The Minnesota Vikings have a number of issues, including a shaky quarterback situation and key holes to fill on defense.
So the team took the first step toward an offseason makeover Monday when head coach Leslie Frazier was fired. General Manager Rick Spielman cited a lack of consistency as a key reason for the move, which came a day after the Vikings concluded a 5-10-1 season.
Spielman promised an “extensive” coaching search that he hopes to complete by late January.
Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf informed Frazier of his dismissal during an early morning meeting.
Frazier shared the news with his team shortly thereafter. One player described the mood in the room as “somber.” Safety Jamarca Sanford cried as Frazier spoke and choked back tears later as he talked to reporters in the locker room. Players gave Frazier an ovation after he finished his speech.
“He was very genuine with us,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “I will always love him.”
At an afternoon news conference, Zygi Wilf read a prepared statement that detailed “an emotional day and an extremely difficult decision.” Spielman said he and ownership evaluated Frazier’s “body of work” before the Wilfs determined that change was needed.
When reached by text message, Frazier declined to comment.
Frazier is the third coach the Wilfs have fired since taking ownership in 2005, joining Mike Tice and Brad Childress. Frazier, who had a year left on his contract, posted a 21-33-1 record after replacing Childress with six games left in the 2010 season.
The Vikings finished 3-13 in 2011 but made the playoffs at 10-6 last season. But rather than extend Frazier’s contract, the team picked up his option for the 2014 season, making this a make-or-break year. The Vikings started 1-7 and were plagued by quarterback uncertainty and late-game collapses.
“It was the right thing to do to move forward,” Spielman said. “We have the utmost respect for Leslie and what he’s brought to this organization, but we have to look for consistency year-in and year-out.”
Spielman said he created a list of 13 categories in classifying potential candidates in terms of their background and experience.
“We’re going to look at candidates with head coaching experience at either level [pro and college],” he said. “We’re going to look at coaches without head coaching experience that have done great jobs as coordinators that may be potential up-and-comers. We’re not going to be boxed into a specific ‘he-has-to-be-this.’ It’s got to be the guy that we think is the right fit.”
Coach and friend
Frazier’s ouster hardly came as a surprise to his players. His job status had been a source of speculation for weeks, to the point that he called it an “elephant in the room” last week.
“No one is dumb; you can see the writing on the wall,” Allen said. “When we go from the playoffs to our record, I don’t know if anybody knew it was going to happen, but sometimes you expect changes.”
Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson voiced his support for Frazier publicly multiple times recently and indicated he intended to share his feelings with the Wilfs. Peterson declined to comment as he walked through the locker room after Frazier’s firing.
Numerous players praised Frazier’s character and impact on their personal lives.
“He’s a good man,” Sanford said. “At the end of the day, this is a business, but you felt it in his voice that he was really hurt, and I hate to see a good man [hurting] like that.”
Several players said change ultimately might be good for the organization. Spielman said he hopes a fresh start can bring a “spark as well.”
The first priority is the quarterback issue. The team selected Christian Ponder No. 12 overall in 2011, but Ponder never materialized as a long-term solution. He was ineffective and benched twice this season. Frazier noted after Sunday’s finale that the team needs to “fix” the quarterback position.
The Vikings started three different quarterbacks this season in a rotation that became disruptive; Frazier used seven different starting quarterbacks in the 55 games he coached.
Spielman, who had final say over the 2011 draft when the team selected Ponder, admitted that he hasn’t “got it right yet” in regards to that critical position.
“I have confidence we’ll get this quarterback situation resolved,” he said.
Frazier’s pointed comments about the quarterback situation demonstrated his frustration and raised questions again about who actually made the final call in those decisions. Frazier said that he consulted with Spielman and the Wilfs about every quarterback change and described it as a “collective decision.”
Spielman acknowledged that he discussed changes, but he said he left playing time decisions to Frazier.
“I would never want to say, ‘Hey, you have to play that guy or you have to play this guy,’” Spielman said. “That’s not my role. Just like I wouldn’t want a coach to say, ‘You have to take this guy.’ As a GM, whether I’m right or wrong, I don’t believe you dictate to a coach who needs and who doesn’t need to play.”
The Vikings defense came within four points of setting a team record for points allowed in a season and needs to be rebuilt. Spielman has turned over the roster significantly in recent years and, with 15 unrestricted free agents, more changes loom.
Spielman said he believes he has plenty to sell coaching candidates.
“This is a very attractive job,” he said. “When you talk to people on the outside, that the young talent that we do have on this roster, with all the new coming in, the new stadium and potential facilities online coming in, I don’t think we’re in a total rebuilding mode. It’s a situation where a head coach comes in, and I feel it can be a quick turnaround.”