In NFL parlance, Leslie Frazier has player cred.
Fair or not, NFL coaches who have played in the league tend to get a little more respect from players at the outset of their head-coaching career. Frazier is being afforded that leeway by his players during the early phases of his interim head-coaching career.
Frazier's credibility as a former cornerback with the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team doesn't mean his throws on the challenge flag are any better or his ability to hip bump with players really makes any meaningful difference. But when it comes to relating to the mindset of the players, Frazier is automatically given the benefit of the doubt where former head coach Brad Childress could never fall back on the "I've lived it" line his players.
"Extremely important. For him to understand players, that's the first step in success," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "You know how to run things, how to do things, how to fill them out, when to push them, when to fall back on them. You can get a feel of them. Leslie's been on the other side of the spectrum with Childress here, so he's heard all the ‘locker room talk' that us players have that a lot of staff and coaches upstairs don't hear, like general managers and stuff like that, not coaches. I'm guessing that he's taken that into consideration."
Frazier hasn't done too much to alter the weekly practice routine of players, at least not yet, but players believe he has a better feel when to push and when to realize players are struggling.
"Being a former player, that's very important. That's very important. How can you understand something that you haven't been a part of? You won't understand that," Shiancoe said. "You won't understand two-a-days if you haven't been out on that field in two-a-days. You won't understand a player hitting Week 12 or Week 10 if you haven't been a rookie or a second-year player or a first-year starter. So you won't know those type of things if you haven't been in those type of situations."
After Childress ran into some conflicts with players early in his head-coaching tenure, he formed a players committee of select veterans. That group was partially responsible for helping Childress rescind a fine against receiver Troy Williamson in 2007 when he took an extended leave of absence to tend to matters with his grandmother's funeral. Right or wrong, Childress' fine on Williamson – after he missed two games – looked bad in public perception, and the players knew it, especially after Childress released receiver Marcus Robison on Christmas Eve the year before after he had critical comments against Childress.
Worse yet, Childress let his players committee go by the wayside when he needed it most. Instead of communicating more during troubled times, the players had less input.
Frazier has made a habit of meeting with a new veterans committee on at least a weekly basis, sometimes several times a week, depending on the issues that need to be addressed and the message that needs to be conveyed.
"Everybody loves Coach Frazier. Everybody can talk to him. He played the game before so he understands the players more. If you have any problem, you can go talk to Coach Frazier," veteran Pat Williams said in a radio interview on KFAN last week.
A "wired up" segment that ran on NFL.com this week also showed that Frazier is quick to admit fault. He wanted Adrian Peterson to be heavily involved at the start of drive last Sunday, and when Toby Gerhart was on the field Frazier mistakenly sent Peterson in the game when a play was called specifically for Gerhart. It looked like Frazier, the defensive-minded coach, got a little too involved with the offense and made a mistake that was quickly rectified.
Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy took charge and called Peterson back off the field before the Vikings were penalized or needed to waste a timeout. Frazier quickly told Bieniemy "my fault" and the team continued on its way to a 38-14 blowout over the Buffalo Bills.
"What I'm impressed about is the response from the team and how they respond to his coaching and to his way of doing things and they all fall into the system," Shiancoe said. "They're buying into the system. It's working out. I have no complaints. We're winning. We're 2-0 so far. Hopefully we can go 6-0 under Les."
The "wired" segment also showed Frazier showing confidence in his players even after they make a mistake. Immediately after Tarvaris Jackson threw his first interception, he returned to the sidelines and Frazier told him that the next offensive play would be a pass. He instructed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to dial up a pass, and that left a positive impression on Jackson, who relayed the sequence of events in his postgame press conference, thanking Frazier for the shot of confidence.
When Jackson responded a short while later with a touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, Frazier told him, "That's the heart of a champion right there."
As a former cornerback, Frazier understands the importance of quickly putting a negative play in the past. But, despite Frazier's instance that Jackson should have another shot to throw the ball immediately after throwing an interception, he has a philosophy that calls for his teams to be physical with an emphasis on running the ball and stopping the run.
"You've got to be physical. Effort, effort. Physical. That is the equation, man," Shiancoe said. "Physical. Effort. Know your assignments. Cross your T's and dot your I's. That's all you can ask of player is to give your best of what he's capable of – not play out of body or try to be Superman."
Shiancoe said Frazier knows what players talk about in the locker room and understands their concerns. Frazier's been there, done that. So what about his prospects to remove the interim tag and make him the permanent players coach?
"I'd say keep him. He's been here for five years, knows the team good. All the players love him," Williams said.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sunday slant: Frazier has player cred
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