Leslie Frazier won't know until next week whether he has done enough to keep the Vikings' head-coaching job after six games of service in that capacity, but he feels good about what he has accomplished so far.
When Frazier took over on an interim basis, it appeared that Vikings players had quit on former coach Brad Childress and some players had even questioned the effort of their teammates early in the year. A team coming off an overtime loss in the NFC Championship game and returning all 22 starters was suddenly 3-7 and realistically out of the playoffs. Tensions in the locker room were growing, if there was even much of a pulse left.
Since then, however, Frazier has brought a calming presence to the team and a mantra of focusing only on the next opponent.
"I think it's gone as well as could be expected, considering the circumstances that I inherited and just knowing how things were. It was not the most enviable position to step into," Frazier said Friday as he paused to consider where he has been the last six weeks and what his future might hold.
"There were more things going on beyond just football that had to be dealt with in order to bring our team together, and be able to go and do what we did this past Tuesday night (a 24-14 win at Philadelphia) just makes me so proud of our players, just sticking to some of the things that we talked about when I first stepped into his role. This is coming off of a tough loss against an NFC North opponent, against Chicago, and to bounce back the way they did just showed me they're paying attention. They're listening. They're responding."
The path for the Vikings all year hasn't been easy. Distractions have littered their way throughout a season of disappointment. From quarterback Brett Favre's late arrival once again to 2009 Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice's late decision to have hip surgery just weeks before the regular season began to the acquisition of receiver Randy Moss in a trade to his release less than a month later to Brad Childress' eventual firing.
But even after Frazier took over, there were circumstances beyond his control that could have diverted the team's attention. They rallied for two wins out of the gate against the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills, but the weather-related troubles started on Dec. 11. The New York Giants were scheduled to come to the Twin Cities for a game against the Vikings the next day. A blizzard diverted the Giants' plane to Kansas City and the scheduled Sunday noon start time was in jeopardy. When the roof of the Metrodome collapsed under the weight of 17 inches of snow shortly after 5 a.m. Dec. 12, the game was rescheduled for Monday night, Dec. 13. A home game turned in a neutral-site event in Detroit and the Vikings were blown out 21-3.
Their next "home" game was in question most of the next week as the team tried to prepare TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Gophers, for an NFL game. The stands were shoveled and field level plowed and eventually the Vikings scrambled to make it a general-admission affair. The score was even worse than the previous week, as the Chicago Bears ran away from the Vikings in a 40-14 blowout.
Somehow, Frazier was able to get the players back focused for their last game, which also had a weather element to it. The Vikings flew into Philadelphia on Saturday night expecting to play a Sunday night game, but the NFL postponed that game as well, moving it to Tuesday night so as not to interfere with ESPN's coverage of Monday Night Football. That meant the Vikings players were relegated to their hotel for an extra two nights.
"The thing that I've tried to do is to try and get them focused on the opponent. Now we had some situations where some things kind of got us out of focus a little bit, but that's what I've been trying to do from Day 1 – get focused on the opponent and work towards what our strengths are as a football team and just keep harping on that," Frazier said. "And build trust within our team where they're trusting their teammates, they're trusting their coaches and vice versa. That's what I've tried to do. I can't say it's one particular thing, but you guys know what leadership looks like and that's important in the role that I'm in. It makes a huge difference. However way you define leadership, that's what I've tried to provide."
So far, it has worked. Under Frazier's watch, the team that started out 3-7 is 3-2 in the last five weeks with a final road test back in Detroit, this time playing against the Lions.
Frazier is expecting to meet with team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf next week to discuss his future with the team, but he has to be considered a front-runner for the full-time position at this point, considering the turnaround he has made and the response he has gotten from his team.
"I think what's really gone unnoticed or unmentioned is how good he's done at keeping everybody intact and keeping everybody going in the same direction through a roof collapsing, a three-game homestand in three different stadiums, a long-winded road trip to Philly," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "Just keeping everybody together. Not everybody's mentioned it how good of a job he's done doing that. Coming out and playing the way we did on Tuesday night, after a really, really weird, weekend, a lot of the credit goes to him."
Frazier admits he would like to know about his future as soon as possible, but he continues to put the focus on the players.
"I just knew that we could do more than what we were doing, so there were no reservations (about taking the interim job)," Frazier said. "I wanted them to experience success, and I think they would say, even beyond the wins and losses, it's been a good experience for all of us. I wouldn't doubt that any one of our players would say that, whether you're a first-string guy or a guy who doesn't dress on Sunday. I think for every one of us, these six weeks have been a positive, and losses are tough when you experience them in our league. But the experience, I think for all of us, has been a positive.
As for the future, Frazier said it's been hard for him to think about it too much with the way the last week has gone, being stranded in Philadelphia until early Wednesday morning and having a short week of preparation for the season finale on Sunday.
But he knows one thing about the future. Whoever is leading the team this offseason will need to make some decisions at the quarterback position. Favre has said repeatedly that he is retiring after this season and Tarvaris Jackson is in the final year of his contract, leaving rookie Joe Webb as the only quarterback that has been with the team all season who is under contract for 2011.
"You've got to solidify the quarterback position. … You can be short in some other areas, but if you're right at quarterback it lets you get by for a period of time," he said. "So we've got to solidify that.
"We've got a bunch of guys that are going to be free agents after the season, so this team is going to look totally different than it does right now. So you've got to be right on personnel going forward and not allow yourself to dip like some other teams who have been where we are and have taken a long time to come back. Making the right decisions when it comes to personnel, and obviously the head coach, making the right decision there will determine whether this team dips for a number of years and rises back or is it one or two years and we're back being the NFC North champs."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Frazier for the future? Coach contemplates
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