The Vikings are going on a business trip to Tampa Bay on Sunday, but for a lot of the Vikings there will be a little personal mixed in with it.
When the team takes the field at Raymond James Stadium, they will be on the opposite sideline of Buccaneers defensive coordinator and former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.
For a lot of the 2014 Vikings, they spent their entire careers with Frazier either as their defensive coordinator or their head coach. While his head coaching tenure wasn’t a rousing success – his career record was 21-32-1 –his impact on the players went far beyond the X’s and O’s.
As a man of principal with a deep religious faith, Frazier brought that humble demeanor to the franchise and his legacy isn’t judged by his players in wins and losses, it’s more on the impact on their lives.
“Coach Frazier was a great guy around here – a great mentor to a lot of the younger guys, myself included,” Brinkley said. “He’s a great person to talk to. I’m fortunate to have a guy like that had the opportunity to touch my life, not only as a coach, but as a man.”
For players like Brinkley, Frazier’s impact was both life-changing and reaffirming. Asked what made the biggest impact on him, Brinkley said it had more to do with life than football.
“(His) spiritually,” Brinkley said. “He’s really big into the spiritual. He kind of nudged a couple of the guys here and there about getting closer to God. I was one of the guys – going to Bible study and staying comfortable with that. It helped me find peace.”
Frazier exemplified the leadership qualities of a head coach. He was an elder statesman in charge of young men with their entire lives ahead of them. The job description of a head coach is based primarily on winning games and instructing players into how to improve their games. Frazier did that, but his impact was equally off the field as it was on the field.
“He’s helped me grow and develop as a player and, not only that, but as a human being,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “You’re always thankful to have coaches like that.”
While Frazier’s role on the non-football lives of players was impactful, it wasn’t to say that he didn’t take a significant role in improving the football acumen of his players on the field in practice and on game days. Safety Harrison Smith said he was proud to have Frazier as the only head coach of his career prior to his firing last January and that he learned a lot from Frazier that has carried over in his football career.
“He was the first (NFL) coach I played for,” Smith said. “He taught me a lot about the game, a lot about playing safety in the NFL. He gave me a lot of confidence. It will be good to see him.”
Frazier’s role as a teacher might have been somewhat underestimated. As a cornerback of the Super Bowl champion Bears and a starter in the magical 1985 season, he brought an insight to winning and doing the little things to improve an individual player’s game.
Although being the head coach took him away from a lot of the day-to-day instruction at positions, he never stopped being a teacher – whether it was at cornerback or another position. He never stopped teaching.
“He was the head coach, so he meant a lot to me while he was here,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “He was a great coach and taught us a lot. He’s a coach. He’s going to teach every position. He taught the corners. He taught the safeties. He taught the linebackers. He’s taught everyone.”
Warm and fuzzy moments will take place before and after the game, but with both teams looking to turn around their struggling seasons, for the three hours the Vikings and Buccaneers are playing, Frazier will be the enemy. But for those Vikings he helped mold both as football players and men, the enemy will be anything but hated.
“He’s a great guy – not just as a coach, but as a man,” cornerback Josh Robinson said. “He’s one of the reasons why I’m here. I’m definitely grateful for that and I’m looking forward to seeing him again and talking to him.”
Players appreciate Frazier, the mentor
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