not get caught up in anything other than that."

For more than half the team – the defensive players and defensive special teamers – they have already worked closely with Frazier for the last four years. In that time, the Vikings pass defense, which was among the worst in the NFL prior to his arrival, has improved to the point that the Vikings have been a top-10 rated defense the last three seasons. He has gained the trust and respect of his players, who are looking forward to working for him.

"I have a lot of respect for Coach Frazier," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Leslie is a guy we're very comfortable with. He's never too up and down and he does a good job with game-planning and preparing for opponents. He deserves the opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL."

Frazier said his experience can help him identify with the challenges players face. While Childress was known as a taskmaster who often yelled at players to motivate them, Frazier is more soft-spoken, but no less intense. He also realizes that each game his its own face and that, at times, things don't go as planned. Momentum can swing in a hurry and his experience, both on the playing and coaching side, is something he sees as an advantage.

"In our league as a professional player, in my case having been one and now in a coaching role, you understand that every game you're being judged on performance," Frazier said. "From a coaching standpoint, it's really no different. The challenge that your players have is to understand that other people around the league are going to look at that tape. You owe it to your teammates and to your family to go out and play hard every single snap. It's my job, along with our assistant coaches, to get those guys to play hard every single snap, regardless of record."

Frazier added that, despite facing monumental playoff odds at 3-7, the Vikings aren't throwing in the towel any time soon.

"The last time I looked we're not mathematically eliminated from anything," Frazier said. "We have a lot to play for. These guys have a lot of pride. They want to win. They want to be successful. We have self-motivated guys. I don't see guys not performing up to their potential."

One of his first official acts was to throw his support fully behind quarterback Brett Favre, who, after having a tumultuous relationship with Childress, said he's looking forward to building a relationship with Frazier as his head coach for the rest of what is expect to be the final season of Favre's career.

"Leslie is a respected, knowledgeable coach and a quality person," Favre said. "I've enjoyed being around him the last couple of years and I know he's going to take this opportunity and make the most of it. What you see is what you get with Leslie. He has a background of winning Super Bowls as a player and a coach and he knows what it takes to win in the NFL."

Whether his head coaching career takes a hiatus after six games – there is plenty of speculation that the Wilf family will seek out a high-profile head coach like Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher or an organizational manager like Bill Parcells – or not, Frazier said he isn't going to change the way he interacts with the media or the fans. He hopes that his coaching future with the Vikings will be measured by what he is able to get out of the final six games of the 2010 season, and said he doesn't think that finally achieving his dream will change who he is.

"I hope that you don't see a whole lot of difference in my demeanor and the way that I approach things," Frazier said. "The role has changed, but the same demands that I have for our side of the ball when I was working as defensive coordinator purely, those demands will be there, now they're just more broad. They're for the entire football team. My personality is what it is. I hope that I don't become one of those guys that sometimes gets a little bit out of body because they get a title. I hope that I remain who I am and still get the most out of our players every single practice, every single meeting, every single game."

If he does, when the season finally does come to an end, he may have a better-than-expected chance to get the "interim" designation taken off his title and be the head coach of the Vikings long after the memory of the disappointing 2010 season that led to his hiring has faded.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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