Leslie Frazier: Can a nice guy finish first?

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 18, 2012 - 7:29 PM

Leslie Frazier is universally respected around the NFL, but wins and losses decide a coach's fate.

hide

Leslie Frazier, coming off a 3-13 season, is entering the second year of a three-year contract as Vikings head coach.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

More often than not, Leslie Frazier's press conferences begin with a heartfelt compliment of Mother Nature. "Another beautiful day here in Minnesota," he'll say with a smile.

Which is typically followed by a glowing commendation of that day's spirited practice plus five or 10 minutes of back-and-forth during which the Vikings coach entertains all questions -- well-thought, bad or downright clichéd -- as if they are truly insightful.

"That's a good question," Frazier will often reply. "As a matter of fact, we were just talking about that as a staff last night."

The next time Frazier glowers at a reporter will be the first. Which often leaves members of the Vikings media horde scratching their heads.

Wait, an NFL head coach who is never rude, irritable nor condescending?

And it's not just the media marveling at Frazier's pleasant disposition. Up and down the roster, Vikings players gush about how communicative their head coach is, how he sets clear expectations and has a knack for unifying the group.

That's everyone from 35-year-old cornerback Antoine Winfield, whose entering his 14th season with Frazier his fifth NFL head coach ...

"He has such universal respect because he respects us as grown men," Winfield said. "And he has a way of tapping into guys and keeping the lines of communication open."

... to rookie Josh Robinson, who is 21 and eager to break into the league playing for a guy with whom he felt an instant bond due to their Christian connection.

"I could see his faith in the way he spoke and how he was always trying to say things that were encouraging," Robinson said. "And I really appreciate that he's always implementing things in players' minds that will help them grow and get better."

Yep, Frazier might just be the most likeable head coach in pro football. And while such kindness won't directly catalyze the Vikings' return to relevance, it might help buy Frazier extra time to see his vision through.

With the Vikings coming off a disastrous 3-13 season and undertaking a youth-infused rebuilding project, Frazier will need all the time he can get.

A postseason run in 2012 would be considered a miracle. Heck, a third-place finish in the NFC North will be deemed a major accomplishment.

So with Frazier in the second year of a three-year contract, his approval rating will need to count for something as the losses promise to pile up again.

But just how much patience will there be from fans and, more importantly, the front office, if in early December the Vikings are stumbling toward the finish line of their third consecutive losing season?

Put another way: What does Frazier have to do to keep his job?

Those are two questions that will loom for the rest of 2012. Yet those are questions Frazier would rather not entertain.

"I can't get caught up in that conversation," he said. "The one thing I have to be invested in is getting our players to improve. That's what our team is concentrating on. Anything other than that is a distraction. And I can't be distracted."

The great communicator

At this stage, Frazier does not need to win over the locker room. And, to date, all indications are his relationship with General Manager Rick Spielman is as harmonious as it could possibly be.

There's not the constant dysfunction that existed when Brad Childress was coach and Spielman was still in the role of vice president of player personnel, forced to cede authority on roster moves and often failing to soften Childress' stubbornness.

Now, such friction has dissipated. In fact, before being promoted to head coach in November 2010, Frazier told Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf that, ultimately, he needed a general manager in place to succeed.

"I had seen what that vacuum had done here in Minnesota," Frazier said. "It created problems. You need that hierarchy."

Then, when Spielman finally was promoted this January, Frazier immediately went about syncing his vision with the GM and Vikings scouts. He called lengthy meetings to discuss the kind of roster he wanted. He went position by position, delivering detailed instructions on what skills and traits he needed at each spot to make his systems work.

"We would talk about that in the past," Frazier said, "but never as detailed as we did this time around where we'd spend two, three, four hours on one position. That was just to make sure the scouts understood that, for what we do, this is what fits."

Frazier and Spielman also unified a vision to pursue players who were tough and smart and, most importantly, passionate and self-motivated. Enter rookies Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison and the rest of the 2012 draft class. Same goes for notable free-agent signees John Carlson andChris Carr.

"You get those character guys," Frazier said, "and now you have a better chance to ride through some of the highs and lows you have in a season. If you just have a bunch of talented guys who aren't smart and don't have good character, when things start going awry, you'll have your hands full trying to pull it together."

Added Spielman: "The level of communication and cooperation Leslie has brought has been off the charts. We were in agreement with how we wanted to shape this team. And since the spring, he and our coaches have been outstanding in working with and developing our guys."

Second-guessing galore

The next step in Frazier's maturation will be proving his reliance on intelligent, hard-working troops can consistently produce victories. That's the only benchmark that truly matters.

Frazier's first full season in charge not only ended with a disheartening 3-13 record, but also included a handful of moments that left him open to sharp criticism.

Overall, with the NFL lockout creating an offseason that Frazier called "helter-skelter," the assembly of the 2011 Vikings was itself somewhat haphazard. Frazier's push to bring quarterback Donovan McNabb on board, for example, proved to be ill-advised and backfired quickly.

Then, in terms of game management, Frazier subsequently stubbed his toe in several big moments.

He bungled his clock management during the final three minutes of a 24-20 Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay.

