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

Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: N. Karns 5
Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia - LP: M. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Doolittle 8
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati 0 Top 2nd Inning
St. Louis 0
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 2 3rd Prd 13:45
Columbus 3
Calgary 7:00 PM
Edmonton
Edmonton 0 1st Prd 5:34
Calgary 0
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
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 Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close