EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Leslie Frazier is a quiet, unassuming gentleman; strong in his faith, considerate of others and genuinely considered one of the nicer men walking the sideline in the NFL.
None of that is under dispute, but Frazier’s track record as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings is a different matter. After 21 tumultuous months in charge – first as an interim coach and since January 2011 with the full-time label — Frazier’s long-term viability remains in question.
He replaced the fired Brad Childress with six games remaining in the 2010 season, guiding Minnesota to a 3-3 record while the team dealt with the roof collapsing at its home stadium, the Metrodome. The Vikings were forced to play “home” games at the University of Minnesota and Ford Field in Detroit. Minnesota also played a snow-delayed road game at Philadelphia that was moved from Sunday night to Tuesday.
Frazier’s calming influence during that time helped him get the full-time job. But a league lockout wiped out his first offseason program and was followed by a franchise record-tying 13 losses. Now Frazier, 53, enters his second full season already facing some amount of pressure to show improvement. He acknowledges the reality of his situation: Coaches are ultimately judged by wins and losses.
The Vikings underwent a significant offseason transformation that will leave Frazier with a much younger roster, and that means Minnesota isn’t expected to take a leap forward in 2012. But Frazier believes in the ability of his team. And for now, he has people — namely the Wilf family, which owns the team — who believe in his ability as a coach.
With one week left in the preseason of what could be a career-defining year, Frazier talked with FoxSportsNorth.com about his team and its development.
FSN: Coming off the third preseason game, where you get the best look at your team, how do you compare its talent level this year versus last year? FRAZIER: I think we’re as talented or more talented in some areas on our football team, for sure. We don’t have nearly the experience that we had a year ago. But part of it is what happens with Adrian (Peterson). Having Adrian on your team healthy raises your talent level to another degree. So, without him, it’s a little bit in flux on where we are talent-wise. I think across the board our depth is so much better, the quality of our depth is a lot better. So, I think we’ll be able to handle some of the injuries and some of the adversity that you get over the course of an NFL season better than we could a year ago. And the talent, we’ll have to develop some of our talent. We have young talent, and eventually it will be better than what we had, but right now a lot of our talent is young talent.
FSN: Everyone says players make the biggest jump from the first to their second season. In your second year as coach here, do you think the same goes for you? FRAZIER: For me, I just look at my history and things I’ve been involved in, whether it was high school baseball, football, anything you do usually your first year to your second year you get a little bit better. Your freshman year in college to your sophomore year in college, things slow down a little bit. Your rookie year in the NFL versus your second year in the NFL as a player, things slow down a little bit. And I expect it to be the same way as a coach.
FSN: Did you learn a lot last year, though? FRAZIER: Oh yeah, I learned a lot. There were a lot of lessons to be learned. When you don’t have an offseason to kind of ease into it and get ready for the regular season, you’re learning on the run. Yes, definitely.
FSN: How has Rick Spielman being named general manager changed what you do, and has it allowed you to focus on getting the team ready for the season and each week during the season? FRAZIER: So much better for me. I just think back to even a year ago when we were going through all of the possibilities of the lockout, “OK, the lockout’s going to be lifted on this day.” I was involved in some of those discussions. And this offseason, the fact that the Wilf family made the move to hire a general manager, I’ve been out of a lot of things that could take me away from doing what I’m supposed to do, and that’s coach our team and get our guys ready to play. Not just in July and August, but in February, January, March, April. So, it’s been great for me. It’s fantastic in so many ways.
FSN: How important is cohesiveness between the front office and the coaches, and bridging that gap between building for sustained success but also winning now? FRAZIER: In all the guys I talked to that are head coaches I respect, to a person, whether it be Andy Reid or Tony Dungy or just a number of other guys that I talk to, Bill Parcells and others, that’s probably the key to long-term success. Even when I talk to Mike Tomlin or other guys in Pittsburgh, or places like that, the general manager along with the head coach and then the rest of the staff and the scouts have to be walking in sync. If there’s any different agenda than what will help you win a championship, the head coach doesn’t have a chance. So, the scouts, the general manager, the head coach and the coaching staff have got to be in sync. Otherwise it’s going to fracture and it will seep down to your football team and they’ll realize that something’s not right at the top. It just filters down to the players. Thankfully, we have a good relationship between Rick and myself, and we all want the best for this football team and that’s to win a championship.
FSN: It’s undeniable that the most important position on the roster is quarterback, and that might be even more true for you this season because of Adrian’s recovery. How fast have you seen Christian Ponder progress compared to some of the other young quarterbacks you’ve seen around the league? FRAZIER: He’s made a lot of strides. We’re very pleased with the work he’s put in, and he’s really embraced being the quarterback of this football team. Having an offseason has been so beneficial for him, and you can see it. You can’t ever forget that he’s in his second season as an NFL quarterback. So there’s going to be some bumps in the road, and we have to be patient. And we have to continue to surround him with talent, both on the offensive line and at wide receiver, in the backfield and shore up our defense and special teams as well. Yes, it’s great to have a quarterback who’s an elite guy who can cover up a lot of ills when you don’t have all the pieces in other places. But where we are right now, it won’t just be about the quarterback. We’ve got to get other positions to really step up and play at a high level because we do have a second-year quarterback.
FSN: You obviously have experience dealing with knee injuries. Can you put into words what Adrian Peterson’s recovery, his attitude and work ethic has been like during this past eight months? FRAZIER: Off the charts. He’s one of those guys … he only had a glimpse, a moment where he was down. That was on the plane ride back from Washington. He was down just for a little bit. But by the time he was ready to have the surgery, he was already seeing himself get back and playing again and being the Adrian of old. That’s the way he’s attacked his rehab. He’s been off the charts in so many ways. He’s done things that (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman and our medical staff just are in awe of. So it’s just a credit to great genes and hard work. He’s a special, special guy.
FSN: Adrian was one of the players who’s had a little bit of off-the-field trouble. His incident might not have been as bothersome some of the others, but what can you do as a coach to make sure those players make better decisions? FRAZIER: Well, you’ve got to keep talking to them about what the right things are to do, and how to conduct themselves in public, behind closed doors. In some ways, you’re like a parent. In some ways, but we also have NFL standards. We have Vikings standards that they have to adhere to and you keep harping on that and bringing that message home. Hopefully, they get it.