Leslie Frazier: 7 Things Frazier Needs to Do to Keep His Job
Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is at a crossroads. Since taking over from Brad Childress in Week 12 of the 2010 season, he is 6-16. The 3-13 mark from 2011 matches the Les Steckel debacle of 1984 as the lowest point in franchise history. The leash cannot be that long for Frazier, whose .273 winning percentage is almost half that of the coach he replaced (.527).
Matching the highest draft pick since the Vikings selected Chris Doleman with the fourth overall pick in 1985, the expectations of Vikings fans for success are on the rise. The Vikings, who just gained approval from the state to share in the cost of their new stadium in Minneapolis, must show plenty of improvement. Improvement that translates into wins, with a not-too-distant return to the playoffs.
Frazier is the eighth head coach in Vikings' history. If the success of the previous seven is any indication, that does not bode well for him. Only three of his seven predecessors were able to lead the Vikings to the playoffs by their second season.
Bud Grant turned a 3-8-3 record his first season as head coach in 1967, into an 8-6 mark, leading the Vikings to their first playoff appearance in 1968.
In 1986 long-time offensive coordinator Jerry Burns took over the team. With a roster of replacement players for three games in his second season as the head coach in 1987, he was able to lead the Vikings to the playoffs after a four-year absence—the second-longest dry spell in team history. Only their first seven seasons, since joining the league in 1961 as an expansion team, is longer.
Dennis Green replaced Burns in 1992 proclaiming there was a new sheriff in town. He is the only head coach to lead the Vikings to the playoffs in his rookie season. The Vikings finished with an 11-5 record and a division title after two years of missing the playoffs.
Even though it has been 35 years since the Vikings last Super Bowl appearance, fans are not accustomed to losing. Since the first playoff appearance in 1968, the Vikings have never had more than two consecutive losing seasons—a position Frazier current finds himself and the Vikings.
Unfortunately, most predictions have the Vikings finishing with another losing record. Senior analyst, Sammy Sucu predicts an 8-8 record, while Vikings' featured columnist Bill Hubbell has the Vikings finishing anywhere between four and eight wins. Personally, I have the team finishing with a 6-10 record. John Clayton of ESPN (h/t wagerminds.com), has even less confidence in the Vikings. Clayton predicts only three wins for the Vikings in 2012.
As Frazier heads into his second full season as the Vikings head coach, he needs to prove he is the right person to rebuild the franchise. A third straight last-place finish in the NFC North will not help his cause and will probably leave him looking for a job.
Here are seven things he must do to keep his job.
Prove He Can Make the Right Personnel Calls
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Leslie Frazier cannot afford another move that has this much impact on the team.
At the time, McNabb came to the Vikings after having the worst season in his career, since starting starting six games as a rookie in 1999. In his single season in Washington, he was benched in favor of Rex Grossman, finishing with a 5-8 record as the starter.
To his credit, Frazier did bench McNabb after Week 6, in favor of Christian Ponder.
When McKinnie showed up to Vikings' training camp last August, overweight and out of shape, Frazier and the Vikings quickly parted ways with their starting left tackle of eight seasons. An article in the Star Tribune indicated that McKinnie arrived at camp tipping the scales close to 400 pounds—65 pounds over his playing weight of 335.
McKinnie's release forced the Vikings to move newly signed Charlie Johnson, slated to fill in at guard, to left tackle, a position he had played in Indianapolis.
The move resulted in Vikings' quarterbacks being sacked a total of 49 times last season. While McKinnie signed with the Ravens and started all 16 games on the same offensive line with another former Viking, center Matt Birk. While the Vikings struggled to a 3-13 record, the Ravens finished 12-4, winning the AFC North.
Make an In-Game Adjustment
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The Vikings opened the 2011 season with four straight losses.
What makes that so much worse is that they surrendered increasing halftime leads in the first three weeks of the season.
In Week 1 they opened the season in San Diego. At halftime they had a 17-7 advantage. The Chargers scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to win, 24-17.
In the Vikings home opener against Tampa Bay in Week 2, they blew a 17-0 halftime lead, giving up 24 points after the break, while only managing a field goal in a 24-20 loss.
The low point came in Week 3. The Vikings went into the locker room at halftime with a 20-0 lead over the Detroit Lions at home in the Metrodome.
Again, the only second-half points the Vikings scored was a field goal as Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford threw for two touchdowns, leading the Lions to a 26-23 over-time win. The loss dropped the Vikings to 0-3 and had the Lions surging to a 3-0 start of the season.
In all three games, the Vikings looked like two entirely different teams from one half to the other.
In Week 13, after holding the Broncos to only seven points in the first half, the defense surrendered 28 points over the last two quarters in a 35-32 loss at home.
Frazier and his coordinators were unable to make any adjustments on either side of the ball as the opposition came roaring back in the second half of these four losses.
As a Defensive Player and Assistant, Improve the Defense
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The Minnesota Vikings finished dead last in the NFL in 2011, giving up 34 touchdown passes.
