Jim Harbaugh is the most-interesting character in the NFL. That means, when you're talking to someone who has played for him (as Toby Gerhart did very successfully at Stanford), you're required to ask: "What about that Harbaugh?''

Gerhart said on Wednesday: "What you see on the sideline, in a press conference ... that's him. He's passionate, and extremely excitable.''

The Vikings running back paused and added: "And quirky.''

Gerhart finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up (in a tight race with Alabama's Mark Ingram) as a senior in 2009. Harbaugh was the head coach and David Shaw was the offensive coordinator. Harbaugh left for the 49ers in 2011, Shaw replaced him and has kept things going at Stanford ... to the point it currently stands fifth in the AP ratings.

What kind of guy is Shaw?

"Completely different style than Harbaugh,'' Gerhart said. "He's a quieter guy ... more like Les Frazier.''

When the interview finished, I talked to Frazier for a couple of minutes. The Vikings coach offered sincere appreciation to Gerhart for accepting his fate as a backup to the great Adrian Peterson for a fourth consecutive season.

I'm not an expert on Frazier, but to me, he's giving off a completely different air heading into his third full season as the head coach than he did heading into his first in 2011.

Maybe it was a case of Frazier knowing he was stuck with a roster full of gaping holes in that first season, and he now has an improved roster for a team coming off a 10-6 run to the playoffs.

Whatever the reason, this is the way it looked from a distance: Frazier wasn't sure that he was cut out to be the No. 1 guy with an NFL team three seasons ago, and now he knows that he can be a success with this.

Frazier still will rattle off the coach-speak in his press conferences, but he's mixing in many more moments of candor. It was instructive to the change in him in training camp, when Frazier basically put linebacker Desmond Bishop on public notice that he had to start showing something if the veteran wanted to make the team.

Bishop responded with strong play in the last two exhibitions and he's on the club -- although listed on the depth chart as second team to Marvin Mitchell at an outside linebacker.

On Wednesday, Frazier was as straightforward as he was allowed in talking about Christian Ballard, the mysteriously missing defensive tackle. No sugarcoating -- Frazier said he was going with the assumption that Ballard wasn't going to be part of the Vikings this season.

It appears from here that the decision of owner Zygi Wilf and General Manager Rick Spielman not to give Frazier a contract extension after the unexpected success of 2012 has made the coach more forceful, not less so. He's still quiet, still a player's coach, but my personal opinion on Frazier has changed significantly since the days before the season opener in 2011.

I now contend that Les Frazier is cut out to be an NFL head coach. He may not be extremely excitable or quirky, but he is passionate and confident in his ability to lead.


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