After leading the Minnesota Vikings to a franchise-best, seven-game turnaround in 2012 and a return to the playoffs, the team rewarded head coach Leslie Frazier by picking up the option on his contract, extending the deal through 2014.
Sure, it gives him one more year on his current deal that was set to expire following this season, but it also sends a message that management needs to see some consistency from the team on the field before a long-term contract extension is put in place.
That's not too much to ask—after all Frazier was also the coach that matched the franchise record for losses in a season when the team finished 3-13 in 2011. In his defense, the team was in disarray after firing Brad Childress after 10 games in 2010 when the Vikings finished 6-10.
Frazier is fortunate he gets the opportunity to coach the team in 2012 and prove he has what it takes in the NFL. In 1984, Les Steckel was fired after only one season when the team finished with the same 3-13 record—a five-game drop from the previous season under legendary coach Bud Grant.
Just his voice and what he has brought to this team and the locker room, it's been huge. Guys really connect with him on that level. Just feeling his presence through his words and the confidence he has in us. Everything he speaks out there, we embrace and trust in his word.
Known as a player's coach, Frazier is by no means a pushover. One of his first moves during his first training camp in 2011 was the release of left tackle Bryant McKinnie for reporting to camp overweight and out of shape. It just happens to be the same move the Ravens may be contemplating this season.
That year Frazier also made the call to bench veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb, in favor of then-rookie Christian Ponder. Granted, it was an easy decision after the Vikings opened the season 1-5.
Last season the strained relationship between Frazier and the team's best receiver, Percy Harvin, appeared to come down to the old adage, this town is not big enough for the two of us. It started with Harvin's sideline tirade, yelling at Frazier during the game against the Seahawks, and ended with his eventual trade to that same team. It will be interesting to see how Harvin gets along with Seattle head coach Pete Carroll.
It's no coincidence that Harvin was placed on injured reserve, ending his season and career with the Vikings, after suffering an ankle sprain in the same game.
The extra year added on to his deal prevents Frazier from heading into the 2013 season as a lame-duck coach. However, just like last year, there will be plenty of commentary about his status as his third full-season as coach proceeds.
If Frazier is to replicate the success of Grant, he will need to coach in Minnesota for a long time. So what does he need to do this season in order to get a multi-year contract extension?
By overachieving last season and improving the team by seven games over 2011, Frazier may have made it a bit tougher to impress again in 2013. With a non-divisional schedule that includes road games against the Giants, Seahawks and Ravens, it will be difficult for the Vikings to match their 10-6 mark of last season.
Another factor that could work against Frazier is the fact the Vikings keep getting younger.
After jettisoning a handful of veterans, including cornerback Antoine Winfield, the Vikings will enter 2013 with a roster projected to be the fourth youngest in the league after having the 14th oldest team in 2012. While youth may bring exuberance, it also brings inexperience and mistakes, something team management should keep in mind as the season progresses.
Only the eighth coach in team history, Frazier has a winning percentage in his first two full seasons very close to that of Grant's. Excluding his games as interim coach, Frazier is 13-19. His 40.6 winning percentage is just a fraction over one percent better than that of Grant, who coached the Vikings to an 11-14-3 record in 1967 and 1968.
Like Grant, Frazier is a former player and brings an understanding of what it takes to make it in the NFL. So far he appears to have the same even-keel demeanor that Grant brought to the team. Also, just as Grant did, Frazier was able to lead the team to the playoffs in only his second full year as head coach.
Extending that comparison makes things difficult for Frazier.
The best thing Frazier can do to encourage management to sign him to an extension would be to make it to the playoffs again. In 1968 Grant led the Vikings to their first trip to the playoffs. Over the next 15 seasons the Vikings would miss the playoffs only three times—making it to the Super Bowl four times.
Fortunately for Frazier, the NFL has increased the number of playoff teams from four when Grant coached to six in each conference.
If the Vikings miss the playoffs, odds are that Frazier will not get an extension and will have only one season to prove he deserves to be re-signed.
On the other hand, if the Vikings make the playoffs again, the team should do whatever it takes to keep him in purple for a long time. After all, he could be the coach that returns the Vikings to the Super Bowl.
In the end, the best thing for Frazier is to just keep the Vikings on the winning track.