A week later, the unsuccessful fourth quarter move to feed Toby Gerhart the ball on fourth-and-1 instead of Adrian Peterson created more frustration during a 26-23 overtime loss to the Lions.

In Week 12, Frazier’s failure to call for a replay review of a Percy Harvin run that should have been ruled a touchdown proved costly in a 24-14 loss in Atlanta.

The next week his unwillingness to let the Broncos walk in for a defense-free touchdown in the final minute instead allowed Denver to run the clock down and boot a gimme 23-yard tiebreaking field goal as time expired.

At points, Frazier suffered through the continuous struggles and wondered if he was on the verge of being overwhelmed.

“But I had to back up and say, 'You know what, don’t be yourself up over all these things,’” Frazier said. “I told myself, 'You’ve been successful in so many different venues in the past. So you’ve got to sit back and look at the things that are occurring and figure out what we have to do to get our team in position to win.’”

Now, Frazier is certain that since last season ended, he has had far more clarity to mold the team.

He also understands his growth will have to show up in the final scores if he is to retain support.

Maintaining the players' near unanimous backing will help. Keeping the Wilfs and Spielman on his side will be even more important.

Still, neither the owners nor the new GM seem to be battling itchy trigger fingers. Publicly, they have promised patience, refusing to set a victory total Frazier needs to reach to be deemed safe.

More than anything, they say, Frazier will be judged on his ability to keep this team competitive and invested in developing under the current staff's plans.

Frazier's confidence that his way of doing things is the right way? It stems from a track record that helped him win a Super Bowl as a player in Chicago then rise through the coaching ranks in unique fashion -- from stops as a college head coach in the NAIA to an assistant job in the Big Ten to jobs as a position coach, coordinator and special assistant to the head coach with the Eagles, Bengals, Colts and Vikings.

"I kept telling myself, 'I've been in these situations before,' whether it be as a player or a coach," Frazier said. "And I've always been able to get it figured out and get it going in the right direction. ... You hear these negative rumblings from the outside. But I just know from my history in tough situations, I've always been able to get it figured it out."

Frazier says that with a nod and a smile.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Team Irvin 32 FINAL
Team Carter 28
Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 98 FINAL
Cleveland 108
Dallas 106 FINAL
New Orleans 109
Indiana 106 FINAL
Orlando 99
LA Clippers 120 FINAL
Phoenix 100
Minnesota 100 FINAL
Atlanta 112
Detroit 110 FINAL
Toronto 114
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
San Antonio 101
Boston 111 FINAL
Golden State 114
Washington 117 FINAL
Denver 115
Houston 99 FINAL
LA Lakers 87
Team Toews 17 FINAL
Team Foligno 12
South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Virginia 50 FINAL
Virginia Tech 47
Indiana 70 FINAL
Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
UCF 46
Maine 70 FINAL
Hartford 61
Monmouth 64 FINAL
Manhattan 71
Fairfield 67 FINAL
Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 77 FINAL
St Johns 68
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 57 FINAL
Butler 77
NJIT 72 FINAL
South Alabama 55
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Illinois State 53
Louisville 80 FINAL
Pittsburgh 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Albany 69
Niagara 64 FINAL
Iona 87
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
NC State 78
Belmont 63 FINAL
Tennessee St 55
Creighton 50 FINAL
Villanova 71
Northwestern 67 FINAL
Maryland 68
Washington 56 FINAL
Utah 77
Senior-North 34 FINAL
Senior-South 13
Seton Hall 99 FINAL
Georgetown 85
St Johns 69 FINAL
Villanova 81
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Florida 72
Maine 56 FINAL
UMBC 42
Vanderbilt 55 FINAL
Alabama 52
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Lehigh 65
UCF 61 FINAL
SMU 57
Utah 51 FINAL
Washington 63
James Madison 73 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 53
Delaware 56 FINAL
Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Towson 63 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
Drake 79 FINAL
Evansville 62
Iona 80 FINAL
Canisius 62
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
Wisconsin 71 FINAL
Michigan State 77
Ohio State 79 FINAL
Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 58 FINAL
Xavier 54
Creighton 93 FINAL
Marquette 75
Providence 42 FINAL
DePaul 90
Northeastern 77 FINAL
Elon 80
(2) Connecticut 96 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Oregon 78 FINAL
Arizona 81
Bradley 46 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
NC State 49 FINAL
(23) Syracuse 66
(7) Maryland 84 FINAL
Indiana 74
Illinois State 35 FINAL
Missouri State 58
Colorado 68 FINAL
Washington St 73
Tulane 45 FINAL
South Florida 64
(14) Kentucky 83 FINAL
Missouri 69
(9) Oregon State 68 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 57
Vermont 63 FINAL
UMass Lowell 72
Iowa State 58 FINAL
(8) Texas 57
Southern Ill 61 FINAL
Wichita State 80
(15) Duke 74 FINAL
(12) North Carolina 67
Miami-Florida 55 FINAL
(4) Louisville 68
(21) Minnesota 61 FINAL
(25) Rutgers 66
California 72 FINAL
UCLA 57
(11) Stanford 71 FINAL
USC 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who will win the Super Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close