I remember from my Shakespeare study when the King dies the people reply, "The King is dead. Long live the King". It is to signify the predecessor as the rightful heir to the kingdom. That the people do not have to worry. A new ruler is chosen.
That is the feeling among fans in Minnesota preparing for the 2014 season. We want to put behind us the miseries of 2013.
Our last leader, Leslie Frazier, was the ruler of a kingdom that went 21-32-1. The previous king, Brad Childress, was 39-35-0 in his reign. Mike Tice 32-33-0. We have to go back to Denny Green (97-62-0), our coach from 1992-2001, to find a time when we regularly won games. It came as no surprise that Frazier was given the boot at the end of the 2013 season.
The Coach is gone. Long live the Coach.
Mike Zimmer begins his reign tonight, as we host the Oakland Raiders in the first preseason game of the year. The players have been at camp for two weeks, the pads have been on for long enough. We finally get to see if there is something different in the state of Minnesota.
What will George Edwards do to improve one of the worst defenses in purple memory? How will the rookies and free agents fit in? How can Matt Cassel fight against not only Teddy Bridgewater, but the media hype and fan following that is sure to grow like a storm in The Tempest?
Zimmer has already begun coaching. Two-A-Day practices, chalk talks, war room planning with staff. An executive decision to sit Adrian Pederson through the preseason games. The king has been busy preparing his soldiers.
Now it is time for we nobles and peasants to see what Zimmer has in store for the season. Questions will be answered. For this first game, here are a list of fan questions that could be addressed:
1. Is our defense going to be better? We were the 31st ranked defense last year (thank you Dallas). We could not stop teams on third down. Teams scored at will, mostly through the air. Will that slow down?
2. Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater? Last year the majority of fans begged for Cassel, and then when they got their wish, realized this team is much worse than a switch at QB will fix. Cassel played better than Christian Ponder, but not by that much. He had less turnovers and threw a little further down field. Still, he was an improvement. Can a rookie walk in and play well? Is Bridgewater a talented Russell Wilson? Or is Cassel a better option while the rookie gets a chance to sit and watch?
3. Who will help Adrian Pederson run the ball? First depth charts have Matt Asiata listed behind AP, followed by Jerrick McKinnon, the rookie from Georgia Southern, who was an unexpected third- round pick in the May draft. Asiata has had strong moments, but fans are searching for a back that can do more than the departing Toby Gerhart. With Norv Turner in charge, the running back we want is quick and sure-handed. Can block and catch balls out of the backfield. McKinnon is already the favorite in the eyes of the fans.
4. Will we be physical? Since the Dome in 1982, most older fans seen the emphasis on the team go from a tenacious defense to a desire to outscore our opponents. We have had a few good pass rushers, but when was the last time a Vikings' defense swarmed a team like the Seahawks did every game last year? Or a Bengals team? Yes we love Randy Mosses, and Cris Carters, APs, and Bridgewaters.. But if you want we old fans to get excited.. find me a ferocious front line, or linebackers that hit hard and tackle. We want cover guys you don't mind lining up one on one with Jordy Nelson. We have to know they can tackle a wide receiver by themselves. Maybe even break up a pass or two.
5. Is our first unit better than Oakland's first unit? I know. I know. It is useless preseason, do not assess anything. But we will. Most fans remember the first team offense and defense playing poorly in the preseason and then the regular season. Oakland finished 4-12 last year. They, like us, are banking on a quick turnaround.
But the Raiders have eleven consecutive losing seasons. We were in the playoffs in 2012. Oakland has found some great talent in both the draft and free agency, adding DE Jason Tuck, drafting OLB Khalil Mack this year, and CB D.J. Hayden in 2013. They are improving. Their offense will be led by Matt Schaub, forced out of Houston by poor play, and rookie Derek Carr from Fresno State (one of the QBs many will compare Bridgewater to for his career). They have Darren McFadden and recent acquisition Maurice Jones-Drew. Former Packer James Jones is there, too, though he has not moved into a starting role as of now.
Tonight we get to set these debates into motion. A meaningless preseason game?
Not if you are a Vikings' fan.
When one talks playoff droughts in Minnesota, only the oldest of fans can give a knowing nod. The 1960s was home to the beginning of the expansion franchise, and those first seven years. It was the Norm Van Brocklin years, the coach for the first six fledgling years. Van Brocklin went 29-51-4 with the 1964 season (8-5-1) our only winning year. Bud Grant was pursued and accepted the position in time for the 1967 season. Grant went 3-8-3 that year, before the Vikings' winning ways would begin.
