Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.

Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.

Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Vikings coach Frazier inspired by trip to Afghanistan

Posted by: under Vikings, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier Updated: July 3, 2012 - 3:09 PM

With just three weeks left until the Vikings report to training camp in Mankato, head coach Leslie Frazier has chosen to capitalize on some rare NFL downtime during this holiday week. But that means he’s beachside somewhere sipping on a frozen drink and soaking in the sun. Frazier’s choice of venue today: Afghanistan.

As part of the third annual NFL-USO Coaches Tour, Frazier along with Bill Cowher and Eric Mangini are currently visiting troops in the Persian Gulf. This afternoon, Frazier called the Star Tribune from overseas and provided a snapshot of the impressions the USO Tour has left on him so far.

On the positive energy he’s felt on the trip …

“So far this has been a tremendous experience. Even before we came over, I was excited. And a big part of that [was] because I knew it gave us the chance to come over here and show our gratitude to our troops. I was expecting this to be an opportunity to boost their morale. But it’s actually been the other way. They’ve been invigorating me. Just seeing their dedication, their focus, their sacrifice, it’s truly amazing how much of themselves they’re willing to give.”

On the conditions the troops face …

“It’s truly remarkable. The terrain here is like no other. It’s hard to navigate the landscape. And these guys are doing it on foot, they’re doing it in various vehicles. And then you talk about the altitude and then the heat. This heat can be unbearable at times. But every day they get up and they go on their missions and they do their jobs. Someone asked me if this would change my perspective on training camp with our players. And in a lot of ways it will. I kind of wish some of our players in the league could come over here and just see what our troops are going through and what they’re dealing with. If they did, I don’t think they’d complain about practices in training camp when it gets hot. Because this here is a tough challenge. And yet the approach and the attitude that our men and women that are serving our country take, it inspires you in so many ways.”

On running across a handful of Vikings’ fans in Afghanistan …

“I’ve come across a ton of Vikings’ fans. As a matter of fact, today I ran into some Vikings’ fans from Mankato. It was four or five different guys who grew up in Mankato. What are the odds of that, being where we are in this part of the world? There are a number of Viking fans here. And the number one question: ‘Is Adrian Peterson going to be ready to go?’ That’s the biggest thing they want to know. And then the next thing is, ‘How are we going to do this year, Coach? What kind of team are we going to have?’ They’ve been very, very positive. And there is a lot of hope with our fans. Even over here. That’s been good. It’s been really good.”

On the surprises of the trip to date …

“I think the biggest surprise for me have been the conditions. You see it on TV and you’ve heard people talk about what the conditions are. But to be here experiencing it? Today we spent the entire day at different bases visiting the troops. And we were doing a lot of stuff on foot. And we have body armor on just like the troops do. And I’m thinking, ‘These guys are doing this all the time. They’re running. They’re climbing mountains. They’re on the ground.’ It just blows me away the adverse conditions they face. And yet they approach all of this with a great attitude. Seeing it on TV doesn’t do it justice. You have to experience what they’re dealing with in these conditions. And to see how successful they’ve been in defending us gives you a lot of pride. I mean I have a lot of pride coming away from this in our armed services.”

On why his spirits have been boosted during the trip …

“It’s amazing the number of times they tell us how much they appreciate us being here. And when we’re around them and we’re sitting down talking with them about what they do and we get a chance to talk with some of the people who are in charge, whether that be a captain or a master sergeant, and they explain strategy and talk us through what the next steps are going to be, it gives you a great appreciation for the training our troops go through and the organization that’s involved. And it’s incredible how they’re able to get so many people on the same page working together as a team much like what we try to do in football, it blows you away that they can be so organized and so unified to one mission: to protect our country. That makes you swell with pride w\hen you see that, everybody working together and sacrificing for the greater good. I had a chance to watch the movie ‘Blackhawk Down.’ And today I actually rode on a Blackhawk helicopter. And sitting in that helicopter with my gear on, I’ve got my body armor and my helmet and there’s a person up there manning a rifle on the helicopter protecting us while we’re in the air and I’m saying, ‘Man, this is pretty real now. This is the real deal. This is not TV.’ That gives you a whole new perspective on war and peace. It changes your mindset and certainly gives you greater appreciation for what our troops are doing.”

On the leadership skills he’s observed in meeting with captains and master sergeants in the armed forces …

“There are some things I’ve listened to them talk about which are so similar to what I try to do in a leadership role. There is some crossover. One of the guys was talking to me today, and he was from Minnesota, a master sergeant and he said, ‘Les, you know when I ask the guys to do whatever it is I ask them to do, if one of those guys doesn’t do it right, my commander doesn’t ask me why it didn’t happen. I’m the person responsible for making it happen. So he doesn’t go necessarily to the person who didn’t get it right. I’m the person in charge of making sure that it does get right.’ And I said, ‘Man, that sounds like being a head coach in the National Football League. I can’t say that this player didn’t get it right or this coordinator didn’t function right. It’s always going to come back to the guy in command.’ This master sergeant was talking strategy and the techniques he uses to get guys to do the things they need to get done and it mirrored the approach we take in some of the things we do.”

On what he tells soldiers when they ask about Adrian Peterson …

“I tell them he’s going to make it back. I believe he’ll make it back. I don’t know if it will be that first game. I hope it is. And I’m optimistic and I tell them that. We’re believing that he’s going to make it back and be the Adrian we remember and be the same old Adrian Peterson. The way he’s working, he’s working his tail off. And that’s going to pay off.”

On the excitement he took from OTAs and mini-camp and the excitement that’s ahead at training camp …

“I’m so excited that we had an offseason to really be able to put your fingerprint on the football team. You can begin to mold the team the way you want the team to be and how you want to respond to certain situations. You begin to shape the roster the way you want it. I don’t want to go back to 2011 too much. But this is so, so much better when you’re trying to build a football team. In our situation, the [team] I inherited, you don’t get these jobs when they’re perfect jobs. There’s usually something wrong when you’re named the new head coach. And there were some things with our roster and the way we were doing some things that needed to be corrected. And this offseason has given me a valuable chance to get started on that. So I feel good about some of the things we’ve done up to this point. Now we’ve got a lot of work left when we get to training camp. But we are definitely headed in the right direction as far as creating a team that I can look at and say, ‘This is the team that I want. This is the team we want to showcase for Minnesota.’” 


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