It’s late January, 1986, and Leslie Frazier is lying in a hospital bed with shredded knee ligaments suffered during a punt return in the Bears’ 46-10 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
“The doctors had just come into my room,” Frazier said Monday. “And they told me, ‘You may not be able to come back, and if you do come back, you may not be the player you were before this injury.’ ”
Frazier never came back. At least not as a player. Today, he’s the Vikings’ head coach. In late January, 1985, he was a frightened 25-year-old soon-to-be ex-NFL player.
“For me, I have to rely on my faith,” Frazier said. “That was a tough time. I was lying there searching through scriptures trying to find a verse to help me when I was in that hospital bed.”
Frazier found one that would stick in his mind for the next 23 years — and counting.
“Romans 8:28,” Frazier said. “It goes, ‘All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.’ I hold on to that verse, especially in tough times like this.”
Yes, times are tough. Boy oh boy, are they tough. So tough that Frazier is 1-4 for the second time in three years. So tough that his team just came out of a bye week and suffered a humiliating 25-point loss at home to a one-win Panthers team.
There have been no public declarations from ownership or General Manager Rick Spielman that Frazier is in danger of losing his job. But common sense and the team’s decision not to reward Frazier with a multiyear extension after last year’s 10-win playoff season suggests that Frazier needs to pick it up ASAP or his seat will become increasingly warm.
He knows that. You don’t coach football 26 years and not know that.
“What I do in that situation is concentrate on that one particular week and what you have to get done with your football team,” said Frazier, whose contract runs only through the 2014 season. “You really can’t look ahead or, like I told our team, you can’t look back either. I can’t control what upper management is thinking or how they’re thinking or what they’re reading or what they’re hearing. But I can have an effect on our team.”
Frazier’s team has surprised us in tough times before. He inherited a 3-7 team and finished 3-3 as an interim coach in 2010. In 2011, the Vikings went to Washington on Christmas Eve and won a meaningless game that ultimately cost them the draft pick that would have landed Robert Griffin III. And last year, the Vikings lost four of five games to fall to 6-6 before finishing 4-0 against four teams that had a combined 40-23-1 record a year ago.
Romans 8:28. That’s what’s going through Frazier’s mind along with all the X’s and O’s and that weekly quarterback decision.
“The verse tells me that even though this seems tough, things will work out,” Frazier said. “You just need to hold on and walk by faith. But, yeah, it can be challenging, for sure.”
Indeed. Things looked challenging Sept. 29 when the Vikings lost at home to a winless Browns team that had just traded running back Trent Richardson and promoted their No. 3 quarterback to starter. But even that seven-point loss couldn’t measure up to fans fleeing the Metrodome with the Vikings trailing the Panthers 35-3 in the fourth quarter.
“That was a tough one, a tough one,” Frazier said. “I can’t put my finger on why we didn’t play better.”
The offense moved the ball 41 yards on the opening drive. But then Matt Cassel overthrew Greg Jennings and was intercepted. Then the defense sacked Cam Newton on third-and-9 on Carolina’s third offensive snap. But the Panthers still got a first down thanks to a holding call on cornerback Chris Cook.
“We got off to a good start,” Frazier said. “We moved the ball and we would have been off the field on defense. But then Carolina got some confidence and it was tough from there.”
“We’ll bounce back,” Frazier said.
Asked if he has a copy of Romans 8:28 framed or on a piece of paper in his pocket, Frazier shook his head.
“It’s up here,” said Frazier, pointing to his head. “And it’s in my heart. Romans 8:28.”
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org