Jim Souhan: Frazier not the reason Vikings flopped

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2011 - 8:56 PM

While the rookie coach has struggled, inferior talent puts the onus on owner Zygi Wilf and the front office.

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Vikings VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman.

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Leslie Frazier's news conferences have become requiems. Soft-spoken by nature, Frazier for weeks now has quietly lamented his team's losses, sounding more defeated than defiant, and if there is a common denominator among most losing football coaches, it is defiance.

This week, Frazier did something rare for an NFL head coach. He invited criticism. Asked an innocuous question about the state of his team, Frazier said he was "more angry with myself in not being able to get us where we needed to be, so we wouldn't be 2-9.''

He also said: "In this league, there are no excuses.''

Frazier is right to blame himself, and right not to beg for mercy. His first team should be better than 2-9. When evaluating his rookie season, though, it's important to recognize that this team shouldn't be a whole lot better.

With sharper coaching, the Vikings might have held on to one or two of their early-season leads. Maybe they would be 3-8 or 4-7, but those extra victories would be like gauze on a camera shooting a closeup of Steve Buscemi. You know he's ugly. He knows he's ugly. Why fake it?

What's important for this organization is to find the cause of ineptitude, not a scapegoat for it. The difference between Frazier and the Vikings' front office is that Frazier is unproven, while the front office has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is not adept at building a deep roster.

Rick Spielman is the Vikings' chief personnel guru. He is in the crosshairs, but owner Zygi Wilf is just as culpable for bad decisions because he has failed to install a general manager, making the front office an amorphous committee.

Spielman and his crew have generally made good use of their first-round draft picks, landing Chad Greenway, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen (via trade), Percy Harvin and Christian Ponder since 2006.

Where the front office has failed is in finding the kind of overachievers who pop up on virtually every NFL roster every season.

Three times since 2006 the Vikings have traded up to make a second-round pick. Those deals landed Tarvaris Jackson, Tyrell Johnson and Toby Gerhart. When the Vikings traded down into the second round in the 2010 draft, they chose cornerback Chris Cook, who is suspended from the team after allegedly strangling his girlfriend.

The 2010 draft in particular left the Vikings with almost no depth, and no cures for their three most glaring weaknesses: the secondary, offensive line and wide receiver.

They traded out of the first round, then chose Cook with the 34th pick in the draft. He may never play for the Vikings again. They traded up in the second round to take Gerhart, at best a backup running back.

Their third-round pick went to Houston in the Gerhart deal. In the fourth round, they chose defensive end Everson Griffen, an intriguing talent who is not starting for a struggling defense. In the fifth round, they chose offensive lineman Chris DeGeare, who was released and re-signed to the practice squad.

In the sixth round, the Vikings chose UAB quarterback Joe Webb, who will be a good value if he remains the team's backup quarterback. In the seventh round, the Vikings chose tight end Mickey Shuler, another player who was released and later re-signed to the practice squad.

Partly because of that draft, this roster has two big problems:

• The front office sold out to try to win a Super Bowl in 2009, an understandable gamble that did not pay off.

• The trading of draft choices to move up to take mediocre players, and the inability to find quality players in later rounds or off the streets, has made this roster incredibly lopsided. There are stars in Peterson, Allen and Harvin. There are a couple of promising youngsters, such as Ponder and Kyle Rudolph. And there a dozens of players who cannot help an NFL team win.

Frazier has yet to distinguish himself as a head coach, but only Tim Tebow or someone else who believes in miracles could have expected this team to win this year.

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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