Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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It's usually difficult to invest much emotion in NFL coaches. They're mostly vagabond mercenaries who travel from city to city, knowiing they'll most likely be fired within two or three years, and they often display all the interpersonal charm of vagabond mercenaries.
Leslie Frazier was, and is, different. He brought with him a remarkable personal story and a unique personal touch. He was the rare NFL head coach who became beloved by people at all levels of his organization, who made sure he ate lunch with different employees every day, who was about more than winning and losing.
Of course, losing did him in. He won 18 games in three full seasons as the Vikings' head coach, and that number justifies the Wilfs' decision to fire him, whether I agree with it or not.
It's easy to blame the head coach when an NFL team loses, but I never believe it's that simple. With the exception of Joe Gibbs, every great coach in recent NFL history has been defined by the play of his quarterback. I believe that if Frazier had been given a franchise quarterback, he would still be employed. If he was capable of winning 10 games with an erratic Christian Ponder, what could he accomplish with a real NFL quarterback?
Rick Spielman has a good batting average while running the Vikings' draft, but his choice of Ponder cost Frazier his job.
So while the Wilfs and Spielman begin their search for a new coach, what will matter most is the combination of coach and quarterback upon which they settle.
Frazier has been blamed for the choice of Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator. I've been given indications that wasn't his decision alone. Alan Williams wasn't his first choice as defensive coordinator, either.
If you want to blame Frazier for something, blame him for not playing a bigger role in defensive play-calling, and for not forcing Musgrave to use Cordarrelle Patterson more early in the season.
I was lucky enough to spend time with Frazier in his hometown of Columbus, Ms. I saw the remains of the shack in which he was raised, and met with people who are still close to him.
He's a remarkable human, and if he had been given a good quarterback, he'd stil be employed.
I'll be on 1500ESPN (that's 1500AM) at noon to talk about Frazier. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
NFL games shouldn't end in ties.
Enough about that.
If you, like me, are watching Vikings games more to discern what next year's team will look like than what this year's final record will look like, there were a few interesting developments on Sunday, in the Vikings' 26-26 tie with the Packers.
Here are two key developments:
-Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the 29th pick in this year's draft, was credited with four passes defensed, of the Vikings' nine total. He aquitted himself well against a pretty good group of receivers, and saved a touchdown by knocking the ball from the hands of James Jones.
He also injured his leg and returned to the field, a promising sign of toughness.
-Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson finally - finally! - looked like a big part of the offense. He had 11 passes thrown his way. He caught a eight. Both totals were team-highs.
He gained 54 yards. He returned the opening kickoff 57 yards. That return caused the Packers to kick the ball out of bounds while trying to keep the ball away from him on a subsequent kickoff.
Patterson could have had a much bigger day. He was unable to hold onto a long pass down the left sideline, and he had the ball bounce out of his hands in the end zone after it was tipped on the Vikings' first drive of overtime.
Patterson said he should have caught that pass.
I've been saying all season that Patterson should be a bigger part of the offense. He's too talented to leave on the sideline. He can catch short passes and turn them into long gains, and he should be able to take the occasional handoff or reverse, like Percy Harvin used to do.
He should be the Vikings' featured receiver the rest of the season.
-Aaron Rodgers is probably wishing he could ask for a raise.
The Packers have lost four straight since he was injured, and have tried three other quarterbacks. Without him, the Packers' receivers are less productive, the offensive line looks worse (because the ball doesn't leave the pocket as quickly) and the defense looks shoddier (because the offense doesn't sustain as many drives or create leads.)
And it's no longer too early to say that Greg Jennings made a dire mistake by leaving the Packers and Rodgers. Jennings caught two passes for 29 yards in five quarters on Sunday, and dropped a key third-down pass.
It's almost as if Jennings is so embarrassed by his decision to leave Green Bay that he's gone into a shell.
-Chrisitan Ponder amazes me. I've never before covered a quarterback whose performances could look so different on the field and on paper.
Watching him today, I thought Ponder had terrible pocket awareness, threw a potential pick-six that was dropped, was too eager to pull the ball down and run or scramble. Then I look at the stat sheet and he was 21-for-30 with a touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 103.9.
