Souhan: Vikings ownership finally got it right with the coach and culture

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 7, 2013 - 12:51 PM

Leslie Frazier is the dignified face of an organization with plenty of room to grow. But the right QB is a vital element in that vision, too.

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Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier spoke with media Jan. 1

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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When Zygi Wilf bought the Vikings in 2005, he took control of an organization that frequently embarrassed itself off the field and in big games and that had become known, under previous owner Red McCombs, for cheapness.

Wilf inherited a coach, Mike Tice, who could wrangle a surprising number of victories from a mediocre roster but who was victimized by the Love Boat fiasco and a self-inflicted scandal: his scalping of Super Bowl tickets allotted to NFL head coaches.

When the 2005 season ended with a victory over the Chicago Bears at the Metrodome, Zygi couldn't wait to fire Tice. He made the move in the locker room immediately after the game. He wanted to hire a coach he could call his own.

Wilf chose as Tice's replacement a man who could bring with him the secrets of a class NFL organization. Brad Childress worked as the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator. It didn't matter to the Wilfs that he didn't call plays. Childress ranked as a valued member of the braintrust of one of the NFL's model franchises.

Although the Minnesota public soured on Childress, within three seasons he had the Vikings in the playoffs, and in four seasons he put them in position to win the NFC Championship Game. When Childress became a lightning rod inside the organization as well as among the fans, the Wilfs fired him and elevated Leslie Frazier to interim head coach.

To much of the sports world, the hire looked like a stopgap measure. Frazier was neither a former head coach from the major college or NFL ranks, nor a popular name in the coaching rumor mill. What he was, was exactly what the Wilfs had hoped for all along.

In Frazier, they would employ a coach they respected as a person. A coach they trusted to represent their organization with class. A coach who commanded respect in the locker room. A coach who had worked with some of the best innovators in the game, from Andy Reid to Jim Johnson to Marvin Lewis to Tony Dungy.

What they didn't know about him is what no owner knows about any fledging head coach: whether he could handle scrutiny and survive intellectual duels with the best head coaches in the game.

A little more than two years after they elevated Frazier, and seven seasons after they acquired the franchise, the Wilfs have their coach, and the makings of the organization of their dreams.

They have one of the five youngest rosters in the league. In one season, they improved from 3-13 to 10-6 and made the playoffs. In the past season, they beat every team in the talented NFC North, as well as the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans.

Frazier and General Manager Rick Spielman have built a team that promises sustainable success, and an organization that is distancing itself from its sordid history and conducting itself with class.

Now Frazier's team is good enough to acknowledge the reality facing all NFL teams: Your ceiling is set by your quarterback.

Now that the Vikings' goal of winning a Super Bowl is more blueprint than daydream, they join the ranks of teams, including the Ravens, Bengals, Bears, Lions, Texans, 49ers, Buccaneers and Cowboys, who perpetually question whether their quarterback can elevate a talented team to a championship.

The cliché is wrong. It's not true that quarterbacks get too much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose. Quarterbacks get too little credit when they win and too little blame when they lose.

When Christian Ponder played well early in the season, the Vikings found themselves at 4-1 and ranking as one of the most surprising teams in the game. When Ponder slumped, the Vikings lost five of seven and faced collapse.

When Ponder rallied, playing the best football of his career, the Vikings surged to the finish line, beating the Bears, Rams, Texans and Packers to qualify for the playoffs. When an arm injury kept him from playing in the playoff game, the Vikings' offense dropped its transmission.

As great as Adrian Peterson was this year, the quality of his performances didn't dictate outcomes. When he rushed for 210 yards at Lambeau Field, Ponder threw two interceptions and lost the game.

With uneven quarterback play, Tony Dungy got fired in Tampa. With Peyton Manning, he won a Super Bowl. With John Elway and Robert Griffin III, Mike Shanahan looked innovative. With a succession of mediocrities under center, he looked lost.

Since Mark Rypien led Washington to a Super Bowl title in the Metrodome in January 1992, only one poor quarterback has won a title: Baltimore's Trent Dilfer. Only one workmanlike quarterback has won a title: Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson. The rest of the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks have been: Troy Aikman (3), Steve Young, Brett Favre, John Elway (2), Kurt Warner, Tom Brady (3), Ben Roethlisberger (2), Peyton Manning, Eli Manning (2), Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

With rare exception, your quarterback sets your ceiling.

The Vikings have found their coach. They have built a strong organization. They have assumed a classy persona. They have acquired financing for a new stadium.

And now that the Wilfs' organization has grown up, the Vikings find themselves among the quality teams whose hopes are tethered to their quarterback. Frazier, Spielman and the Wilfs need Ponder to lead the way if their current plan is to work.

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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