Leslie Frazier was walking off the field following a Thursday practice the week before Christmas. Already sensing the firing that would come 11 days later, the then-Vikings coach took a moment to elaborate on a national radio interview he gave in which he denounced the lack of patience being practiced by most NFL owners and general managers.
“Today’s NFL is a different deal,” Frazier said. “You’re trying to develop young rosters [because of the salary cap]. It’s hard to keep a veteran-laden team. You need time to develop these young guys. And some coaches are fired after one year?”
At the time, 77 NFL head coaches had been fired since 2000. That number has grown to 83 — 5.9 a season — since the end of the regular season and includes not only Frazier, but Rob Chudzinski, whose stay in Cleveland lasted all of 344 days.
Chudzinski’s quick exit wasn’t even unusual. In fact, it marked the sixth time in six years that a coach was fired after one season. And that doesn’t include Lane Kiffin, who managed to survive 20 games with the Oakland Raiders.
On that Thursday before Christmas, Frazier also talked about the crème de la crème job that Mike Tomlin, his predecessor as Vikings defensive coordinator, landed in 2007. Tomlin was 34 when the Rooney family hired him as Pittsburgh Steelers coach. If nearly half a century of tradition continues, Tomlin will remain there until he chooses to retire.
The Steelers have won a league-high six Super Bowls in eight appearances. They also haven’t fired a head coach since 1968, when Bill Austin was removed to make room for Chuck Noll.
“The Rooneys, they get it,” Frazier said. “Patience.”
They got it. But it’s sure not contagious.
Since 2000, the Raiders and Browns have fired six coaches apiece. The Redskins just fired their fifth one, while the Vikings, Lions and Buccaneers are up to four apiece following the most recent Black Monday. Every other team except the Steelers and Patriots has fired at least one coach since 2000.
Although there was the usual finger-pointing on both sides that comes when a coach and general manager separate, Frazier and Vikings GM Rick Spielman did agree on one thing at the bitter end.
“We’re not as far away as people think,” Frazier said 11 days before he was fired.
“I feel it can be a quick turnaround,” Spielman said the day Frazier was fired.
In Frazier’s opinion, blowing five last-minute leads by a combined total of 2 minutes, 26 seconds was a sign to maintain the status quo in the wake of a 5-10-1 season that was painfully close to being 10-6. In Spielman and ownership’s opinion, it was one of the signs that the old spark was gone and a new one was needed.
In the latter’s defense, the NFL now has an eight-year streak of at least one coach taking over a losing team and leading it to the playoffs in his first season. It happened three times this year in Philadelphia (Chip Kelly), Kansas City (Andy Reid) and San Diego (Mike McCoy).
The Chiefs’ nine-game turnaround from 2-14 to 11-5 under Reid isn’t even the best one-year spark the past six years. In 2008, the Dolphins fired Cam Cameron after going 1-15 in his only season as coach there. Tony Sparano came in and posted an 11-5 record and wrestled the AFC East title away from the Patriots.