EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Leslie Frazier couldn’t survive another disappointing season.
The Minnesota Vikings fired Frazier, their head coach of three-plus years, on Monday, one day after a 14-13 win against the Detroit Lions to close out this season 5-10-1.
"Let me first say this was an emotional day and an extremely difficult decision," owner Zygi Wilf said. "We have great appreciation for Leslie’s efforts, but we believe a change was needed to build a successful team moving forward. We are optimistic about our roster and about the future of the Minnesota Vikings, and we are committed to bringing Vikings fans a world championship."
Frazier, well-respected by the team’s players, ultimately couldn’t withstand a second season of failure out of three in his time as Minnesota’s head coach. The Vikings were 21-32-1 under Frazier, beginning in 2010 with six games as the interim coach after Brad Childress was fired.
General manager Rick Spielman said the decision to fire Frazier was made on Monday morning, following a meeting with team ownership on Sunday night. Spielman, who was promoted from vice president of player personnel to general manager in January 2012, said the decision was made by the ownership.
"That decision came down on ownership," Spielman said. "The ownership hired Leslie. I was not the general manager at the time. We had a long extensive talk last night through it. But ultimately that comes down to our ownership."
Currently, Frazier’s assistants are under contract and are being retained by the team.
"I will meet with them on an individual basis," Spielman said. "In order for them to go on to another team, they have to get written permission. I will look at that on a case-by-case basis to see if that permission is granted or not."
Frazier earned the full-time job after guiding the team to a 3-3 record as an interim and dealing with constant distractions off the field, such as the collapse of the Metrodome roof. Frazier was always commended by players for his calm, steady approach and consistent message.
"I think Leslie was a great man," Spielman said. "He did a very good job while he was here. I know he was well respected in this building. That’s what makes the decision so difficult."
A 3-13 record in 2011 following the lockout tied a franchise-worst mark. Minnesota improved by seven games last year and made the playoffs following a surprising four-game winning streak at the end of the season, which seemed to save Frazier’s job.
Instead of a contract extension following the playoffs though, the team exercised a little-known option for another season with Frazier, keeping him under contract through the 2014 season. Minnesota lost six of its first seven games this season and surrendered the lead in the final minute five times.
A 4-3-1 finish in the second half, with more consistency with Matt Cassel at quarterback, wasn’t enough to save Frazier again.
"There are some things that pop up when you look," Spielman said of judging Frazier’s tenure. "Our road record has not been the best. The way we’ve lost some games this year, as well, but I think it’s just taking that whole body of work and digging down and analyzing everything to try to make this difficult decision. I think anything in this business, whether its player or coaches, you’re trying to look for that consistency. Can you get that consistency year in and year out?"
Frazier appeared to make his final plea following Sunday’s game, and was forthright in the shortcomings of the roster in his time as coach.
"I have a contract," Frazier said after the game. "Our staff has a contract for 2014 and I hope that the Wilf family will honor that and give us a chance to come back next season and try to get our quarterback situation fixed, try to get the depth of our roster fixed, along with some other areas on our roster that need to be fixed. I hope they’ll give this staff a chance to finish what we’ve gotten started. Only a season removed from the playoffs, I think our guys are still playing hard and we’re under contract. So, we’ll see."
Frazier later added: "I’ve done everything I can do in my tenure here as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. I just know, as I mentioned earlier, in our league, you need to get that quarterback position fixed."
Spielman has been responsible for the make-up of the roster since Childress was fired in 2010, and responded to Frazier’s claim about the roster. Spielman said he doesn’t see the team as in "total rebuild mode."
"I feel very optimistic about this young talent that we have on this football team," Spielman said, later adding: "Are there holes? Definitely there are holes. Is that my responsibility to get those holes filled? It definitely falls on my shoulders. Just like I said to the staff earlier — I talked to the team today — I will do everything that I can to get the right head coach and to get the right personnel in here. It will be a very tedious process. It will be looked at from every angle to make sure we make the best possible decisions we can make."
The biggest point of emphasis is at quarterback, where Minnesota has had a constant rotation of players since Daunte Culpepper suffered a major knee injury in 2005. Spielman was responsible for drafting Christian Ponder No. 12 overall in 2011 and Ponder failed to establish himself as the franchise quarterback because of inconsistency and injuries.
Spielman also signed Josh Freeman this offseason. Freeman played one game two weeks after signing and was inactive much of the rest of the season. Matt Cassel provided some good moments, but the Vikings will likely be looking for a long-term solution again this offseason.
"I take full responsibility for the personnel decisions, whether they are good or sometimes they don’t work out, for whatever reason," Spielman said. "I am always going to be aggressive that, if a personnel decision doesn’t work out, to try to get that rectified as quickly as we can. I am responsible for putting the best 53 players I can possibly put on our roster, but I have to leave it up to the coaches to make those decisions on who gives them the best chance to win on Sundays. Leslie consulted us, consulted our ownership, about the quarterback situation. Just like everything else, we have very open dialogue, very open communication. But ultimately, the coach and his coaching staff have to decide on who’s playing and not playing on Sundays."
Spielman said he’s confident the team can find a franchise quarterback in the offseason and the new coaching staff will help in the evaluation process. Spielman admitted to his struggles in finding a franchise quarterback.
"I haven’t got it right yet," Spielman said. "We’ve worked as hard as we could to try to get that right. I tried to use as many outside sources as I can. I’m not afraid to look at experts in that particular area. I’m going to rely heavily on our head coach and whoever our offensive coordinator is and whoever our quarterbacks (coach) is and they’re going to be heavily involved in this process. A lot of it has to do with, too, making sure that that quarterback fits in the system that you’re trying to run. I wish that you could get a quarterback as easy as it is (sic) and it’s not, it’s maybe the most difficult position to fill, but we’re going to do everything and use every resource we can to try to get that corrected."
First comes the search for a new head coach, and the third since the Wilfs bought the team in 2005. Mike Tice was unceremoniously fired right after the final game of a 9-7 season. Childress was fired after a 3-7 start to the 2010 season, less than a year after taking the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.
Spielman said he will be responsible for "leading the charge" on finding a new coach, and the decision will be made in conjunction with ownership. Spielman said the process will begin immediately and he hopes to have interviews lined up in the next few days.
Spielman said he hopes to have a replacement in place before the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25. He said he looks at 13 possible ways to find the next head coach and he’s "not going to box anything in."
"I’ve sliced every way you can slice it," Spielman said. "I’ve looked at 13 different categories where coaches come out of and that can be anything from head coaches that are currently offensive coordinators, former head coaches that are currently defensive coordinators, defensive coordinators [and] offensive coordinators without head coaching experiences, college head coaches with and without NFL coaching experience. So there is a long list of areas that you can look for in a head coach.
"The one thing I can tell you, though, as we did our research and looked to see if there was any specific category that was more successful than the other, there wasn’t. So that’s why we have to do this extensive process, and we have to go out and find the right head coach we think is going to lead us into the future and give us the best chance to take the next step forward."