The news this morning that the Vikings had fired Leslie Frazier had been rumored for weeks. When the Vikings were eliminated from their chance to return to the playoffs for the second straight season, the rumors began that Frazier would be the victim of the hammer falling. When an NFL team loses, someone has to take the blame. When losing happens often, the fall guy is often the head coach.
Frazier was far from alone. The Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have also fired their head coaches and there may be more to follow in the coming days. The feeling of the players was one of sadness, but, at the same time, many of the players were taking their own sense of ownership to the problem. As Jared Allen pointed out, teams win or lose together and they all felt a sense of frustration at the news of Frazier's firing.
"It's never one person's fault," Allen said. "It's always an accumulation of things. There are always plays throughout the game you want back or would take back or do differently. And I'm sure coaches have calls they would want to take back. It's a team sport. It's a team effort. You win together, you lose together. Unfortunately, it's like the quarterback, right? You get all the praise, all the scrutiny. The head coach gets all the praise and all the scrutiny, and when you don't win it falls on his shoulders. Coach Frazier understood that. He addressed that with us today. He was very genuine with us. I will always love him."
Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt felt much the same way, adding that the players have more than their share of the onus for Monday's decision.
"It's never easy," Loadholt said. "You have to own up to your own role in something like this happening. The NFL is always changing and you're always looking forward. But you can't help but wonder that, if we had done this differently or that differently, we might be here today preparing for a playoff game and Coach Frazier might be getting a long-term contract. It's tough because, from the outside, it looks like he failed. He didn't. We just didn't get the job done and that's on us."
The biggest problem the Vikings had this season was that they didn't finish games. The offense couldn't kill the clock with a lead late in games and the defense couldn't make the critical stops at the end of games that could have turned some of their last-second losses into wins.
"I think one thing that came out in the meeting is that we were 59 seconds from losing five games," Jerome Felton said. "If we win three of those games, we have a chance for the division. I don't know if there are wholesale changes that need to be made. We've just got to add pieces here and there."
The news came as a surprise to some players, like guard Charlie Johnson. The Vikings rallied late in the season, posting the best record in the division the final eight games of the season, but, when the news came, all the players could do was rewind in their minds what sort of difference a play here and a play there could have made.
"You never want to look back at what could have been or should have been, but when you have something like this happen it's hard not to," Johnson said. "Had we been getting blown out or not playing hard, then it would make sense. But Coach Frazier did everything he needed to. We worked on improving the areas we struggled at and, while it wasn't enough to get us back into the division title picture, we played much better in the second half of the season. It bothers you a little when a great man like Coach Frazier gets fired because we didn't execute."
The season began down in Mankato with all eyes on Christian Ponder. It was supposed to be his make-or-break season as a starting quarterback. As it turned out, it was the "break" part of that equation that started the downward spiral that culminated in Frazier's dismissal.
"It was interesting," Ponder said. "It was definitely an interesting year and not the way that I thought it would play out or probably anyone wanted it to play out. With my job, I didn't play well enough to keep the job and for us to win as many games as we should have. So it stinks knowing that was a contribution to what happened."
Dwelling on the negative isn't the way players want to end a season. Had the Vikings lived through their 3-13 season of 2011 again, it would have been a different story. That team lost games convincingly. In most of those games, they weren't the best team on the field. What made 2013 so painful was that they believed they were better than some of the teams they lost to and that is a hard pill to swallow.
"It does make it more frustrating," Brian Robison said. "Obviously, when you finish the season 5-10-1 and you look back at it, you're thinking, ‘We could've won 10 games.' Obviously, that makes it very frustrating. But the bottom line is there's nothing you can do about it now. All you can do is go into the offseason, try to work harder and try to not let it happen again next season."
With the firing of Frazier, the Vikings will be moving in a new direction with a new head coach leading the charge into 2014 and beyond. It was a painful reminder that, as so many players pointed out Monday, it's a business and unless you're winning, changes are made. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of one of the nicest people the Vikings players – or anyone else for that matter – will ever meet.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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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