They are tied together, Leslie Frazier and Donovan McNabb, by a 13-year relationship that helped bring the veteran quarterback to Minnesota back in July.
That relationship, built on trust and communication, has become more important than ever as criticism of both player and coach starts to mount in the wake of a 0-4 start that is the worst for the Vikings since 2002.
The two met on Monday after a 22-17 loss to Kansas City. Frazier has faced questions about some of his in-game decisions and McNabb's inconsistency has some calling for rookie Christian Ponder to take over.
So the two old friends are leaning on each other to try to get the Vikings turned around.
"The fact that we have a history together makes it a little easier to be pointed in conversations and not have to dance around issues and vice versa," Frazier said Wednesday. "Both of us being able to communicate on that level, it does help."
Frazier was hired as a defensive assistant on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia in 1999 when the Eagles drafted McNabb in the first round. They entered the league together and found common ground in their faith and levelheaded approach to a game that can include wild swings in emotion from week to week.
Frazier wanted McNabb more than any other available veteran quarterback when the Vikings went looking this summer after the retirement of Brett Favre. Convinced the lockout made it close to impossible for Ponder to be ready, Frazier wanted an established veteran who could help the Vikings avoid a rebuilding year.
He turned to McNabb, who was benched twice during a forgettable year in Washington, over other candidates like Matt Hasselbeck, Bruce Gradkowski and Kerry Collins.
"That definitely made a difference," Frazier said at the time. "Our past, the fact that we came in the league together, my term as a first-year coach with the Eagles and his rookie year as a player. So, that made a difference in the conversation, my familiarity with him and vice versa."
McNabb took a significant pay cut to complete the trade and come to Minnesota, hoping to revive his career and trusting his relationship with his new coach.
"I remember watching his kids grow up," McNabb said. "Now his kids are taller than I am."
Running a new offense without a summer to get it down, McNabb ranks 30th in the league in yards passing, 28th in yards per completion and 22nd in completion percentage.
Playing under a heavy rush on most occasions, he is completing just 37 percent of his passes on third down. That has kept the Vikings from sustaining drives, particularly in the second half as they've let games slip away.
That prompted the meeting on Monday, and McNabb said he also met with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson to "iron out some wrinkles" in the offense.
"We sat down on Monday and went into detail about where we are, where we need to be and what has to be done going forward," Frazier said. "I think we're on the same page, we know what we have to get done. I know he's eager to get back on the field, eager to play another game and helping to right the ship."
With NFC North rivals Green Bay and Detroit both off to 4-0 starts, the Vikings' prospects of contending for a playoff spot are daunting. Some fans have called for Ponder to take over on Sunday against Arizona (1-3) and for the Vikings to turn their focus to building for the future around the 12th overall pick.
But Frazier is standing firmly in McNabb's corner. He said the Vikings have plenty of problems right now, but quarterback isn't one of them. Frazier saw progress in McNabb's performance against the Chiefs, when he completed 18 of 30 passes for 202 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
That support, that open line of communication that clearly was not there in Washington last season, is hitting home with McNabb.
"We've been through four losses, that's over and now it's time to move on," McNabb said. "I look for positive things to happen in these upcoming weeks. He does the same way, and the rest of the team does as well."
Frazier also was close with Favre and stuck with him at quarterback even when the 41-year-old was hobbled by injury and throwing interceptions left and right at the end of last season. But Frazier was the interim coach then, and the season was already lost.
Now that the job, and the responsibility, is totally his, no amount of admiration or respect will be able to keep him from benching McNabb if the team's struggles continue.
In some ways, the real test of their relationship has yet to come.
"What gets you to the point where you are looking at the quarterback position like so many are doing?" Frazier said. "What has created that conversation? Our record has a lot to do with that.
"In my case, it's more about our entire team, what's best for our team as we're making the decision. That's purely what it's about. What's the best thing for our team at this point."
Frazier, McNabb staying tight in tough times
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