Craig: Unlike one-third of his peers, Frazier's job should be secure

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2012 - 11:13 AM

The victory over the Bears probably earned him a contract extension.

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Vikings coach Leslie Frazier

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune file

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Ten or 11 NFL coaches are in danger of losing their jobs. Nine others could make a case for the league's coach of the year award.

Floating somewhere in between is Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, a calm, but dogged survivor whose win over the Bears on Sunday shouldn't be understated.

With that victory, Frazier paddled away from uncertain waters and toward a likely contract extension beyond his current deal that expires after next season. He weaved past the dangling careers of Norv Turner, Andy Reid, Ken Whisenhunt, Rex Ryan, Pat Shurmur, Chan Gailey, Mike Munchak, Romeo Crennel, Ron Rivera, Dennis Allen and Jason Garrett while setting a new course for a meaningful mid-December game and a possible coach of the year candidacy.

No, Frazier isn't a front-runner. In fact, it's hard not to declare the race over, split the vote and hand the award to Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, the men who have led the Colts from two victories to a 9-4 record despite Peyton Manning's departure and Pagano's battle with leukemia.

But a lot can happen in three weeks. If the Vikings were to win their next three games, finish 10-6 and make the playoffs, Frazier could be right there in consideration for the award along with Pagano/Arians, Jeff Fisher, Gary Kubiak, John Fox, Mike McCarthy, Mike Smith, Pete Carroll, Mike Shanahan and Bill Belichick.

That seems unlikely, for sure. After all, the Vikings are 1-5 on the road and play their next two games at St. Louis and Houston. But who knows? Predictable is the last thing the Vikings are this year.

"To be playing games in December when every game has major implications, there weren't a lot of people thinking that would be the case when we were in Mankato" for training camp, Frazier said after Sunday's victory.

You got that right. Any reasonable observer was predicting six wins at most. But the Vikings already have seven and are 3-2 in the NFC North, where they went 1-11 the previous two years.

Sunday's victory also stopped a two-game losing streak that easily could have morphed into a season-ending six-game slide with no playoff hopes.

If you don't think that could have cost Frazier his job, try picturing the Vikings finishing 0-6 overall and 0-4 in the division while getting blown out at home by the Packers in the season finale.

So, all in all, Sunday's victory was Frazier's finest moment. And he did it as the first coach in team history to start five rookies in the same game.

That's right. In 832 games over 52 seasons, Frazier became the first when he started left tackle Matt Kalil, tight end Rhett Ellison, receiver Jarius Wright, cornerback Josh Robinson and safety Harrison Smith.

The previous record was four, set in 1962 and tied in 1963, 1985, 1994 and last season.

Also, if Kalil and Smith finish the season as starters, it will be only the second time in team history that two rookies have started every game in the same season.

The only other time it happened was 1994 with left tackle Todd Steussie and cornerback Dewayne Washington.

"To see our young guys come along the way they are, it's a credit to our scouting staff, [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and his staff being able to find the right guys to fit what we're trying to do on offense and defense and even on special teams," Frazier said.

"The fact that we've had to play a lot of young guys early, you hope that that's going to pay dividends in the month of December. I think it's beginning to show."

Many NFL coaches won't be as fortunate as Frazier. Not since 10 head coaching jobs changed hands after the 2005 season have so many coaches been in danger of losing their jobs.

An average of 5.6 coaches have been fired per year since 2006. The Raiders have fired two of them after just one year on the job (Art Shell in 2006 and Hue Jackson in 2011).

Since 2006, only the Eagles, Patriots, Giants, Bengals and Bears have not changed coaches. And the Eagles are expected to fall from that list and fire Reid.

Of course, even if Frazier gets his contract extension, every coach knows that today's extension doesn't prevent tomorrow's firing.

"I've said roughly a thousand times that we're all on one-year contracts in this business," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin upon signing an extension before winning the Super Bowl last season.

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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