Leslie Frazier has the Minnesota Vikings on the verge of making the playoffs.
Even though the Minnesota Vikings' record is much improved over last season, that doesn't mean every member of the coaching staff's job is secure. With their 36-22 win over the Rams on Sunday, the Vikings improved to 8-6 on the season and currently hold the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture. Still, the NFL is all about what is happening now, and patience is not a virtue exhibited by many fans.
Surprisingly, the Vikings website lists 23 coaches listed on their staff. That's enough to have a coach for every single position on offense and defense, with an extra coach for the holder on field goals.
Excluding the strength and conditioning coach and his two assistants, the five positional-assistant coaches and the assistant to the head coach, that brings the number down to 13.
Perhaps the old adage that too many cooks spoil the broth could be in play with the Vikings. Especially if everyone is not on the same page.
Here's a look at how secure each of these coaches' jobs are as they close out the 2012 season.
What a difference a talented player makes for a positional coach. Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson had his hands full last season after head coach Leslie Frazier released left tackle Bryant McKinnie. In his first season with the team, Davidson had to patch things together using Charlie Johnson at left tackle. During the season, guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera both missed four games.
Things have been much better in his second season at the offensive line coach. With first-round draft pick Matt Kalil anchoring the left tackle position and Johnson back at guard, where he has more experience, the Vikings offensive line has played much better this season.
Most of that can be seen in the holes being opened up for Adrian Peterson. He is having the best season of his career and leads the NFL with 1,812 yards rushing.
The line has also done a better job protecting quarterback Christian Ponder. Last season, they allowed an average of 3.1 sacks per game. This season, that average has dropped to 2.1 sacks per game.
As long as Kalil is healthy and can dominate on the left side of the line, Davidson's job is secure.
If yards allowed on the ground is an accurate measure of a defensive line's effectiveness, then Brendon Daly may not get a second year to coach this unit.
This is his first season after taking over for Karl Dunbar, who had coached the defensive line from 2006 to 2011.
From 2006 until 2009, the Vikings defense, behind the strength of the "Williams Wall," was ranked either first or second in the NFL against the run. It allowed an average of 75 rushing yards per game.
That number increased to 102.2 yards in 2010, and again in 2011 to 107.0—prompting Dunbar's release.
This season, the average has increased to 113.3 yards per game. That does not bode well for Daly.
Jimmie Johnson, who played 10 seasons in the NFL as a tight end, became the Vikings tight end coach as a member of Brad Childress' coaching staff in 2006.
There is definitely a dichotomy in talent and contributions from the tight end position this season.
On one end of the spectrum, there is Kyle Rudolph, who is second on the team with 48 receptions and leads the team with eight touchdowns. Both are the most by a tight end since 2009, when Visanthe Shiancoe caught 56 passes and 11 touchdowns from Brett Favre.
On the other end, there is John Carlson, who the Vikings signed to a five-year, $25 million contract. His cap hit this season is $4.25 million. So far in 12 games this season, Carlson has only eight catches—that's $531,250 per catch.
If you want to give Johnson credit for the good season Rudolph is having, then he also needs to take some of the blame for Carlson's lack of contribution.
The positive overshadows the negative, and Johnson's job is secure. As for John Carlson, that's another story.
Defensive backs coach, Joe Woods, celebrates with Josh Robinson, who got the Vikings first interception of the season in Week 3, against the 49ers.
What a difference a year makes.
Last season, the Vikings were signing players off the street to come in and play defensive back. They lost both starting cornerbacks, Chris Cook to an off-the-field incident, and Antoine Winfield to a broken collarbone. The defense gave up a league-leading 34 touchdown passes.
There was only one direction things could go.
In his seventh season with the Vikings, defensive backs coach Joe Woods has some talent to work with in rookies Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson.
Smith, one of the Vikings' first-round picks, opened the season at safety as a starter, and he has not disappointed. He is tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, returning two of them for touchdowns. Third-round draft pick, Josh Robinson, has two interceptions in six starts this season at cornerback.
Eight of the 10 interceptions by the defense this season have come from the defensive backfield. Last season, the Vikings finished tied for last in the NFL with eight interceptions.
The Vikings are ranked 21st in the league, having yielded 24 touchdown passes. While it's not great, it is an improvement.
If the Vikings were willing to stick with Woods after last season, and with some good young talent to develop in Smith and Robinson, there's no reason to expect any changes here.
