At some point in every failed coaching marriage, a moment comes along that pushes a teetering situation over the proverbial edge. Call it the instant a lame-duck coach goes from riding the hot seat to walking dead.
In the win-now NFL, moments of this variety commonly include an ugly or embarrassing loss, a miscalculated decision gone wrong or an early win-loss record that all but drowns a season.
For Leslie Frazier and the Minnesota Vikings, each of those moments of no return came Monday night at MetLife Stadium. His complete mishandling of Josh Freeman and the quarterback position—when coupled with one of the ugliest losses in recent franchise history and a 1-5 record—should really be the final straw for a coaching gig that has produced 17 wins and 27 losses over a four-year span.
Owner Zygi Wilf disagrees, at least for now.
"I'm sticking with my team," Wilf said, via Ben Goessling of ESPN. "That's our team. We're going to stick with it."
That patience will likely be tested in the coming weeks and months.
|2010||3-3||.500||3rd, NFC North|
|2011||3-13||.188||4th, NFC North|
|2012||10-6||.625||Wild Card Round|
Source: Pro Football Reference
The Vikings, who would now need to win seven of their last 10 games just to get to .500, figure to have two palatable choices regarding Frazier's future.
Minnesota could flat-out fire Frazier, insert an assistant coach to be the interim head coach and then begin an exhaustive search to find the franchise's next leader. Midseason firings are mostly commonplace in the NFL—the Vikings just fired Brad Childress four seasons ago—and Frazier certainly doesn't have the head-coaching resume or monetary commitment to restrict the Vikings from making such a decision before the end of 2013.
Just as easily, the Vikings could let Frazier's ship continue to sink in 2013 and then allow his one-year, lame-duck contract to finally expire after the season. After all, the Minnesota front office obviously saw the possibility of this sting in the tail, as Frazier wasn't given a new long-term deal this past offseason despite leading the Vikings to the postseason in 2012.
In fact, Minnesota really has no need to fire Frazier. When the organization played it safe and made him prove his 2012 postseason berth wasn't some fluky, everything-go-right year, Frazier effectively entered a playoffs-or-you're-fired season anyway.
A second straight postseason appearance now looks like the longest of long shots.
This is a 1-5 team that just gave the New York Giants their first win of the 2013 season. Any chance to right the ship sailed away on the back of every Josh Freeman overthrow Monday night.
Frazier, above all others, deserves much of the blame for Minnesota's inexcusable performance against the Giants.
Sure, there was always a rush to get Freeman on the field. The Vikings have just a handful of games to figure out if the 25-year-old quarterback should be a part of the team's long-term plans at the position, and neither Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel did enough to keep Freeman out of the starting job.
But any perceived hurry does nothing to justify Frazier's decision to throw Freeman to the wolves after just 10 days and a handful of practices in Minnesota. It was reckless, and the result—Freeman completed 20-of-53 passes for 190 yards, and the Vikings didn't score a single point on offense—was an embarrassment for every member of the organization.
Ponder and Cassel were both better qualified to start against the Giants, and both could have put the Vikings into position to win the game. Yet Frazier took the bait and started the natural talent whose head was probably still spinning inside the playbook.
Of course, Frazier and the Vikings have already proven incapable of identifying, grooming or handling the quarterback position.
By signing Freeman, the team has essentially given up on Ponder, a former first-round pick who spent the better part of three years trying to figure out how to play the position in the NFL. He represents the kind of draft-and-develop failure that gets general managers and head coaches canned.
Will Leslie Frazier last the rest of the season as the Vikings head coach?
The Vikings have also whiffed on Donovan McNabb and Matt Cassel, two veterans originally believed capable of bringing some stability to the position. Neither did.
Frazier's best hope now is to continue rolling out Freeman every week, in hopes that the former first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starts to grasp the offense and improve. In a best-case scenario, the Vikings finish the season near .500 and Freeman proves worthy of being Minnesota's long-term option at quarterback. Frazier would then have an improved chance for sticking around past 2013.
However, the writing is already on the wall for the most likely scenario.
After a blowout loss at home following the bye, and then a rushed, badly judged decision on starting Freeman, Frazier and his staff likely now have doubters coming from both upper management and the locker room.
Like Freeman Monday night, Frazier was set up to fail in 2013. And unless Freeman can somehow fish the Vikings out of their current situation, Frazier's time as the head coach in Minnesota is rapidly approaching its end.