The Vikings' first division title (1968) would precede a run of ten playoff visits in eleven years. Four Super Bowl visits. An NFL Championship. Three NFC championships. Ten division titles. Numerous individual awards, most notably Alan Page's MVP award in 1971. Fran Tarkenton was traded for valuable draft choices by Minnesota in 1968 and then re-acquired in 1972. After a missed playoff, Tarkenton led a run of three Super Bowl visits in four years (1973, 1974, 1976) interrupted by the Hail Mary loss to the Cowboys.
We thought the good times would never end.
The first time since expansion that Minnesota ever missed the play-offs for more than one consecutive season after the expansion years was the drought of 1983-1986. Minnesota finished playing at the Met (1981) and made the playoffs in a strike-shortened 1982 season. Grant started 7-2 in 1983, but finished and retired with an 8-8 season. Les Steckel followed it what is known as the worst of years with Pecos River and a 3-13 mark. Grant was then reinstated and went 7-9 before retiring again, a la Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan. Jerry Burns was then hired and went 9-7 but missed the playoffs. That winning season signaled the end to the losing way of 1983-86.
Jerry Burns led Minnesota through its' second drought in 1990-91. It was a year after the blockbuster trade that sent the Vikings' future off to Dallas for Herschel Waker. After Minnesota surprised the NFL in 1987 with its' run to the NFC Championship despite suffering an 0-3 beginning with replacement players, the Viking brass felt they were one player away from a Super Bowl win. Boy, were they wrong. Walker was released in 1991 and Jerry Burns quit. Minnesota returned to their winning way.
The Vikings made the playoffs eight of the next nine seasons. When present day Packers and Bears fans make fun of the present day Vikings, the older Vikings' fan can smile. They remember stretches like this one and the 1970s. In 1998, Minnesota amassed one of the greatest offenses in all of NFL history. Rookie Randy Moss, Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter and more. The loss at home to the Falcons by a missed short kick may be the single greatest disappointment in Minnesota history. The 15-1 team would probably be voted Most Likely to Win the Super Bowl in a Do Over, though fans of 2009, 1975, or 1969 may disagree.
Minnesota won playoff games in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. They were not just making the playoffs, they were knocking on the championship door. And then that is when the weather changed. Minnesota has only made the playoffs three of the last eleven seasons. The 2004 team backed in at 8-8 (but upset the Packers in Lambeau so they are revered). In 2008, Minnesota made a run with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson at the helm. In 2009, Minnesota famously added Brett Favre and made a serious bid for their first Super Bowl, only to be beaten (literally) by a very aggressive Saints team.
A pair of three year droughts ensued in 2001. We will call this the 2000s Famine.
First, the 2001-03 drought where Minnesota went 20-28. The successful but turbulent Denny Green was let go for Mike Tice at the end of the 2001 season. Tice had a good thing going in 2003, starting 6-0, only to finish with a 9-7 record and missing the playoffs after a last-second Cardinals loss.
Minnesota started 5-1 the next year, only to fall to 8-8 by season's end. The victory over Green Bay kept his job for another year, but eventually Tice would be replaced by Brad Childress.
The drought of 2005-07 was one of mediocrity. The Vikings actually had only one losing season (2006, 6-10) and went 23-25 over the three years. In 2007, Minnesota drafted Adrian Peterson and that seemed to change their fortune. Peterson's 296 yard game in his rookie season typified the type of rain to change a landscape.
Minnesota was decent in 2008, going 11-5 and winning their first division title since 2000. And then there was the addition of Favre, and as any fan who is of reading-age knows, the 2009 season. But the 2009 team was not one of longevity. The holes began to appear. Players left or were injured. A great team disassembled rapidly. Brad Childress would be replaced by Leslie Frazier after a 3-7 start to the 2010 season, one filled with false promise.
Our present drought 2010- is at the two year mark. We are 9-23 in that time, making this the barest drought of all time, including the expansion years. Many feel we are in rebuilding mode and will not see the playoffs for a time. Others remain optimistic that this drought will be no longer than other recent ones.
