EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings’ linebacker Chad Greenway has become very accustomed to coach Leslie Frazier’s speeches in their six seasons together, knowing very well the message the team will receive from the calm, patient Frazier.
The two have been together since Frazier came to Minnesota in 2007 as the team’s defensive coordinator. Frazier coached Greenway and the defense for most of four seasons before eventually getting his chance at an NFL head coaching job, taking over the interim spot after the Vikings fired Brad Childress with six games left in the 2010 season. Frazier then earned the permanent title and has seen Minnesota through two vastly different seasons.
Frazier’s message? It hasn’t changed.
Through wins and losses, ups and downs, Frazier keeps stressing his approach: play smart, tough and disciplined.
“Yeah, his speeches are real consistent if you know what I mean,” Greenway joked this week. “I think that’s good. It is such a long season and there are so many ups and downs that I think if you have a coach that is kind of going with that; maybe he comes in Monday after a loss and he’s really down and, ‘this is going to ruin our season’ sort of speech and that’s not what Leslie is.
“Obviously Leslie’s the kind of guy, ‘We’re still in this thing. We’re fighting. We’re together. We’re all in.’ And his approach is perfect, in my mind, for what an NFL coach needs to be. He’s really consistent. He knows what he wants from his players. He hires high-character guys to have in the locker room and it seems to be working pretty well.”
It didn’t work as well last year when Minnesota suffered through a franchise-tying 13 losses. This year, Frazier has his team on the verge of the playoffs, needing a win at home Sunday against the Green Bay Packers in the regular-season finale.
Through successes and failures — which included five losses in seven games in the middle of the season — Frazier’s message remained the same. At times, Frazier’s consistency can become monotony for the players who’ve heard the message. No matter how many times they hear it, they know the reinforcement is important.
“It just lets you know it’s not lip service and he truly believes in what he’s telling us,” said veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
Frazier’s consistent message, and respectful approach, has earned the admiration of his players.
“He’s the coach I’ve been looking for to play my whole career,” said fullback Jerome Felton, who signed a one-year contract last offseason with the Vikings. “He’s just such a good person. I think No. 1 you’ve got to start with that. He’s consistent. He has a message and he believes it in. So that makes us believe in it. He’s hands-down the best coach I’ve played for, and I look forward to playing for him for a long time.”
Frazier admits he’s much the same coach this season as he was last year. Some wondered last season if Frazier was cut out for being a head coach and if he would get another chance this year. The Vikings owners, the Wilfs, and general manager Rick Spielman stuck with Frazier.
Now, some are wondering if he will receive a contract extension this offseason. Frazier has one year remaining on his three-year contract and has navigated Minnesota through some tough, possibly distracting moments in his short time as head coach to a possible playoff spot this season.
“There are some differences, obviously, because the situations we’ve been in, but his approach has been mostly been the same, which exactly talks to who he is and what he’s about,” Greenway said. “Even though we were going through some really tough times last year, we never lost him, which is huge. We knew he had our back and I think this year, he’s been the same guy. We’ve just been a little more successful and we’ve responded to what he’s telling us and what the coaches are telling us and obviously we’re playing pretty good football right now.”
Frazier learned from his playing days the importance of staying consistent in his approach and he knows his demeanor is the type players can rally behind.
“Just going back to my playing days and just being around coaches who sometimes could be so up or down, you didn’t know when you walked in the building what you were going to get from day to day, and that’s hard,” Frazier said. “It’s hard on a team over the course of a long season. There’s so many ebbs and flows during a season. As a player, if you’re not certain what your leader’s message will be, or how he’s going to react in certain situations, you’re going to be walking around on pins and needles and more concerned about how he’s going to deal with certain situations, as opposed to focusing on the task at hand, which is your next opponent. So I think is a big deal. They need to know what to expect from me in just about every situation and they can concentrate on what’s important, and that’s trying to get a win.”
Frazier’s speeches, as redundant as they might come across, hit home. It’s the words and the consistency that matter. It’s not the way the message is presented. Frazier doesn’t get angry, or at least doesn’t project it onto the players. He doesn’t scream to get his point across. He remains calm and pointed.
“I don’t think he can scream if he wanted to,” Williams said.
“I wouldn’t call him a Knute Rockne speech-giver,” Greenway said. “But again, the message that he preaches to us from Day One is the same message he preaches now. That’s why I say his speeches are consistent. We know as athletes what we’re getting from him and we know what’s expected of us.”