Minnesota Vikings: Assessing Leslie Frazier's Crew: Can They Coach?
Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has assembled his coaching staff for the 2011 season.
Of the 23 coaches that make up the staff, there will be eight changes over 2010, including Frazier as the man in charge.
There's an adage that I've heard plenty of times over the years:
Those who can't play, coach.
There are many variations of this phrase, but you get the point.
The theory is that for those less talented players, at least those who truly love the sport they so dearly want to play, they will work so much harder than those with natural talent.
They will study the game, understanding its intricacies and nuances in order to be better prepared and use what they've learned to their advantage as they compete.
In many cases, because of their knowledge they may become an extension of the coach on the field, ultimately ending up being a coach on the sideline.
On the other end of the spectrum there are those with the natural ability, the exceptional eye, or instinct that elevates their game above all others.
These are gifted athletes, that no matter what the sport, they can adapt and excel, seemingly without effort.
The problem is these gifted athletes cannot always translate their talent into a teachable way that allows others to excel.
An example of being able to play and not coach might be Norm Van Brocklin. In his playing career as a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, Van Brocklin had a 61-36-4 record, a .629 winning percentage. Yet in 13 years as the head coach of the Vikings and Falcons he only had three winning seasons with a career record of 66-100-7—a lowly .398 winning percentage.
An example on the other end of the spectrum would be Marty Schottenheimer. He played six seasons in the NFL, only starting 10 games. The combined record of the teams he played for was 30-51-3, a .370 winning percentage. Yet, he is currently sixth all time in the NFL with 200 coaching victories in 21 seasons. He finished his coaching career with a .613 winning percentage.
Here's a look at the new additions to the Vikings coaching staff for 2011.
I attempt to answer the questions could they play, and can they coach?
Start at the Top: Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier
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Leslie Frazier is now the man in charge—he better know what he's doing.
Frazier played cornerback for five seasons with the Chicago Bears from 1981 to 1985. Over that span the Bears would go 42-31—a .575 winning percentage.
Twice he led Chicago in interceptions, in 1983 with seven and 1985 with six.
Yeah, Frazier could play, however not too many people thought so.
Following his senior year at Alcorn State he would go undrafted eventually signing as a free agent with Chicago after a tryout in 1981. Within two years he would start all 16 games at right cornerback.
His career was cut short after suffering a serious knee injury in the 1985 Super Bowl.
Within three years he would become the head coach of Trinity College in 1986, a position he would hold for nine seasons before moving to the University of Illinois as the defensive backs coach.
Within two years he would make the jump to the NFL as the Philadelphia Eagles defensive backs coach in 1999.
His career would take him through Cincinnati, as the defensive coordinator for two seasons, and then to Indianapolis, where Tony Dungy would name him special assistant to the head coach and defensive backs coach. While with the Colts he would win his second Super Bowl, this one as a coach.
In 2007 he would get another shot as defensive coordinator in Minnesota.
Again, it would seem that there were people who did not believe in him. Seven times he would interview for a head coaching position, and each time be passed over.
It will be interesting to see how Frazier does as the eighth head coach in Vikings history.
I believe that he will be successful, just as he was when no one drafted him as a player.
Now, just like then, he has something to prove.
Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave
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The good news is Bill Musgrave was not a very good quarterback.
Like Leslie Frazier he would play five years in the NFL. However, he would only play in 14 games with a single start.
From 1991 to 1994 Musgrave would back up Steve Young for the San Francisco 49ers. In 1995 he would follow 49er offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan to Denver and spent the next two seasons backing up John Elway.
For his career he would complete 43-of-69 passes for 402 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He would lose his only start in 1996 with the Broncos.
The bad news is he has not been very successful as an offensive coordinator.
In 1997 he was released by the Broncos during the preseason. That same year he would become the Oakland Raiders QB coach.
In 1999 he would hold the same position with the Carolina Panthers. The following year he would be promoted to offensive coordinator—but would resign after four games with the Panthers at 3-1.
