EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf, along with newly appointed general manager Rick Spielman, chose to stick with coach Leslie Frazier after a year in which their team tied a franchise low with a 3-13 record last year.
Frazier was given another year to demonstrate his leadership and coaching acumen, the chance to have his calming influence take hold on a team filled with first- and second-year players and to pull the Vikings out of the depths of a two-year tailspin. Frazier’s hold on the position seemed tenuous at best heading into this season, when he was handed the league’s seventh-youngest opening day roster.
The Wilfs and Spielman, who was first given full general manager decision-making power in January, have been rewarded as Minnesota is 6-4 and in the thick of playoff contention with six games to go. The patience Spielman has preached with the young roster has transferred to his view of the coaching staff.
“I think its patience, but it’s also a sense of urgency, too,” Spielman said Wednesday while addressing reporters during the team’s bye week. “Because you want to win, and when we went into the season we wanted to win. We want to win every game. That’s why you’re in this business. Patience is a fact that you know you have a lot of new faces, you have a lot of first- and second-year guys that are contributing, but also know that you have to go out there and win ballgames, too.”
In the second year of a three-year contract without any word of an extension in the works, Frazier has the support of his superiors. Players and staff alike have given the coach a fair share of the credit for guiding the team through and beyond last year’s disappointment.
Frazier’s communication with players has been commended. His calming influence has been embraced by the young and old in a Vikings locker room that many –including standout receiver Percy Harvin and defensive end Jared Allen — have said is one of the team’s more tight-knit groups in several years. The Vikings’ leaders are still veterans such as Allen, cornerback Antoine Winfield and defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but young talents such as Harvin, quarterback Christian Ponder, tight end Kyle Rudolph and rookie first-round picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith have a voice, too.
“Leslie’s been doing an outstanding job,” Spielman said. “Knowing the situation that we were going to have a lot of new faces on this roster, I think the coaching staff has done an outstanding job. Again, we can bring in guys that are talented, but it’s our coaches who should get the credit for developing these guys. And our coaches should get the credit for playing these guys and letting them grow into the positions as they grow. Because you know you’re going to have some ups and downs, especially when you have a young roster.”
Still, Spielman refused to comment on Frazier’s contract situation and the possibility of extending the coach who has helped lead the turnaround.
It’s rare for coaches to work into the final year of a contract. Surely, the topic will arise during the offseason, and Frazier will have some ground to stand on after leading this season’s revival.
Very few people outside of the organization expected the Vikings in contention at this point in the season. A tough late-season schedule remains, but Minnesota has likely already kept itself from a third straight last-place finish in the NFC North with a sweep of the Detroit Lions. The Vikings entered their bye with a confidence-building, convincing win against Detroit on Sunday, pulling themselves out of a slide that had seen them lose three of their previous four games.
If the momentum continues, there won’t be any question where Frazier stands with the Wilfs and Spielman.