There are a lot of modern statistics that offer great insights into the games we watch. There are also statistics that contradict eyesight and common sense.
I was more impressed with the Gophers' loss to the Badgers than any of their victories this season.
They stood up physically against a program built on tough, physical play. And while Phil Nelson did not have a good game, I have to believe the cold affected his accuracy and touch. His receivers dropped a handful of key passes, and when he missed ,he often missed by a wide margin. He's better than that.
Had a friend today tell me an interesting story: That last year, Jerry Kill was coaching on the sideline, and he dropped to one knee to look at a play chart. A half-dozen Gophers coaches and officials rushed to him, thinking he was having a seizure.
Kill said at that point that he needed to coach from the press box, so he wouldn't be a distraction.
It will be very interesting to see whether Kill stays in the press box the rest of this year, and for the rest of his career. He's found something that works - Tracy Claeys running the sideline, and Kill seeing the big picture from upstairs, rather than arguing with officials.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15, and on 1500ESPN at noon for my regular weekday hit with Judd&Dubay. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Devoted my column to Percy Harvin, so here I'll state the obvious: Christian Ponder should be done as a Viking.
Josh Freeman's horrific performance against the Giants gave everyone pause. It made sense to back off the Vikings' original plans of testing him for the rest of the season. It made sense to allow him to recover from the concussion the team says he had, and to give him time to work on the mechanics that failed him.
Now that Ponder has written a coda to his Minnesota career with a scattershot performance in the Vikings' 41-20 loss at Seattle, it's time for Freeman to give it another try.
The way the Vikings hve handled backup Matt Cassel is proof that they think of him the same way the rest of the NFL does - as a nice backup and nothing more.
Freeman hasn't offered much evidence this year, in Tampa or Minnesota, that he can regain the form that made him a solid NFL starter. But he's still more promising than Ponder and Cassel. Even if there is a one percent chance that Freeman can use the rest of this season to reestablish himself as a quality starter, that puts him ahead of Ponder and Cassel.
And now the Vikings have the perfect opportunity to break Freeman back in: Against a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers.
I get into this a little bit in the column, but the feeling in the Seahawks' lockerroom was that Harvin will make a very good team great.
Russell Wilson has moved himself into consideration as the best of the league's young quarterbacks. Andrew Luck gets the nod from most experts, but Wilson may be closer to Luck than most are willing to admit.
He's accurate, athletic, smart, tough. He's a great leader. With Harvin, he'll have a downfield threat that will torture safeties who want to creep toward the line of scrimmage to stop Marshawn Lynch. He can return kickoffs, take handoffs and catch short passes, but it's his speed that will make the Seahawks a markedly better offense.
``The thing about him is, he draws attention,'' Wilson said. ``It's hard to stop him because he's so fast, he's so electric, he loves the game, he's so physical. He's the type of guy who's so fast - he runs a 4.3 40, easy - he can make guys miss, but he also wants to be physical with you. It's tough for defensive players to know how to cover him.''
I think Adrian Peterson is hurting. Either that, or his offensive line has made him gun-shy.
He just doesn't hit the hole the way he did last year. That's either because he's dealing with injuries (including the groin problem that bothered him this week) or because he doesn't expect to get through the first wave of defenders cleanly.
He averaged 3.1 yards per carry on Sunday, and while he didn't have many openings, he also didn't attack the way usually does.
If Ponder does get benched, John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph should go on strike. Ponder's strength as a quarterback was getting the ball to the tight end. Cassel and Freeman are both more likely to look to their wide receivers.
Is everyone still excited about turning Joe Webb into a receiver? Sunday, in his most extensive playing time, he caught two passes for nine yards. Every time a talented athlete fails at his initial position in the NFL, everyone says, ``Turn him into a receiver!''
It's not that easy. Webb is still a spectacular athlete and a wonderful runner, but he hasn't built up a lifetime of repetitions at receiver - running patterns, accelerating out of breaks, reading coverages, catching the ball under duress, building up a rapport with a quarterback. It may take years, and guys who are on their second position don't have years.
The Vikings had little chance to win on Sunday, and Ponder made a bunch of mistakes, but I thought the key moment in the game might have come late in the first quarter. It was 3-3. The Vikings faced third-and-9 from their 37.