After two years as the offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia he would make his return to the NFL.
First-year head coach Jack Del Rio would bring Musgrave on board as the Jacksonville offensive coordinator. After two years and a 14-18 record Musgrave would be released.
Musgrave would coach for one year in Washington as the quarterbacks coach before moving to Atlanta where he has been the QB coach since 2006.
Perhaps the third time's the charm as he takes over as the Vikings offensive coordinator.
Sure, Musgrave has done a great job coaching Matt Ryan since he came into the league. Ryan has a 33-13 record in his three seasons. As a rookie Ryan started all 16 games and led the Falcons to an 11-5 record.
Perhaps the Vikings are hoping Musgrave can do a similar job with a Blaine Gabbert or a Jake Locker—the problem is Musgrave is not the QB coach.
As far as the offensive coordinator position goes, this one looks like—those who can't play, and can't coach, should referee.
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Fred Pagac
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This picture looks like a mugshot taken at the Hennepin County Jail.
About the only thing Fred Pagac may be guilty of is a terrible professional football career.
His professional playing career spanned two seasons—1974 in Chicago, and 1976 in Tampa Bay.
Like Leslie Frazier, Pagac would sign as a free agent with the Chicago Bears.
Playing in a total of 28 games, Pagac would get three starts at tight end for the 0-14 Buccaneers in 1976.
His best year was with Chicago in 1974. Pagac would have six receptions in 14 games for a decent 13.2 yards per catch. That year the Bears would go 4-10.
Pagac's overall professional record: 4-24.
There's not much of a career to judge, but one thing is for sure—Pagac probably knows how to lose.
Pagac has been coaching in the NFL for 10 years. Until his promotion to defensive coordinator he has been the linebackers coach for three different teams working for five different head coaches including Leslie Frazier.
From 2001 to 2003 he coached in Oakland, one year with Jon Gruden and two with Bill Callahan.
In 2004 Pagac moved to Kansas City where he coached with Dick Vermeil for two seasons before being selected as the Vikings linebacker coach when Brad Childress took over in 2006.
His combined record as an NFL coach is much better than that as a player: 84-76.
I liked the aggressive blitzing style of Pagac. In the six games he was acting as the defensive coordinator the Vikings recorded 14 of 31 sacks, had seven of the 15 interceptions and seven of 10 defensive fumble recoveries.
It would appear that Pagac knows how to coach defense—the downside might be he did a better job than Frazier?
This is definitely someone who couldn't play, but appears he can coach.
Minnesota Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer
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Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer never played in the NFL. This should make him fully qualified as one of those who "can't."
The other thing he "can't do" is keep a job.
The good news is he has nine years experience in the NFL—the bad news is he's coached for four different teams.
Priefer started his NFL coaching career in 2002 as the assistant special teams coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, a position he would hold for only a year before moving to the New York Giants and becoming their assistant special teams coach.
After three years in New York he would be promoted to special teams coordinator for Kansas City in 2006.
In 2009 he would become the Denver Broncos special teams coordinator, a position he would have for two seasons before being named as Vikings special teams coordinator.
It's not clear to me what is keeping this guy in the NFL. In his nine seasons he has had one good year—2004 with the Giants when they led the league in average yards per kickoff return.
I averaged the ranking of Priefer's teams over his career for the four aspects of special teams—kickoff coverage and returns and punt coverage and returns. Only the punt coverage team has ranked within the top half of the league with a 13.3 ranking. The other three are all hovering around 19th in the NFL.
I don't expect any improvements in the Vikings special teams in 2011.
Priefer appears to be not only a person who can't play, but can't coach either.
Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Coach Craig Johnson
Minnesota Vikings new quarterback coach never played in the NFL.
His entire coaching career in the NFL had been under the reign of Jeff Fisher as part of the Tennessee Titans coaching staff.
He started at quarterback for the University of Wyoming from 1980 to 1982. After his senior year he would join the staff as a graduate assistant. From 1983 to 1998 he would hold various positions as an offensive coach for seven different universities.
