Souhan: Frazier's calm voice has Vikings on right path

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2012 - 9:06 PM

 His team is in the thick of a playoff race, and that is a tribute to Leslie Frazier's ability to navigate his way through stormy waters.

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Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press - Ap

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Since Bud Grant retired for the first time, the Vikings have unsuccessfully pursued two goals: qualifying for the Super Bowl and avoiding public embarrassment.

The list of the franchise's biggest losses is long and often linked to numbers, such as "12 men in the huddle,'' and "41-donut.''

The list of the franchise's transgressions and foibles is long and often linked to comedic nicknames, such as "Love Boat,'' "Whizzinator,'' and "Favre.''

Grant was known for a stoicism that lent an air of calm to the franchise, regardless of the problems it faced on the field or in the locker room. His successors often have won games while failing to evoke a similar sense of control.

Les Steckel was Grant's first successor. He embarrassed those who hired him. Jerry Burns took his team close to a Super Bowl and did, along with Mike Lynn, take his team to counseling -- otherwise known as team-building exercises at Pecos River, N.M. -- to ease tensions between players and front office.

Dennis Green made it to two conference title games while issuing taped missives from undisclosed bunkers while the franchise became known for disharmony. Mike Tice won a playoff game at Green Bay but scalped Super Bowl tickets, was the unfortunate victim of the Love Boat scandal and was in charge when Onterrio Smith tried to sneak an Original Whizzinator through airport security.

Brad Childress came within one man in a huddle and one Brett Favre pass in the Superdome of coaching in a Super Bowl, only to be dissed by Favre, Percy Harvin and Randy Moss the following year.

When the Wilfs fired Childress, they chose Leslie Frazier to replace him. Frazier owned an impressive enough résumé, but he got the job because he promised to become the kind of strong, calm leader the franchise had lacked since Grant.

The man who hired him, Zygi Wilf, has yearned to establish a winning team surrounded by a classy organization. The personality of the franchise has changed from hostile to professional and even friendly in the past three years.

That Frazier has won eight games this season after winning three in 2011 is impressive, but it is not nearly as impressive as his ability to becalm a franchise that has given "Chaos Theory'' a bad name.

In the past year or so, Frazier has dealt with a major injury to franchise player Adrian Peterson. He has dealt with the great Percy Harvin complaining during a minicamp and on the sideline in Seattle, then being lost for the season.

Frazier has managed a struggling young quarterback. He has replaced one of his hand-picked coordinators. He has faced down a midseason slump that could have unraveled the team.

Now, 14 games into his first full season following an offseason not limited by a lockout, Frazier has positioned the Vikings to compete for a playoff spot. His team is 8-6 despite Christian Ponder's erratic play and the loss of Harvin. Young players have improved. Role players have contributed.

Frazier has accelerated the development of a rebuilding team while turning major disruptions into nothing more than minor annoyances.

He is the first Vikings coach since Grant who can turn potential controversies into footnotes. Had Harvin screamed on the sideline at Childress or Tice, the story would have become a national talking point. With Frazier, the story withered on the vine.

Frazier is giving Wilf the competitive team he craves and the class organization he demands. He is winning games in December with a team considered a year or two away from contention. He and General Manager Rick Spielman are following a methodical blueprint that should lead to sustainable success.

Two summers ago, I was lucky enough to meet Frazier in his hometown of Columbus, Miss. I also followed Frazier to a prayer meeting in North Minneapolis. In Mississippi, I saw the neighborhood where he was raised amid sweltering heat and poverty. In Minneapolis, I heard him speak of his faith and, with a preacher's fervor, promise to bring a championship to Minnesota.

The latter may have sounded hollow if I hadn't seen the former.

Frazier might not win the NFL's coach of the year award. He'll need two victories and some luck to receive strong consideration. What he should receive is a contract extension.

There is little doubt that Wilf, having seen so much disharmony in his organization before he hired Frazier, will give him one.

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

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