Peterson snuck out of the backfield on a screen pass. He was wide open. He had blockers in front of him. He may have scored. He certainly would have gotten the first down and more. And Ponder misfired on a simple throw.
Let's say Peterson scores there. At the very least the game remains competitive for a longer period of time.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. (5:15 Seattle time!) and on 1500ESPN during the Judd&Dubay Show. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
London -- The first wave of the Star Tribune contigent - photographer Carlos Gonzalez (@CarlosGphoto) and me - arrived in London this afternoon (or morning, Minnesota time.)
The Vikings will arrive Tuesday morning, and we'll cover their first press conference here. Chip Scoggins and Mark Craig will join us Tuesday afternoon, and we'll provide stories, columns, notes, blog posts, photos and videos all week. Please pick up a paper or follow us on Startribune.com.
So far, I've checked into my hotel, eaten lunch at a Lebanese restaurant and taken a walk that led me to Paddington Station, which is kind of like London's Grand Central Station.
I asked a young man with a heavy beard working at the "ee'' phone store whether there was excitment in London over the Vikings' game on Sunday against the Steelers.
Here's a rough recollection of how the conversation went:
Me: Anybody talking about the NFL game?
Him: "Not really.''
Me: Do people here care about the NFL?
Him: "Not really. People here are into football, or what you call soccer. American football isn't really followed here, and it's on at odd times - late at night, when people are sleeping.''
Me: Will you watch the game?
Him: Probably not.
The time change is six hours, so the Vikings' noon kickoff (CST) will begin at 6 p.m. in London.
That's really not that late. The impression I got from the young man at the phone store was that he just didn't care about American football, and so hadn't bothered to think about why he didn't care for it.
I wrote about the Vikings' coaching staff and their impending arrival in London for the Tuesday paper. I picked up a bunch of local newspapers, and didn't see a mention of the Vikings-Steelers game or the NFL at all.
I still view the marketing of football in Europe as misguided greed. The NFL is incredibly successful in part because of its size. There are 32 teams grouped in divisions of four. While Jacksonville is a weak link because of city size, stadium quality and poor management, there isn't a franchise that can't thrive if managed intelligently.
Expand to Europe, and you add exhausting travel to the physical challenges facing NFL players. You'd probably have to alter the way the schedule works. You'd have to play games at a time that would be inconvenient either for local fans or the prime TV audience.
While I love having an opportunity to spend a week in a great city like London, I don't even think it's right to play a regular-season game here. The Vikings sacrifice a home game and add a difficult trip to their schedule, and for what?
I'm really not sure.
1500ESPN got me a phone I can use for international calls, so I'll be keeping my usual radio schedule: Noon(ish) each day with Judd@Dubay, plus calling in to Sunday Sports Talk and the last Ron Gardenhire Show of the season, 9:30-noon on Sunday.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Thanks for reading.
This is why we love the NFL, for its unpredictability and drama.
This is why workplace productivity takes such a hit on Mondays following the Sundays when the local NFL team loses.
At different times during the Vikings' 31-30 loss to Chicago, I expected Christian Ponder to be benched, Devin Hester to return every kick for a touchdown, Adrian Peterson to be ground into dust, and Jay Cutler to get extremely hot and dominate the game.
Instead, Ponder settled down after an awful first half and played the way he did last December, the Vikings' defense and special teams produce countless big plays and the Vikings set themselves up to win an almost-must-win game at a place where they hardly ever play well, Soldier Field.
Most interesting, they put themselves in position to win without a big game from Adrian Peterson, who outperformed most mortals but was hardly his dominating self because of the Bears' attentive defense and the slippery turf.
Then Jay Cutler hit Martellus Bennett with a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left, and the Vikings suddenly were staring into the abyss, at 0-2.
Again, that's why we love the NFL, and so many of you hate Mondays. Games and seasons can swing in a matter of minutes.
Teams that return a kickoff and a fumble for a touchdown in the same game have lost only 12 times since 1940. While Ponder played much better in the second half, his inability to take advantage of a Bears defense stacked to stop the run in the first half may have been the deciding factor.
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