He would join the Tennessee Titans in 2000 as an offensive assistant/quality control.
In 2002 he would be named the quarterback coach, a position he would hold until 2009 when he would be named running backs coach.
While in Tennessee he would work with Steve McNair, Kerry Collins and Vince Young.
In his first four years, Johnson's quarterbacks would average 27.3 touchdowns, 14.3 interceptions, 3,800 passing yards and an 86.7 quarterback rating.
Over the four years these numbers would deteriorate to 12.7 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 2,958 passing yards and a 72.0 quarterback rating.
Perhaps this is the reason he was switched to running backs coach in 2010.
The naming of Johnson as quarterbacks coach does not instill a lot of confidence in me that the Vikings, who are in desperate need of a quarterback, will have a quarterback that will be able to turn things around in 2011.
Johnson is one who never played in the NFL, and may not be able to coach.
Minnesota Vikings Running Backs Coach James Saxon
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James Saxon was hired to replace Eric Bieniemy after he accepted the offensive coordinator job at his alma mater, the University of Colorado.
This could either be a dream job, getting the opportunity to coach the best running back in the NFL, or a nightmare if Adrian Peterson's performance diminishes at all.
Saxon was a sixth-round draft choice in 1988 of the Kansas City Chiefs. He would play a total of eight seasons in the NFL at FB/HB/RB, four with Kansas City, three with Miami and one with Philadelphia.
He appeared in 111 games and is credited with 16 starts. His first two seasons in Kansas City were his best when he would rush for 533 yards and score five touchdowns.
While in Kansas City he would play behind Christian Okoye who led the NFL in rushing in 1989 with 1,480 yards.
Over the next six seasons he would only rush for another 36 yards and not score again in the NFL.
His last season would be in 1995 with the Eagles where he would only carry the ball once for no gain.
Fortunately his coaching career is a little brighter.
From 2001 to 2007 he would return to Kansas City as their running backs coach.
In 2008 he would be hired as the Dolphins running backs coach.
From 2001 to 2007 he would coach Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson in Kansas City, and Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in Miami.
Saxon's running backs would exceed 1,000 yards rushing in six of 10 seasons.
Overall they would average 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns per season. Compare that to Peterson's averages of 1,445 yards and 13 touchdowns.
For Saxon it appears he was one who could play, a little, but is certainly one that can coach.
This looks like a good hire for Leslie Frazier.
Minnesota Vikings Offensive Line Coach Jeff Davidson
Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson has one of the toughest jobs on the team, and with perhaps the most questions.
Injuries took a toll with Steve Hutchinson missing the last five games with a broken thumb and Anthony Hererra missed the last six games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Davidson only played three seasons in the NFL. Drafted in the fifth round of the 1990 draft by Denver he would play 30 of 44 games over the next three seasons before suffering a shoulder injury that would eventually lead to his retirement in 1994 after being unable to play in 1993.
During the three years he played at Denver the Broncos would go 25-23.
His coaching career would start in New Orleans as an unpaid assistant in 1995. In 1997 Davidson would join the Patriots staff as the tight ends coach. The following season he would be promoted to assistant offensive line coach, a position he would hold until 2005.
In 2005 Davidson was named the offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns. In 2006 he would be promoted to assistant head coach/offensive line coach. After starting the season 1-5, Davidson would replace Maurice Carthon as the offensive coordinator. The Browns would finish the season 3-7.
In those two seasons the Browns offense would rank 30th and 32nd in the league.
In those 10 games, the Carolina Panthers must have seen something in Davidson because they hired him as offensive coordinator in 2007.
In his four years with the Panthers the team would go 29-35. The best season was 2008 when the Panthers would go 12-4 and the offense was ranked 10th in the league.
In 2010 Carolina's offense would rank dead last in the NFL. Perhaps the move back to offensive line coach is the right one.
Over his 15 years coaching in the NFL he has been associated with only six winning seasons.
