Leslie Frazier's patient approach mostly endeared him to his players. On occasion, however, it frustrated them.
In the end, Frazier's patience and ownership's impatience collided and cost Frazier his job as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He rebounded quickly, finding new career life only four days after he was fired, joining forces with another NFC North coach that lost his job last year, Lovie Smith, taking their Cover-2 coaching covenant south to Tampa.
Was it the right call to move away from Frazier after three-plus seasons? Time will tell, but in looking back at his tenure as leader of the Vikings, there are two factors that hurt him most: his patience and his defense.
First, the patience.
His calm, collected demeanor on the sideline rarely wavered in public prevue, but players insisted before the season and at the end of the season that the Frazier way seen by media and fans wasn't always the Frazier on display in private dealings.
"Coach has a very quiet demeanor about himself, but once he makes his mind up he's pretty set on it when he decides to do stuff and what he thinks is best for the team," 11-year defensive tackle Kevin Williams said during training camp. "It's kind of hard to talk him out of that type of stuff. He tries to see it as a player and a coach from both sides."
Even as it was becoming more apparent toward the end of the season that Frazier's days with the Vikings could be winding down, Jared Allen reminded reporters that Frazier's kindness didn't mean he was run over by his players, which seemed to be the sentiment from some fans that rarely ever saw Frazier break from his expressionless sideline demeanor.
"Don't mistake kindness for weakness," Allen warned the outside analysts. "Coach Frazier worked our butts off. Coach Frazier wasn't always just smiles and everything like that. But he's a good human being. That's the important thing. I'll always remember what Coach Frazier did for me off the field. He helped me grow as a man and for that I'll always be thankful."
He tried to help others grow as men, too. Some – like Allen, who went from the wild child mullet man when he arrived to a married, God-invoking man in 2013 – melded some of Frazier's personality into their own.
Others simply didn't repay Frazier's patience in them.
He stood by many players, often declining to call out their mistakes in public. The prime example of that was cornerback Chris Cook.
One of the forgotten aspects of Cook's four-year ride with the Vikings is that Frazier was the one that visited Cook in Virginia before the Vikings ever drafted him. Cook had predraft character questions and Frazier ended up vouching for him before the Vikings drafted him in the second round.
Injuries and the lack of a singular interception marred Cook's time with the Vikings, but it was another act of kindness from Frazier that put a dent in his previously spotless armor. When Cook was charged with domestic assault for allegedly choking his girlfriend in 2011, Frazier stood by the cornerback while he dealt with his legal issues. He showed a trust in Cook that most would argue was never earned. But by allowing Cook to remain on the roster for the rest of the season and continue to draw his paycheck, it tested the patience of some of the veteran players who disagreed with that move by the first-year full-time head coach.
Publicly, players continued to stick by Frazier and appreciated his support. Others were also the beneficiary of his father-figure attitude. But, still, Cook drawing a paycheck while also drawing negative attention to the team didn't sit well with some of the players.
On the field, Frazier remained tolerant, too.
Whether it was his decision or forced upon him by management, Frazier drove the fan base batty by insisting that Christian Ponder gave the Vikings the best chance to win during his season of struggles in 2013 with Matt Cassel waiting (patiently) in the wings. It appears the linebackers, save for Chad Greenway, were a miscalculation of talent by general manager Rick Spielman, who is in charge of the roster but not the depth chart. Erin Henderson badly wanted the middle linebacker spot and was given it. With that, Marvin Mitchell was handed the weakside linebacker spot that Henderson previously manned. Neither flashed much in the lines of earning those spots, and Henderson's latest DWI arrest should certainly have his career in hot water. Keeping Cook ahead of Xavier Rhodes on the depth chart might have also been a case of too much patience that wasn't earned.
Many of those aforementioned issues are on the defensive side of the ball, and that's exactly where Frazier was supposed to be the expert.
When he took over the defense in 2007, it ranked 20th in yards and 12th in points, and for the next three years with Frazier as coordinator it was a top-10 defense in yards – sixth in 2008-2009 and eighth in 2010. It also ranked between 10th and 18th in points against during that three-year stretch. But when Frazier became the head coach, the defense suffered. In 2011, it fell to 19th in yards and 21st in points, then 16th in yards and 14th in points in 2012.
But in 2013, it turned into an unqualified disaster. Too strong verbiage? Consider the 31st ranking in yards and 32nd in points. But even if you don't want to stack it up against the rest of the league, witness how badly it performed compared to franchise history.
The 2013 Vikings defense allowed the most first downs (368) in franchise history, 24 more than the previous worst, and the most passing first downs (247). The total net yards of 6,365 eclipsed the previous low-water mark of Les Steckel's 1984 disaster. From most offensive plays allowed (1,132) to most 300-yard passing games (seven) to most passing attempts (648), completions (419), passing yards (4,598) and passing touchdowns (37), the defense reached new lows in one category after another in 2013.
For a defensive-minded coach, there are two ways to view it. Either Frazier didn't have the answer or he showed too much patience with his players and coordinator.
Nearly everyone who dealt with Frazier wanted to see him succeed. Ultimately, though, a 21-33-1 isn't viewed as success in the NFL, and perseverance of fans and ownership had worn thin.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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