Many good signs are appearing. A rejuvenated Adrian Peterson. A defensive end that is capable of having season's like Alan Page, Chris Doleman or Keith Millard. Again. A sharpening of the skills of young Christian Ponder. The explosiveness of players like Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson. The addition of an offensive tackle (Matt Kalil) with hopes of a Ron Yary or Gary Zimmerman type future. Good signs.
But drought is tough to cure. Usually when it is dry in one region (ours) it is fertile somewhere else (the rest of the division). It will take good farming but maybe an added dose of hardship elsewhere. Not to wish ill on my rival teams, but maybe a plight of some kind. Like turnovers from your star player. Or missed field goals.
Because I do expect it to rain soon. And the promised land still waits for us all.
Glory and Skol.
In Brad Childress' final days we saw the complete disintegration of a football team. Not that the 2010 team was ever considered good, but there were signs of hope.
The opening game of the season Minnesota traveled to New Orleans and held their offense to a mere fourteen points. Unfortunately, they lost 14-9. Week Two, Minnesota lost at home 14-10 to Miami. After a win at home versus the Lions and a following bye, they faced a scheduled four weeks of the Jets, Cowboys, Packers and Patriots, three games of which were on the road. The Vikings only managed to defeat Dallas, and were 2-5 at that point. An overtime win over the Cardinals put Minny at 3-5, not good, but with some glimmers of understanding.
Minnesota would then travel to Chicago where they lost 27-13. They then returned home and were destroyed 31-3 by Green Bay. Childress was gone the next day. Leslie Frazier was promoted and a new era begun. Frazier went 3-3 with a variety of quarterbacks and defensive players. The best game was easily the delayed game with at the Eagles, where Minnesota battered Michael Vick and beat a good Philly team 24-14. The worst was a 40-14 shellacking at TCF Stadium at the hands of the Bears.
In the end Minnesota's dome collapsed. Brett Favre was beaten into submission. Childress was gone. And to make matters even more gloom, the Lions finished ahead of the Vikings while the Bears and Packers met in the NFC Championship. The previous year Green Bay gave up over 50 points in a playoff loss to the Cardinals, while Minnesota routed the Cowboys and held their won in New Orleans. In one year's time we saw the complete collapse of a franchise.
But like kings of old, when a season has died, a new one is born. The 2011 Vikings face a tough schedule again, as all three NFC North teams appear to be among the better in the NFC, if not the NFL. Green Bay has already won their opener, a 42-34 win over the Saints at home. Chicago is the defending division champion, and has added more to the offense (Marion Barber and Roy Williams) through free agency. Detroiters are certain that the combination of tackle Suh with rookie tackle Nick Fairley will propel them toward a playoff visit. Everybody is confident except one fan base: ours.
Vikings fans who have hope this year are called homers. Given the others in the division it is reasoned that Minnesota is doomed for fourth place automatically. The addition of guys like Donovan McNabb and Charlie Johnson has not impressed the critics. The losses of players such as Sidney Rice, Ray Edwards, Brett Favre, Bryant McKinnie, Ben Leber, etc... too much to overcome with a few elderly veteran additions, they say.
But as you might have guessed, that does not include me. And I am not alone. Whether a blind homer, eternal optimist, or genius prognosticator, there are a growing base that sees reasons to get excited for Vikings football in 2011. The signing of Adrian Peterson today a boost to ego. The cutting of McKinnie proof that there are new philosophies afoot. The older of us who have witnessed Minnesota be among the best in the division more often than not.
If we improve on our turnover ratio we will be better. If we really improve on the ratio, I think the playoffs are possible.
It may be another pitcher of purple kool-aid, but hey, what would life be without kool-aid?
San Diego will be a tough test. But like the Monkees of old, I am a believer.
I have had quite a few jobs in my life. A lot of bosses, too. I have been a boss (I guess) at times. It is easier being a boss than being bossed, for sure.
With the firing of Brad Childress stories are now coming out of confrontation and unhappiness. He made many mistakes in front of thousands of Vikings fans every game. Millions on television. During this turbulent year Childress had conflicts with his team more than once. Rumors were he was disrespected. Randy Moss came and verbalized the underlying current that started as far back as the playoff loss to the Eagles years ago. All was not well.
I have suffered under the leadership of bosses who were ill-equipped to manage. Inexperienced and prone to mistakes. Throw in confrontational, and you have the ingredients for disaster.
