If Frazier goes down, he'll go down fighting
December, 15, 2013
By Ben Goessling | ESPN.com
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesLeslie Frazier led the Vikings to an impressive thumping of the Eagles but his future in Minnesota is still in doubt.MINNEAPOLIS -- If Leslie Frazier is in his final days as the Minnesota Vikings' coach, if he's soon to pay for the Vikings' fall to last place after their surprising 2012 playoff run, he's at least doing what he has done best.
Frazier took over the 2010 Vikings after ownership fired Brad Childress with the team at 3-7. He coaxed a 3-3 finish out of the team, even after the Metrodome roof collapsed, which forced the Vikings to move two home games. A snowstorm also forced them to play another game in Philadelphia on a Tuesday night. Frazier got the interim tag removed from his title after that season, and when Adrian Peterson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve, Frazier watched his young team grind out a road win in Washington. The Vikings fell from 4-1 to 6-6 last year, only to rally for four consecutive wins in December, clinching a playoff spot on their last play of the season.
Those rallies have earned Frazier praise from players for what he does best: preach unity and coax effort out of his team in the midst of adversity, and he looks like he might be in the middle of another impressive late-season run.
The Vikings are 3-2-1 in their past six games, and without Peterson, Toby Gerhart or their top three cornerbacks on Sunday, they scored their biggest win of the season in a 48-30 thumping of the Philadelphia Eagles. That might not be enough to save Frazier's job this time, especially in light of how much adversity the Vikings have created for themselves this season.
They have shuttled through three different quarterbacks, blown five last-minute leads and played some of the most statistically porous defense in the league. Since the Vikings were 1-7, rumors have been circulating about Frazier's future, about which candidates might line up to take his place, and Sunday was no different.
NFL Network cited team sources and sources familiar with the ownership's thinking who said Frazier's future was "grim," adding the Vikings likely would target a young NFL assistant with "star power." CBS Sports said the Vikings already have approached Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. Those two reports posit two different paths for the Vikings' next coach, and there are sure to be more theories about where the Vikings could go next between now and when -- or if -- the team parts with Frazier.
The coach effectively was put on notice when the Vikings decided to pick up his 2014 option -- not offer him a long-term contract extension -- after the team's 10-6 season in 2012. Though the Vikings have little stability at what might be the two most important spots in the modern NFL (quarterback and cornerback), they'd be atop the NFC North right now if they had been able to hang onto their late leads. And Sunday, again, called into question what might have been if the Vikings had stuck with Matt Cassel all season, rather than handing starts to Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder after Cassel's first -- and to date, only -- bad game.
"We made those decisions at the time for different reasons. We always felt good about Matt but there were some things we needed to see [from Freeman and Ponder]," Frazier said. "Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get wins when we were going through the process. That would have been a lot better. We knew why were doing it back then, so hindsight is always 20/20."
If one can make the case the Vikings could be in playoff contention with their current roster -- and it certainly appears that theory is valid -- then poor decision-making by coaches often leads to them taking the fall before front office people. It has always seemed possible that could happen in Minnesota, though team president Mark Wilf and general manager Rick Spielman would not comment on a report that Spielman has been told his job is safe for 2014.
While Frazier can't reverse those last-minute collapses or the quarterback decisions now, he can make one more statement about how good he has been at getting his teams to play their hardest. He made that statement again on Sunday, and if he can do it twice more, maybe he'll scrape together enough goodwill to save his job when the chances of him keeping it appear slim.
"I think a report is a report. When your team has four wins, it's going to happen," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "I have been with Leslie for seven years out of my eight in the NFL, so there are guys here that you create good bonds with that have done a great job coaching. It's not my decision to make one way or the other, but I appreciate the things they continue to do for us to put us in the best position to get wins."