The Vikings are 3-2-1 over their past six games. By beating Cincinnati on Sunday and then defeating the Lions, who rarely win here, in the season finale, maligned coach Leslie Frazier could show why he is still the right man for the job, keeping the team competitive most of the season with four losses by a total of 12 points.
Considering all that, do you fire a coach who has one year left on his contract, on the basis of how close this team has come to having two playoff-caliber seasons in a row?
No, close doesn’t count, unfortunately. But I’ve watched more Vikings games than anybody around and would conclude that this has also been one of the unluckiest teams in franchise history.
So if you’re Zygi and Mark Wilf, do you make Frazier the third coach you’ve fired in nine years — including Mike Tice and Brad Childress — and hire someone who is going to demand a long-term contract for a lot of money? And if he is a coach who is in high demand by other teams, the Vikings might not interest him.
I can’t believe the Wilfs would keep Frazier unless he made some changes in the defensive coaching staff, which has been in charge of a once-stellar unit that has blown so many close games this year. Even the players have complained about the play-calling, especially in the last-minute loss at Dallas, where the Cowboys marched 90 yards in just over two minutes for the winning score.
However, if the Wilfs decide to keep Frazier but insist on defensive changes, tell me: How many good assistant coaches will take a job here working for a head coach who has a one-year contract?
No doubt people in the Vikings front office believe the Vikings personnel is better than the team’s record shows. Look at a player such as Audie Cole, a 2012 seventh-round pick who warmed the bench all year, was released for one week in November, then brought back and put into the lineup, where he turned out to be a pretty good starting linebacker.
Then you have the case of some half-dozen substitutes playing well enough to dominate NFC East-leading Philadelphia last week.
The Wilfs have other problems if they want to hire a new coach. They would have to assure him that the key players among the 13 free agents are signed for 2014, to give the team a good nucleus.
This team will have a hard time replacing Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, Kevin Williams, Toby Gerhart and other pending free agents if they aren’t re-signed. On top of that is the fact that quarterback Matt Cassel needs to be re-signed, even though I’m in the minority that believes Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Frazier still believe that Christian Ponder will go to training camp next summer with a chance to be the No. 1 quarterback.
My sources are as good as any, and believe me, contrary to what has been written and broadcast and seen on the Internet, it’s not true that they have given up on Ponder.
Despite the fact that the Vikings have had two good drafts in a row — from this year’s draft class, first-round picks Cordarrelle Patterson and Xavier Rhodes have really come on strong this year, and there are some other players who will surface as quality players in the future — there remain a lot of holes on this team if it wants to be a Super Bowl contender.
Without a doubt, letting cornerback Antoine Winfield go this past offseason was a mistake for the Vikings, as he was really missed. They might have won some of those close games had he been in uniform — even though the word around Winter Park was that he no longer could be effective. The Vikings can’t make the same mistakes in regards to next year’s roster.
All of these contract and personnel issues will make it a very interesting offseason for the Vikings as they prepare for their first year at TCF Bank Stadium.
Firing Frazier won’t solve their problems. However, it’s clear something has to be done on defense, because you can’t lose that many games in the final seconds.
Teague starts fundraising
Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague brought Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany to town Monday night. Delany met with one potential group of contributors to the Gophers program for dinner on Monday, then met with another group for breakfast the next day. Delany sold some boosters on writing checks to make improvements to campus athletic facilities.
“Oh yeah, we’ve definitely raised some money,” said Teague, trying to raise $190 million for facilities upgrades. “We’re in, as they say, the silent phase right now. We plan to kick things off after the first of the year in January or February in an official way. The response has been good and I’m really happy about where we are and where we’re going.”
And what does Teague think about the Gophers’ appearance against Syracuse in the Texas Bowl this year?
“One of the things about that game which is great is it’s owned by ESPN, so you get some benefits there, especially for the fact that it has a very good time slot and it’s on ESPN, not ESPN2 or ESPNU. It’s on the mother ship, as they call it,” Teague said.
• Two years ago, the Vikings ranked 23rd in the NFL in fewest penalties committed, but the next year they were fifth, and going into Sunday they are tied for third. One of the reasons for the improvement is the fact that several local college officials work with the team in practice, including Big Ten official Rick Kruger, Kelly McCrary and Chris Rossini from the MIAC and Bob Norman from the NSIC. In addition, two-time Super Bowl referee Bernie Kukar works in the press box and advises coach Leslie Fraizer on whether to challenge a call.
• One thing the Syracuse football team has going for it against the Gophers in the Texas Bowl next week is the return of wide receiver Jarrod West, who has missed a month because of what’s only been called a “significant” injury by the Orange. West has 21 receptions for 359 yards and a touchdown this season. Also, Syracuse offensive coordinator George McDonald should be familiar to Gophers fans. He was wide receivers coach here under Tim Brewster in 2007.
• Speaking of NFL free agency, the Chicago Tribune reported this week that it looks more likely that the Bears will either have to sign Jay Cutler to a long-term contract extension or let him enter free agency. The $16 million salary cap hit the team would take if it franchise-tagged him would be too steep, according to the Tribune.
• The Bengals may be chasing an AFC North title, but they are certainly coming off their worst loss of the season in a 30-20 defeat to the Steelers. The Cincinnati Inquirer gave the coaching staff a grade of F in the loss, writing, “Every time it looks like they are on the verge of silencing a large portion of national doubters, there is a game like this.”
• GopherIllustrated.com reported that Steven Richardson, a defensive tackle from Mount Carmel, Ill., recently completed his official visit with the Gophers. Richardson verbally committed to coach Jerry Kill and his staff before his senior season and then proceeded to produce 17 sacks and 34 tackles for loss. The Gophers also recently got a signed letter of intent from Cody Poock, a freshman linebacker at Iowa Western Community College, where he led the team with 73 tackles.