Ziggy Wilf's decision to fire Childress was supported by probably 80% of the community or greater. With the lease on the Dome nearing the end, talk of a lock-out and/or strike, and a sudden pro-Vikings majority in Minnesota Congress, public relations demanded something be done. Giving up a 3rd round pick for the Moss trade is proof that management needed to please the people now. 3-7 is not exactly how to do that.
I have had many good leaders for bosses. I am/was happy to work hard for them. Happy to do what it took to succeed.
Leslie Frazier is now on board as interim head coach. His story is both tragic and triumphant. He was a defensive back for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s. His career ended on the winning side of Super Bowl XX. And the tragic moment was a punt return that Keith Ortego botched by calling a fair catch and then handing off the ball anyway to Frazier on a called reverse. Frazier was down. Forever. The game was already in hand, the Bears 4-6 defense as good as any in football ever. But Frazier never played again.
His coaching career began a few years later at Trinity College in Illinois. He took an unheralded program and turned it around to the point he won two NAIA titles. In 1997 he was promoted to defensive back coach of Illinois. In 1999 he joined the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles as a DB coach. The Eagles suddenly turned their team around. He then was hired in 2003 by Cincinnati as defensive coordinator. The Bengals immediately ended a long streak of consecutive losing seasons. That Cincy team was renowned for its' ability to create turnovers. In 2005 Frazier was hired by Tony Dungy as DB coach and Special Grand Inquisitor's Assistant or something like that. That Colts team improved in its' pass defense from 15th to 6th and won Super Bowl XLI. Finally, Frazier was hired by Minnesota (and Brad Childress) in February, 2007.
Frazier has been a part of many successes as both a player and a coach. He also has experienced as tragic an end to an NFL career as any. Frazier has seen the highs and lows that provide opportunity for respect from his players. I expect the Vikings to play hard for him.
Bringing in a new boss does not always work.
Sometimes even a bad boss is not why an organization does not function well. Most bosses have bosses. The front office for Minnesota has to accept responsibility for drafts, signings, and team direction. And the owner is their boss. If the organization is ill it is a safe bet that the higher-ups are easily as responsible for the mess as the underlings. Sure, players have to accept responsibility for poor play. And if the players under performed for Childress, who is to say they will not continue to under perform? But where is the gauge on the front office? How do we know when they are to blame?
I welcome Leslie Frazier as the new coach. But he is not a Bill Parcells that will completely turn around an entire organization. Besides Childress, all the other pieces of the 3-7 season are still around. Was it really all on Childress? Can one bad boss destroy a 12-4 team in a single season? However did we get within a play of the Super Bowl if that were true?
Norm Van Brocklin (1961-66) did it for six years and never went to the playoffs. He was 29-51-4. But he did get stuck with building a new franchise surrounded by powerhouses Chicago and Green Bay.
Bud Grant (1967-1983, 1985) was head coach for eighteen seasons. He has the longest consecutive year tenure (1967-83) as well as most years. His 7-9 season after the 1984 Les Steckel (3-13) debacle would be his last. Grant was 151-87-5 with a 10-12 record in the playoffs, losing four Super Bowls including three in a four year span.
Longtime assistant Jerry Burns (1986-1991) was next after Grant re-retired. He was 52-43 with a 3-3 record in the playoffs. He is probably best known for local radio spoofs featuring his rough language.
Dennis Green (1992-2001), or the "Sheriff", had the second longest tenure, going 97-62 with a 4-8 playoff record. He has the 2nd highest winning percentage behind Grant in the regular season, but is tied for the worst percentage in the playoffs with (you guessed it) Brad Childress.
Mike Tice (2001-05) had a rough go of it, compiling a 32-33 record to be one of the three head coaches in Vikings' history not to have a winning record. Probably most known for his ticket selling scandal, Tice's 1-1 record in the playoffs is actually as good as any in team history, percentage-wise.
Brad Childress (2006 to present) is 36-29 to date. His playoff record is 1-2. The failure to defeat New Orleans in the NFC Championship last year, as well as the horrid start to 2010, has fans regretting the team's decision to hire and/or keep Childress. Rumors are plentiful that suggest there is little respect from players to coach. The Randy Moss fiasco has put the spotlight on a head coach that does not have the support of the community. But then again, neither did Green, Burns, Tice, or Steckel. Minnesota's fans expects lost Super Bowls at a minimum.
As the anti-Childress support grows, like dandelions in season, many look to a new coach. There is speculation that Leslie Frazier could be placed in the head coach role should Childress get axed. One thing is certain, Minnesota has missed capitalizing on coaches within their grasp. Securing Frazier might become a priority as Minnesota has watched too many good coaches get away.
