This one’s already as official as it’s going to get until someone makes it officially official. Leslie Frazier will return as Minnesota Vikings head coach in 2012. The Pioneer-Press reported on Tuesday that Frazier has been assured he will be back for a second season, and in his Wednesday presser Frazier more-or-less confirmed the story.
It’s not as if we needed this kind of confirmation anyway, right? We all knew Frazier would get at least two seasons from Zygi Wilf. In my mind this is the right move. It would’ve been unfair to can Frazier after everything that happened this season. The Vikings were under-manned from the beginning, a circumstance largely outside of Frazier’s control. If you want to blame someone for the personnel issues that reared up in 2011, blame Brad Childress. And blame Zygi Wilf for setting up the silly front office structure that allowed Chilly and his boy Rick Spielman to totally gut the team.
Had Childress and Spielman drafted a couple decent offensive linemen and defensive backs in their four-and-a-half years together, the Vikings wouldn’t be in this mess, and Frazier’s status would have never become an object of speculation. I’m not saying Frazier should be totally exonerated – he did have a major say in bringing in Donovan McNabb who turned out to be a bust, and he kept Bernard Berrian around a lot longer than he should have – but when it comes to doling out shares of blame, Frazier deserves a much smaller slice than certain others.
It seems like a weak defense though, saying Frazier should be kept because other people screwed up worse than him. The real question should be, what has Frazier done to actually earn the job for another year?
That’s a tricky question to answer, because in a lot of ways, Frazier has not done a good job. His in-game coaching has been suspect all along, as evidenced by his clock management gaffes and questionable situational decisions. There’s also been an all-around lack of communication, a fact that game glaringly to light a couple weeks ago when the replay booth staff failed to alert Frazier about the chance to challenge a clear Percy Harvin touchdown that was ruled to be short. In general the Vikings have looked undisciplined, even failing at times to line up in the correct formations. All that sloppiness reflects ultimately on the head coach, and Frazier to his credit has taken responsibility for it.
Maybe some of the above can be cleaned up by Frazier paying more attention to detail, or maybe it will be cleaned up by simply getting better players. Either way it has to be cleaned up. You can doubt Frazier’s ability to make these corrections if you wish, but the fact is, that doubt is based less on knowledge than simple frustration. Maybe Frazier will prove not to be the right man for the job, but has he been given sufficient chance to demonstrate that one way or the other? I would say no.
If there’s one thing that does reflect well on Frazier it’s the team’s resilience in the face of all their ineptitude. The Vikings are gaining a reputation as a scrappy squad that won’t quit no matter what. Does Frazier necessarily deserve credit for engendering this never-say-die attitude? You could argue no. You could argue that the Vikings’ tenacity is really a reflection of certain players, Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin especially, and that Frazier is just along for the ride. If so, would that be the worst thing in the world? Maybe the Vikings are better off with an unassuming coach who commands respect without necessarily stamping the team with his personality. I don’t know what the exact mix is from a personality stand-point, but I do know Frazier must be doing something right if his team keeps fighting.
It’s hard to get a true grasp on what intangible quality Frazier might be lending to the team, or whether his coaching approach is really working with his players. What I do know is, it wouldn’t make sense to dump Frazier after only one year, with all the disadvantages he has worked under. Frazier and Rick Spielman must be given a full chance to remake the team as they see fit. This season has largely been about dumping Brad Childress’ leftovers and bringing in fresh faces. It may look like the Vikings are stumbling around in the dark, but sometimes the true shape of a plan doesn’t show itself until some time has elapsed. One season is not enough for any coach/front-office to put in all or even most of the pieces they wish. Frazier and company need at least one more draft and another free agent period to have a real shot at making their plan come together.
Obviously that plan has to start coming together fairly early in 2012 or we will be right back asking questions about Frazier’s status. As is the case with all coaches, much of Frazier’s success will depend on the play of his quarterback. Christian Ponder needs to do a lot of growing up if the Vikings want to have a consistent offense. Picking up some better blockers and receivers will help this process, but in the end the onus is on Ponder. Frazier made Ponder his guy by drafting him 12 overall, and he certainly knows his future rests with Ponder’s right arm.
Improving the defense will also be a priority in 2012. That process will start soon after the end of the season when Fred Pagac is canned as defensive coordinator. The writing has been on the wall for Pagac since Frazier took away his play calling duties during the Oakland and Atlanta games (those duties have since been restored). Maybe the Vikings will elevate Mike Singletary to defensive coordinator or maybe they’ll reach outside the organization. Upgrading the personnel, especially at cornerback and safety, will also be a major part of the defensive rebuild.
Any way you slice it the Vikings have a lot of work to do if they want to be competitive in 2012. I think they’re making the right call by leaving Leslie Frazier in charge of the on-field operation. What about you?