Leslie Frazier won seven more games in 2012 than the previous season and finished third in NFL Coach of the Year voting after guiding the Vikings to the playoffs in a supposed rebuilding campaign.
For that, Vikings ownership gave him a golf clap.
Rather than offer Frazier a contract extension -- or even call his agent to discuss it -- the Vikings delivered a lukewarm vote of confidence by picking up his option for the 2014 season. That means Frazier technically has two seasons remaining under contract, but, in essence, he really only has one because the Vikings likely won't subject him to a lame-duck season. That's too much of a distraction.
In other words, Frazier finds himself in the same spot now as he did this time last year -- on the hot seat. He either wins a meaningful number of games again in 2013 and receives an extension, or he probably will be fired.
Regardless of what they say publicly, the Vikings' actions demonstrated that they still are not convinced Frazier is their long-term answer as coach. By declining to discuss an extension with Frazier or his agent, Vikings owners basically said, Nice job, Les. Now prove that 2012 wasn't a fluke and then we'll talk.
That's their prerogative, of course, and it might be smart business. But they handled the whole thing poorly in terms of timing and communication. And they're being naïve if they think this doesn't create an uncomfortable situation for Frazier, or that he's buying their "we're all in this for the long haul" spiel.
Frazier made his first public comments on the matter Friday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, and reporters noted that he framed his words carefully and seemed disappointed.
"I moved past it," Frazier said. "It is what it is."
On a basic level, it seems odd that the Vikings chose not to reveal -- or at least leak -- that they had held an option year in their pocket as Frazier's contract status became a frequent topic of discussion this past season. That created a perception that Frazier would receive an extension after overseeing the largest single-season turnaround in team history because his contract option never was made public. In fact, Frazier's agent, Bob Lamonte, said the team never even initiated contract negotiations.
The Vikings season ended Jan. 5 in a playoff loss at Green Bay. Did they really need six weeks to announce a transaction that seemed like a no-brainer? In truth, the team exercised Frazier's option weeks ago -- via a written notice, according to a source -- and elected not to announce it until a media report surfaced, which is a strange way of doing business.
If anything, the team's decision underscored the notion that owner Zygi Wilf removed emotion from the equation and acted as a businessman. He didn't become so emotionally intoxicated on his team's surprising success that he opened his checkbook and told Frazier to name his price.
That's probably because Wilf didn't want to run the risk of repeating a mistake he made four years ago with Brad Childress. The Wilf brothers got swept up in the excitement of the Year of Favre in 2009 and handed Childress a lucrative contract after the Vikings raced to an 8-1 start. Wilf fired Childress the next season and reportedly owed him a buyout of $6.6 million over the past two seasons, though the financial hit softened some once the Cleveland Browns hired Childress as offensive coordinator in 2012.
Wilf never has been one to hide his Purple fanaticism. He takes off his tie and gives it to a key player after important victories. He once stood at the locker-room door after an emotional victory and greeted every coach, player and staff member with the same phrase: "Great heart," he shouted, shaking each person's hand.
Wilf's reluctance to give Frazier a multiyear extension does not mean he didn't deserve one. By any measure, Frazier grew into his role this season. His sideline communication and in-game decisions were markedly better than in 2011. He handled Christian Ponder's roller-coaster season with a consistent message, and he didn't allow Percy Harvin's late-season disappearance to become a distraction.
Vikings officials at every level profess their admiration for Frazier, but the team clearly is taking a wait-and-see approach before committing to him long-term. Frazier assumed he was in line for an extension, but he vowed Friday not to let his contract become a distraction. He faced questions about his job status on a routine basis the past two seasons, so this is nothing new.
He just figured those questions would go away after this season.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org