Davidson appears to be one that could not play, and may not be able to coach.
This appointment by Leslie Frazier does little to instill any excitement for 2011.
Linebackers Coach and Special Assistant to the Head Coach Mike Singletary
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Mike Singletary may be the shining example of someone who could play—but can't coach.
Singletary played 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears. In just his second season in the league he took over as middle linebacker, starting every game he played from 1982 until 1992. In all he would start 172 of 179 games and be named to 10 straight Pro Bowls from 1983 to 1992.
In 1998 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame—yes, Singletary could play.
During his days in Chicago the Bears would go 110-71, making the playoffs in seven of 12 seasons and winning the Super Bowl in 1985.
In 2003, 10 years after retiring, he would get his first job coaching the linebackers for the Baltimore Ravens. In his first year with Baltimore the defense improved from 22nd in 2002 to third in 2003.
In 2005 the 49ers would hire Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Nolan as their head coach. Singletary would join Nolan's staff as the assistant head coach/linebackers coach.
In 2006 he would take over the 49ers defense that was rating last in the league in 2005. With nowhere to go but up, Singletary coached them to a 26th ranking. The improvement continued marginally in 2007 when San Francisco's defense ranked 25th in the NFL.
In 2008 after starting the season 2-5, the 49ers would replace Nolan with Singletary, despite the fact he had no head coaching experience at any level.
Singletary's first game as the 49ers head coach would have its moments.
At halftime he would drop his pants during his halftime speech as an illustration to the team's poor play in the first half. Later, with 10 minutes left in the game he would send tight end Vernon Davis to the locker room. In his postgame comments Singletary would call Davis uncoachable.
In his two-and-a-half seasons at the helm of the 49ers, Singletary would lead them to an 18-22 record. San Francisco would fire him with one game remaining in the 2010 season.
Now, Leslie Frazier, a teammate of Singletary's in Chicago, has bestowed upon Singletary the same title Tony Dungy gave Frazier when he joined the Colts to coach the defensive backs.
It will be interesting to see what impact Singletary has with the Vikings. As a player he was a force on the field with great instinct—something that cannot be coached.
If only he wasn't that good, then he might make a better coach.
Like I said at the beginning—this guy could play, but cannot coach.
A Quick Look at the Rest of the Staff
Here's the rest of the Vikings coaches that return from 2010—let's hope for a different outcome in 2011.
Strength and Conditioning
Tom Kanavy: Strength and conditioning coach
Juney Barnett: Assistant strength and conditioning coach
Martin Streight: Assistant strength and conditioning coach
(With three coaches there will be no need to line players up as a wall on the sidelines.)
George Stewart: Wide receivers coach
(Stewart may have the toughest job with the least amount of talent.)
Jimmie Johnson: Tight ends coach
(No, not THAT Jimmie Johnson that drives the 48 car in NASCAR.)
Ryan Silverfield: Assistant offensive line coach
Kevin Stefanski: Quality control offense
Diron Reynolds: Defensive assistant/defensive line
Karl Dunbar: Defensive line coach
(How will Dunbar do without the "Williams Wall" or Ray Edwards?)
Joe Woods: Defensive backs coach
Matt Sheldon: Assistant defensive backs coach
(Even though the Vikings record went from 12 wins to six from 2009 to 2010, the pass defense improved from 19th to ninth.)
Ryan Ficken: Quality control-offense/running backs
Jeff Imamura: Quality control-defense/linebackers
(What does quality control inspect?)
Chris White: Assistant special teams coach
Dennis Polian: Assistant to the head coach
(So Frazier not only has an assistant, but he also has a special assistant!)
In total, with the new additions to the Vikings coaching staff, along with those from last season, I just don't get a warm, fuzzy feeling that the Vikings will be any better in 2011.
There are just too many holes to plug and another last-place finish in the NFC North seems inevitable.
Let me close by completing the adage I started with:
Those who can play, and can't coach—write about it!