This shouldn't happen with a head coach who made his way through the ranks from defensive backs coach, to defensive coordinator, to special assistant to the head coach.
The Vikings defense suffered serious setbacks to their starting cornerbacks. An injury to Antoine Winfield limited him to only five games and a suspension from the team of Chris Cook limited him to only three starts in six games.
Despite these and other injuries, the defense often looked unprepared and out of position. Opposing quarterbacks in 2011 finished with an NFL-high passer rating of 107.6 against the Vikings (h/t NFL.com).
In the offseason, Frazier replaced Fred Pagac as the defensive coordinator, moving him back to linebackers coach along with Mike Singletary, and replaced him with Alan Williams.
Like Frazier, Williams is making the jump from defensive backs coach to coordinator. Hopefully he will have more success than Pagac had last season.
Show Some Improvement on the Field and in the Win Column
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Leslie Frazier has only six victories in just under a season and a half of coaching. Two of those six have been against the Washington Redskins.
The good news for Frazier is he gets to play the Redskins again.
Frazier earned his first victory against the Redskins in D.C. with a Week 12, 17-13 win in 2010.
Last season he pulled off another road win in Week 16 with backup quarterback Joe Webb and backup running back Toby Gerhart leading the way to a 33-26 Vikings victory.
For the third straight season the Vikings head to Washington for a Week 6 matchup against a revamped Redskins team with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Now Frazier just needs to find another seven or eight victories to secure his job through 2012.
Win a Game Within the Division
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Speaking of victories, Leslie Frazier may have to look elsewhere than the NFC North for them. He has an 0-8 record against the division since taking over the final six games of 2010, including an 0-3 record against the Bears and Lions.
In those eight games, the Vikings have given up an average of 32 points per game while only scoring 17.
Against teams outside the division, Frazier is 6-8, with the average score of 22.4 to 22.6.
Somehow Frazier needs to tip the scales more in the Vikings favor within the division if he is to survive as the head coach.
Currently the three consecutive losses to the Lions is the second most in franchise history. The Vikings lost the first five meeting with Detroit between 1961 and 1963.
Since the Vikings joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1961, they have a 66-33-2 record against Detroit—the second-highest winning percentage against any team they have played more than 20 times.
The Lions have only swept the two-game season series four times, most recently in 1997.
A fourth consecutive loss to the Lions, and another series sweep, is a sure fire way for Frazier to find himself among the unemployed.
As a Players' Coach, Get More out of the Roster
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Leslie Frazier was a member of the 1985 Bears team that finished 15-1 and won Super Bowl XX, 46-10, over the New England Patriots. He led the Bears defense with six interceptions that season.
Having played the game, Frazier understands what is required to play in the NFL. Players respect that and are willing to take direction from someone who has been in the trenches.
Frazier needs to leverage that better and get more out of his players in 2012.
Last season he was unable to coax anything out of wide receiver Bernard Berrian, and finally after only seven receptions in five games, Berrian was released.
Another receiver, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, also had a disappointing year. By the end of the season he had been replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Kyle Rudolph. Shiancoe finished the season with 36 receptions for 409 yards—his lowest totals since joining the Vikings in 2007.
As the defensive coordinator, and then the head coach, Frazier has not been able to get cornerback Chris Cook to live up to his potential as the Vikings second-round draft choice in 2010. Over two years, due to injury and off-the-field issues, Cook has only started eight games and has yet to record an interception.
If the Vikings are going to improve, and move out of the basement of the NFC North, they are going to need plenty of players to play better than they have in the past.
This will be extremely important as the Vikings potentially will have up to four new starters on defense and five on offense.
Create an Identity
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The Minnesota Vikings lack a team identity.
Under the stoic Bud Grant they were a tough, cold-weather team known for its Purple People Eaters on defense and an offense that could grind out wins.
When Jerry Burns took over, unfortunately the team's identity changed as they moved indoors, playing under the roof of the Metrodome. They were a team that somehow became soft, losing the killer instinct.
Initially under Dennis Green the defense was solid again with Tony Dungy in charge of the defense. With his departure after becoming the head coach at Tampa Bay, the offense flourished under the direction of Brian Billick, leading the NFL in scoring in 1998 when the team finished 15-1.
With former tight end Mike Tice at the helm the team was a hard-working blue collar squad playing for a miser of an owner in Red McCombs.
In the four seasons that Brad Childress was coach, the team lacked an identity. Childress was aloof, not feeling the need to explain himself to the media, fans or his players. While the team gained two wins in each of his first four seasons, the act wore thin when everything starting falling apart in 2010.
Frazier has a quiet, soft-spoken approach with the media in his press conferences, never losing his cool. Unfortunately, his team has not been able to adopt the same identity as yet.
With star players like Jared Allen, Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, Frazier needs to mold this team into a cold, calculating collective, that plays efficiently and effectively to best match his personality.
So far they have been an inconsistent team that has struggled to put together an entire game on both sides of the ball.