Woods has done more than enough to assure himself another year on the Vikings coaching staff.
Now, if he can only figure out what to do with Chris Cook, who has not played an entire season in his three years since the Vikings drafted him in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Fred Pagac coached the Vikings linebackers from 2006-2010. When defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was named interim head coach in 2010, he named Pagac as his successor at defensive coordinator.
He held the position through the 2011 season. Following the season, he was given his old job back for the 2012 season.
In his one season as coordinator, the Vikings defense dropped from 18th in the NFL to 31st in points allowed. Its ranking against the pass dropped from ninth to 26th, and against the run from ninth to 11th.
Obviously, he was not the answer at defensive coordinator.
As the linebacker coach, or rather, one of the linebacker coaches, Pagac has Chad Greenway, the NFL's leading tackler, under his direction. He also has the challenge of coaching two inexperienced players in Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, who came into the season with a total of six years experience in the NFL, but only 15 starts—11 of them by Henderson last season.
With the lack of experience, this was an area of concern for me. Behind the leadership of Greenway, the unit has exceeded expectations.
As long as Frazier is the head coach, Pagac has nothing to worry about—his job is safe.
It would seem that being a coach in the NFL is as much about who you know as it is of what you know.
With only three linebacker positions, it's a head-scratcher that the Vikings would need two linebacker coaches.
Without any idea what the special assistant to the head coach does, I cannot say if Singletary's job is secure or not.
He'll probably be on Frazier's staff as long he wants, or until he is offered a coordinator position or gets another shot as a head coach.
So, he'll probably be on Frazier's staff for as long as Frazier is the head coach.
I wonder if wide receiver coach George Stewart ever told running back coach James Saxon or special team coordinator Mike Priefer to back off. In his sixth season with the Vikings, he's had to share his best weapon—Percy Harvin.
Harvin is one of the best in the league at returning kicks and can create a lot of mismatches on offense. He has lined up everywhere on offense, even in the backfield as a running back.
Even with having to share Harvin, Stewart had him leading the NFL in receptions this season.
The problem is that once Harvin was lost for the season with the ankle injury, so was the Vikings passing game. Stewart should sue the Vikings for lack of support, or at least ask for some talent he can develop.
When you look at the underachieving corp of receivers he has to work with, it's easy not to blame him.
On the other hand, good coaches can develop players, not just rely on their receivers' god-given talent to improve a team.
With so little to talent to work with, Stewart gets a pass this season and will have to demonstrate some awfully good coaching in 2013 if he wants to stay employed with the Vikings.
In 2010, the year before running back coach James Saxon joined the Vikings, they were ranked 10th in the NFL in rushing with 121.4 yards per game. Last season, their total increased to 144.9 yards per game and moved them up to fourth in the league. This season, the average has increased to 160.2 yards per game, mostly behind the monster season that Adrian Peterson is having.
The dream job on the entire staff has to be that of running backs coach. At the same time, Saxon has to be careful not to fix something that is not broken.
Peterson is having the best year of his career and needs only 188 yards to become the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
While he cannot take all of the credit, Saxon's job is very secure.
Either he is not a very good teacher or Christian Ponder is not a very good student.
As the 12th player selected in the 2011 draft, the Vikings need a lot more from Ponder if they have any desire to consistently compete for the playoffs. He needs to contribute more than to not lose the game and hand the ball to Adrian Peterson 25 times a game.
Ponder's performance regressed as the season progressed. He led the Vikings to a 3-1 record without throwing an interception. Since then, he has 12 interceptions in 10 games.
Ponder's mechanics seem all messed up as well. He is constantly throwing off his back foot and has made too many throws across his body, back into the middle of the field. All of these are things that good quarterbacks don't do and a good quarterback coach corrects.
One or the other needs to go.
Mike Priefer has worked for the Denver Broncos and the Kansas Cit y Chiefs before joining the Vikings.
Anyone can coach great players. Great coaches can coach anyone.
In his second year with the Vikings, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is blessed to have some pretty special players to coach.
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh has been nothing short of spectacular. He is 29-of-32 on field-goal attempts this season, converting all eight attempts from greater than 50 yards. Walsh is also fourth in the NFL with 47 touchbacks on 73 kickoffs. His 117 points places him sixth in the NFL in scoring. It's also the 10th-best single-season scoring total in Vikings' history. He only needs 17 points in the last two games for the second-highest scoring total in franchise history.
