Bud Grant retired as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 27, 1984. His replacement was a fiery ex-Marine named Les Steckel, who had never been a head coach at any level but leap-frogged longtime offensive coordinator Jerry Burns in the line of succession to Grant's throne.
Steckel charged into the role like a man dying to prove he deserved the promotion. The Vietnam vet turned training camp into boot camp, Mankato serving as a poor man's Parris Island. Veterans began to rebel on Day 1, when Steckel kicked things off with an Ironman competition – an extreme obstacle course that claimed victims with pulled hamstrings, acute exhaustion and vomitus projectilius.
It went downhill from there.
After a 2-2 start, the 1984 Vikings finished 3-13. They might have lost their final 12 games if not for 42-year-old Jan Stenerud, who hit a 53-yard field goal at the final gun to beat Tampa Bay 27-24 at the Metrodome. That snapped a five-game losing streak in which the Vikings lost by an average of less than a touchdown.
Victory No. 3 didn't exactly give the Purple momentum. Over the final six weeks, the Fightin' Steckels were outscored 241-79, an average score of roughly 40-13. Steckel got the axe and Grant returned for one more season before handing the reins to Burnsie, launching an era best remembered for profane press conferences, Big Knockers and booing Bob Schnelker.
This trip down memory lane is timely because – judging by the activity of the #firefrazier Twitter hashtag on Sunday – many fans are wondering if Leslie Frazier's head coaching career will mirror Steckel's one-and-done blip on the radar of Vikings history. It's a legitimate question – Frazier needs another victory just to match the franchise's 1984 nadir, and with Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain, an offensive line held together by baling twine and rubber bands, and a secondary rivaling only the U.S. Congress in both job approval and competence, that third victory will be hard to come by.
Can Frazier survive a two-win rookie season, or even a three- or four-win campaign? If you're inclined to draw comparisons to Les Steckel, then your answer will be determined by how the 2011 Vikings finish the season.
The Purple played their worst six quarters of the season in their loss at Green Bay and the first half of Sunday's debacle against Oakland. The second-half rally against the Raiders merely served as a spray of Febreze on the raging tire fire that the 2011 season has become.
But if that second-half performance becomes the norm rather than the exception the rest of the year, Frazier's job is probably safe.
Nothing stinks more than a team that has quit on its coach. Burns was fired after his 1991 Vikings mailed in a 27-7 loss to the Packers in the season finale at the dome. Ten years later, Dennis Green was canned after a 33-3 home loss to Jacksonville dropped the Vikings' record to 5-9. Brad Childress got his pink slip last year after the Packers dismantled the Purple 31-3 for Minnesota's seventh loss in 10 games.
In each case, the players had clearly tuned out the head coach, whose act had worn thin after varying levels of success. Frazier doesn't have that success to fall back on, but he's still a rookie coach who will be given a bit more rope by the owners who don't want to admit a mistake if they don't have to.
Again, let's review Les Steckel's final six games as the Vikings' head coach:
Packers 45, Vikings 17
Broncos 42, Vikings 21
Bears 34, Vikings 3
Redskins 31, Vikings 17
49ers 51, Vikings 7
Packers 38, Vikings 14
If Leslie Frazier's final six games follow a similar pattern, it's even money that he joins Steckel as the only one-year head coaches in Vikings history. But if Frazier can inspire his players to display even the slightest hint of backbone down the stretch, look for him to get a second chance to show why the Wilfs hired him in the first place.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual (on newsstands now!), and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.
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