EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — While the coaching carousel has been spinning feverishly in the NFL this month, there has been little news with the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.
For a team that has seen its share of turnover in recent years, the silence is probably being enjoyed. Other than interviews for special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and Mike Singletary, the co-linebackers coach and assistant to head coach Leslie Frazier, the quiet was expected after last season’s 10-6 record and playoff appearance.
January in the NFL is time focused on coaches. Frazier, once seen on the hot seat in Minnesota, has been given a lot of credit for last season’s turnaround by general manager Rick Spielman. However, Frazier is still sitting two years into the original contract he signed to be the Vikings’ coach in 2011 and is entering the offseason with one year remaining.
Many expected an extension for Frazier to be coming. Most thought news of an extension would have been heard by now.
“I’ve had talks with ownership and again until we … when there’s something to be announced, we’ll announce it, but I’ll keep that all internal,” Spielman said during his season-ending meeting with reporters on Jan. 10. “I know everybody recognizes what Leslie Frazier has done as a football coach here in Minnesota.”
Still, in the time usually reserved for coaching decisions, there has been no announcement regarding Frazier. Spielman was asked if he’s given his endorsement of Frazier to the team’s owners, Zygi and Mark Wilf.
“I just said Leslie has done an outstanding job,” Spielman said. “And again, I don’t want to talk specifics, but I know our ownership group will discuss that, and when we have an announcement, we’ll go from there.”
Frazier’s deal is current, which takes some of the urgency out of the matter. But Frazier didn’t have to wait this long in 2011 when he had finished the final six games of the 2010 season as the interim coach and had given Minnesota reason for a hope with a 3-3 record after replacing the fired Brad Childress.
Pleased with the work Frazier had done in keeping the team calm during a tumultuous final six weeks, Frazier signed a three-year contract to become the permanent head coach on Jan. 3, 2011, a day after the season had ended.
Frazier’s first season in 2011 started with the lockout and ended with a franchise-tying worst 3-13 record in which many wondered if Frazier would get a chance to continue. He had pushed for the ill-fated acquisition of veteran Donovan McNabb. The team dealt with injuries to star running back Adrian Peterson and the secondary crumbled while giving up historical passing marks to opposing quarterbacks.
But Spielman and the Wilfs stuck by Frazier and were rewarded. Now, following Minnesota’s surprise playoff appearance the result hasn’t been a contract extension.
Frazier’s calm demeanor has helped the Vikings’ avoid any lengthy distractions, such as Percy Harvin’s trade request in the summer and strange absence from the team at the end of the season. As the season wrapped up, Frazier said he hadn’t talked with the Wilf’s or his agent and stated, “Things will work out just fine. Not worried at all.”
“I’ve been told a number of times from Mark and Zygi and Rick they are pleased with the job we’ve done this season, a number of times,” Frazier said three weeks ago. “I’m very appreciative of their support throughout the year. Very appreciative.”
Frazier has proven capable of navigating through the ups and downs of a season. Leaders on the team like Peterson have supported Frazier and say he’s the type of coach that is built to succeed in the NFL. Veteran linebacker Chad Greenway praised Frazier’s composed, consistent message in keeping the players focused.
“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,” Greenway said. “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.”
Greenway said Frazier stayed consistent and supportive whether it was during 3-13 last year or 10-6 this season and said the team “never lost him.” Frazier still believed in his team, which started the year 4-1, had dipped to 6-6 and lost four out of five games, to win its final four games, three against playoff hopefuls and twice on the road, to earn a playoff spot.
“When we went in that dip to where we went down to 6-6 and to finish the season like we did, I mean that’s true qualities of a head football coach and a leader,” Spielman said, later adding. “As I said during the bye when I talked to you guys, Leslie was doing an outstanding job. And I thought that even showed more when we did have that dip or that setback; that it didn’t keep falling. We were able to come out of that rut and get ourselves in the playoffs, especially with the pressure that were in those last four games to have to win those four to get in.”