EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The fact that Leslie Frazier went 21-32-1 as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach might have provided enough political cover for the team to make a coaching change, no matter the state of the Vikings' roster or Frazier's working relationship with general manager Rick Spielman. Coaches with two double-digit loss seasons don't often survive, and the fact the Vikings would have had to let Frazier coach into the final year of his contract also made it unlikely he would come back after a 5-10-1 year.
But some of what Frazier said Sunday -- and Spielman said Monday -- hinted that the two didn't see eye-to-eye.
Frazier, who declined comment via text message after he was fired on Monday, had talked earlier this month about having to go through "the process" of evaluating quarterbacks, and made his most direct comments of the season on Sunday, suggesting few coaches would be able to win without consistent quarterback play. And while Spielman took responsibility for the quarterback decisions on Monday, he tried to distance himself from the final call on who plays.
"I'm responsible for putting the best 53 players I can possibly put on our roster," he said. "But I have to leave it up to the coaches to make those decisions on who gives them the best chance to win on Sundays. And Leslie consulted us, consulted our ownership about the quarterback situation. Just like everything else, we have very open dialogue, open communication, but ultimately the coach and his coaching staff have to decide on who's playing and not playing on Sundays."
Then, when he was asked if any coach could have made the Vikings' quarterback situation work, Spielman said this: "You look at our division this year, the time that (Jay) Cutler missed, the time that (Aaron) Rodgers missed. Those guys had lost some games but somehow survived and Chicago and Green Bay played for the division title."
And finally, there was this, when Spielman was asked about who made the final call on firing Frazier: "That decision came down on ownership. The ownership hired Leslie. I was not the general manager at the time. We had a long extensive talk last night through it. But ultimately that comes down to our ownership."
I thought it was interesting that Frazier asked to meet with ownership, apart from Spielman, after hearing the news on Monday. It was ultimately ownership who decided not to give Frazier a contract extension after the Vikings went 10-6 in 2012, and it was ownership who had the final say this year. But Spielman also hasn't gotten to hire his own coach, and didn't stand directly between the head coach and ownership when Frazier was hired. He does now, and it had to be on Spielman's mind that his best chance to ensure his own success was to mold as much of the football operation in his image as possible.
"A coach is going to come in as a partner that I look to work hand-in-hand with," Spielman said, "and we have great ownership that is willing to put whatever it takes to put a winning product on the field."
Any GM would want the opportunity to hire his own coach; it's a standard component of the job, and it might have played into Frazier not getting a contract extension last year. The Vikings are now finishing just their second season with a traditional GM in the last 20 years, and some of this process may be a normal byproduct of the team's changing power structure.
Spielman now will get to "lead the charge" on a search for his own coach, and he'll presumably be accountable for the decision if it goes poorly. In exchange for the extra responsibility, though, he'll get a more streamlined football operation than he evidently thought he had with Frazier.
"I know that I am the general manager and that the owners put their trust in me to lead this search for our next head coach," Spielman said. "So my responsibility is to go out there and do that and consult with them as we go along the way. All I'm worried about right now is putting the best team on the field. But the first and most important thing is getting this coaching staff filled out."