Percy Harvin—when he played this season—has been one of the most exciting return men in the game. Harvin has scored five touchdowns on kickoff returns in his four seasons since being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft.
Under Priefer, his return average has improved from 25.5 yards in his first two years to 34.2 over the last two.
On the coverage side of special teams, there has also been an improvement. If the Vikings can prevent Keshawn Martin or Trindon Holliday of the Texans and Randall Cobb of the Packers from returning a kick or punt for a touchdown over the next two weeks, it will mark the first time since 2005 that has happened.
Now if he could only get Chris Kluwe to listen.
Priefer's job is very secure.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams is in his first year with the Vikings. He and Leslie Frazier served on the same coaching staff in Indianapolis. From 2002 until last season, he was the Colts defensive backs coach.
The biggest improvement the Vikings defense has made under his guidance has been in scoring. Last season, the Vikings finished 31st in the league, giving up an average of 28.1 points per game. This year, they are currently 14th, bringing that average down to 22.0 points per game.
This improvement in scoring has not been accompanied with any improvement in total yards allowed. According to NFL.com, last season, the Vikings finished with an average of 358.2 yards per game. This season, it's only a half-yard better per game at 357.7.
Williams' job is very secure—as long as the defense continues to improve each year.
If only Bill Musgrave had the same success with Christian Ponder as he did with Matt Ryan.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave may very well be one of the coaches to lose his job.
Perhaps in a similar manner to Fred Pagac and Darrell Bevell, Leslie Frazier will demote him to another position and allow him to decide what he wants to stay with the organization.
One of the reasons Musgrave was brought to Minnesota was his success in Atlanta as the quarterbacks coach. Musgrave coached Matt Ryan, selected third overall by the Falcons in the 2008 NFL draft. Ryan made an immediate impact, improving a Falcons team that finished 4-12 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008.
In the three years they were together in Atlanta, Ryan had a 33-13 record as a starter.
The Vikings were hoping that Musgrave would have the same kind of success with Christian Ponder—it has not happened.
This is Musgrave's third stint as an offensive coordinator. His first, in 2000 with the Carolina Panthers, only lasted four games. He lasted two seasons with the Jaguars from 2003-2004. He was released following the 2004 season after Jacksonville finished 29th in the league in scoring.
So far, the third time has not been the charm for Musgrave.
The Vikings have been trying to recapture the offense they had in 2009 when Brett Favre was quarterback. That season, the Vikings finished second in scoring, with 29.4 points per game. When the average dropped to only 17.6 points per game in 2010, it spelled the demise of head coach Brad Childress.
In the two years with Musgrave at offensive coordinator and Ponder at quarterback, the offense is averaging 21.9 points per game—about one point below the NFL scoring average of 22.8 points per game.
On the positive side, the Vikings own the fourth-best rushing offense in the NFL this season. Unfortunately, it's paired with the worst passing offense in the league.
Something has to give. With any luck, it will be Musgrave.
It all starts with the most visible coach on any NFL team—the head coach. Leslie Frazier is completing his second full season as the Vikings head coach after taking over in Week 12 of the 2010 season for Brad Childress.
As the interim head coach, Frazier led the Vikings to a 3-3 record to close out the 2010 season. Last year, nothing seemed to work for Frazier, and the Vikings fell to 3-13, matching the most losses in a season for the franchise.
Coming into this season, many people, including myself, did not see the Vikings winning more than six games. So, when the team opened the season with a 5-2 record, Frazier was being lauded as a genius and a players' coach that could get the most out of his team.
Then the Vikings lost four of their next five games, and the pendulum swung back with people questioning whether or not Frazier could be successful. There was the sideline squabble with Percy Harvin in Seattle that suggested everything was not right with the Vikings.
Now, two consecutive wins, including their second road win of season at St. Louis, has once again raised Frazier's stock in the eyes of Vikings fans.
Still, his reluctance to pull Christian Ponder in favor of Joe Webb has many people comparing him to Childress, who refused to pull Tarvaris Jackson.
According to Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune, owner Zygi Wilf indicated that Frazier will continue to be the Vikings coach—the proverbial kiss of death if there ever was one.
Still, with the Vikings guaranteed at least a .500 record, a five-game improvement over last season has secured him at least another year with the Vikings.
There will need to be continued improvement in 2013. If the Vikings regress at all, it will cost Frazier his job.