Here are a few...
Brian Billick. Billick served as the Vikings' offensive coordinator from 1992 to 1998 under the Green regime. Minnesota stuck with Green as Billick took the head coaching position in Baltimore in 1999. There he led the Ravens to an 80-64 record, and further 5-3 in the playoffs with a Super Bowl (XXXV) win in his 2nd year. Billick must have had a special eye for talent as six of his staff went on to head coaching positions, most of which are still active (Jack Del Rio, Marv Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, Mike Singletary, and Mike Smith). Billick is an analyst now, though some wonder if he would come back if properly prompted.
Tony Dungy. Dungy was defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1995. He became the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. His six year service included four playoff visits for a franchise used to losing. He next left Indianapolis, only to see John Gruden win the Super Bowl in his absence with the Bucs. But Dungy won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts. He retired in 2009, having a career record of 139-69 and a 9-10 playoff record. He is another name being tossed about for both the Gophers and the Vikings. But house money suggests he will stay on television.
Mike Tomilin. Tomlin was promoted to defensive coordinator when he joined Minnesota in 2006 by new coach Brad Childress. His success parlayed into an offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007, and a NFL record as youngest coach to win a Super Bowl (XLIII). He presently has a 37-19 career record, 3-1 in the playoffs. Without a doubt he is the most talked about "one that got away" coach. His job presently is very secure.
There are others. But lest we forget, sometimes assistants and coordinators do not pan out as head coaches. Some have success, but often with a steep price. Examples...
Buddy Ryan. Minnesota went to three Super Bowls with the Purple People Eaters from 1973 to 1978. Ryan was a gifted defensive coordinator who was mentioned but passed over frequently for head coaching positions. Minnesota loved Grant, so Ryan had no chance to climb the ladder in Minnesota. For that and other reasons he left for Chicago in 1978. His success with the Bears led to a Super Bowl win (XX) in which he was carried off the field with Mike Ditka. The two's feuds, however, were legendary. Minnesota then passed on re-acquiring Ryan in years 1984 through 1986. Finally in 1986 the Philadelphia Eagles gave Ryan his chance. Buddy would compile a 43-38-1 record with an 0-3 playoff record. Ryan was loved for his abrasive personality and boasts of success. But he did not live up to the hype. Ryan later took his act to Houston as defensive coordinator. In that short stint he punched offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in the jaw for his inability to use up the clock from a run and shoot offense. So off he went. 1994 the Arizona Cardinals offered a head coaching position to Ryan. In his two year stint he was 12-20. The Ryan Express finally ended.
Scott Linehan. Scott was offensive coordinator from 2002 to 2004. His name was tossed about during the time of Childress' hiring. But Linehan was passed over. He eventually was given the head coaching position in St. Louis in 2006. His two year tenure resulted in an 11-25 record. He now is the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions. A sentence worse than death itself.
Ted Cottrell. Cottrell was defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2005. He had an extensive career resume' of both NCAA and NFL positions. The Vikings passed on Ted. Later, Ted was given his chance to coach the New York Sentinels in the United Football League. He finished 0-6 as was never considered again for a head coaching position.
Marc Trestman. Trestman was an assistant in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was mentioned as a possibility when the team was looking for a head coach. Trestman was an offensive coordinator for numerous teams in the 1990 and 2000s. Not too long ago he became the head coach of the Montreal franchise of the Canadian Football League (a la Grant). In his three year tenure he has compiled a 38-16 record winning one Grey Cup, losing another, and a third year pending. Maybe now Trestman has entered into the thoughts of the Wilfs as his recent career suddenly parallels Grant.
Hindsight is 20-20 as they say. In a hind-sighted world Minnesota would have landed maybe Buddy Ryan, Tony Dungy and/or Brian Billick instead of Les Steckel, Jerry Burns, Dennis Green or Mike Tice. Instead of Childress running the show, we would have promoted Mike Tomlin ourselves.
There is considerable feeling that Minnesota will make a move at the end of this season, barring a miraculous return deep into the playoffs. Leslie Frazier is the assistant that could soon end up on this list of coulda-beens. The question is whether he will fit into the Dungy/Billick/Tomlin grouping or the Cottrell/Linehan one?
One thing is certain. We will be there in hindsight.
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