Poor start to season doesn't do Frazier any favors

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 24, 2011 - 9:25 PM

He's only two games into his head coaching tenure and already Vikings fans are on edge. It should be an interesting day at the Dome.

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Vikings coach Leslie Frazier

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At the end of his first home game as the Vikings' full-fledged head coach, Leslie Frazier heard boos. Last Sunday, after the Vikings collapsed in the second half for the second straight week, they were jeered by the Metrodome crowd as they left the field.

Two games into Frazier's tenure in his dream job, he has heard questions about his hand-picked offensive coordinator and veteran quarterback, his clock management and the use of receiver Percy Harvin.

With so many problems arising so early in the season, Frazier must feel as if he's playing whack-a-mole with a mole that runs a 4.3 40. He must remember his stint as an interim coach, during which the Metrodome roof collapsed and he played "home" games in Detroit and at TCF Bank Stadium, as "the good times."

"That was a tough loss, now," Frazier said of the collapse against Tampa Bay. "I understand the fans ...

"I know how passionate they are and how much they want to win, and we have a strong desire to deliver that championship for Minnesota."

This week, Frazier is facing his first crisis. At 0-2, the Vikings will play a franchise, the Detroit Lions, that once was the wind beneath their wings and now is threatening to become the anvil around their ankles, dragging Minnesota deeper into last place.

Frazier's quarterback, Donovan McNabb, looks uncomfortable in the pocket and unable to throw the ball downfield. His offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, seems to be playing drunken checkers while the rest of the league plays speed chess.

Harvin, the Vikings' best big-play threat, spends more time on the sideline than Joe Mauer. Bernard Berrian, the Vikings' lone deep threat and a Frazier pet project, is giving new meaning to the term "fade route."

Frazier's trademark calm hasn't prevented his team from two second-half collapses. A loss Sunday, at home to a team the Vikings have dominated, would create the possibility of a second consecutive lost season for a franchise intent on winning public support for a new stadium.

For those considering the Vikings a playoff contender, this week represents a severe test of Frazier's abilities. For those with a more realistic view of this team, these losses could have been predicted. Even coaching legends lose early in their tenures.

Bill Belichick went 6-10 his first year, didn't post a winning record until his fourth season, and didn't win a Super Bowl title until his seventh, and then only after Tom Brady replaced injured Drew Bledsoe.

Tom Landry went 0-11-1 his first season and didn't post a winning record until his seventh season. Chuck Noll went 1-13 his first season and didn't post a winning record until his fourth season. Bill Walsh went 2-14 his first season, Jimmy Johnson 1-15.

Vikings history, too, suggests that becoming a head coach requires a learning curve. Norm Van Brocklin went 3-11 his first year. Bud Grant was 3-8-3. Les Steckel went 3-13, then Grant returned to go 7-9.

Mike Tice lost his first five games; Brad Childress went 6-10 his first season. Only Jerry Burns and Denny Green made immediate inroads. Burns went 9-7 in 1986 and didn't suffer a losing record until 1990. Green assembled one of the best coaching staffs in recent NFL history -- including Monte Kiffin, Tom Moore, Willie Shaw, Tyrone Willingham, John Michels, John Teerlinck and Tony Dungy -- and went 11-5 after replacing Burns.

For all of his inspirational talk about contending immediately and winning a championship eventually, Frazier, a rookie head coach with a new offensive coordinator and quarterback and no offseason in which to introduce the newcomers, was set up to fail this season.

Whatever happens Sunday and for the rest of the year, Frazier should ultimately be judged by how much he improves on the job in his second season, and how quickly he finds and establishes a franchise quarterback.

All those NFL coaching legends have two things in common: They lost early, and they looked much smarter after a young, future Hall of Famer started taking snaps.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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