Frazier, Lewis reflect on firing a decade ago

Leslie Frazier was Marvin Lewis' defensive coordinator during Lewis' first two seasons as head coach with the Bengals. A decade after Lewis fired Frazier, the two meet as opposing head coaches.

Leslie Frazier and Marvin Lewis both sound like they have moved on from Frazier's two-year stint as defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, when Lewis was the head coach.

After the second season, 2004, Lewis fired Frazier as his defensive coordinator. The two will meet for the first time as opposing head coaches on Sunday in Cincinnati with Lewis guiding the Bengals and Frazier the Minnesota Vikings, but Lewis said things are much different now that he has more experience as a head coach.

"That's the toughest thing you ever have to do as a coach. It's very difficult to make any kind of change, particularly someone who has been and someone you respect so much for his ability as a coach and also his character as a person," Lewis said Wednesday during a conference call with Vikings reporters. "It was a very difficult thing. I've tried to, as difficult as it is, be as supportive as I could all the way through with Leslie and everything that has happened in his career since then. It's been great and hasn't surprised me, and I've told him that, but we were just at a point where we had to make a tough choice. It was hard."

After spending four seasons (1999-2002) working with defensive backs with the Philadelphia Eagles, Frazier got his first NFL opportunity as Lewis' first defensive coordinator with the Bengals, who were coming off a 2-14 record in 2002. With Lewis in his first season as a head coach and Frazier as the defensive coordinator, the Bengals went 8-8 in 2003 and 2004.

But, despite the turnaround in record, Lewis fired Frazier.

"A difficult thing transpired then, and probably more my fault than Leslie's. Actually it was all my fault more than Leslie's, but he's gone on to do great. I'm very happy for him," Lewis said. "I can't say enough about what he's done, and the opportunity he's earned himself, and he's done a great job of. It's unfortunate what happens in coaching."

Frazier maintained his class when asked about the situation this week.

"We get along fine. I have a lot of respect for Marvin. That entire Bengals organization, the (owners), they were terrific to me during my time there," Frazier said. "Marvin and I see each other in the offseason. We have a good relationship. I'm always thankful for every place I've ever been in my career. Wherever I've been it's always been a benefit so I'm thankful for my time in Cincinnati."

Asked about it back in Cincinnati this week, Lewis said he wasn't supportive enough of Frazier "in the right ways. I'm a lot better now than I was then."

After leaving the Bengals, Frazier spent two seasons under Tony Dungy with the Indianapolis Colts as a special assistant to the head coach and working with defensive backs again. In 2007, Frazier got another chance at defensive coordinator duties, this time for the Vikings, before becoming their interim head coach in 2010 and eventually the full-time head coach starting in 2011.

Still, Frazier said he learned a lot from his first opportunity as a defensive coordinator in the NFL.

"That helps me out even now as a head coach. Just working with the staff and some of the things you want from your staff and just being able to communicate some of those thoughts and things you want to get accomplished," Frazier said. "It was a great opportunity for me and, as I mentioned earlier, every place I've been, I can look back and see the positives in each one of those situations where it's helped me to get to where I am now. Thankful for that opportunity, thankful for things I learned, thankful for the (owners) for allowing me to be there, along with Marvin."

In 2003, the Bengals ranked 29th in overall defense, measured by total yards per game. They improved to 20th in 2004, but the improvement wasn't enough for the defensive-minded Lewis.

"I think that as the head coach, I'm ultimately responsible for everything that occurs. Particularly, everyone looks at me as the defensive coach at that point," he said Wednesday. "Now after 11 years I can be the head coach. I coach on offense, defense and special teams and frankly don't get to coach enough. Then it was just so many things you're dealing with all the time. You don't maybe get to spend enough time in support of your coaches that way that they need to help them fix things when they're broken. I wasn't enough backup for him.

"At that time, it was best for everyone involved. Les was frustrated, and I think everyone was. It was best that we had to change a little bit."


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.

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