EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — When last season ended with the Minnesota Vikings’ surprising playoff appearance, there seemed to be mutual interest in keeping coach Leslie Frazier with the team.
The wait for an extension was longer than expected, and might not have come the way Frazier preferred, but the coach now has an agreement in place at least through the 2014 season. Minnesota announced Wednesday evening that it exercised an option for 2014 in Frazier’s contract, which was set to expire after the 2013. The Associated Press reported earlier in the day that Frazier had agreed to a multi-year extension, but it turned out that the coach will get just one additional year.
Following a franchise-worst-tying 3-13 record in 2011 — Frazier’s first as the full-time coach — the Vikings rebounded with a seven-win improvement in 2012, the biggest single-season turnaround in team history. They finished second in the NFC North and made the playoffs as the final wild card with a 10-6 record and Frazier tied for third in the Coach of the Year voting.
“Coach Frazier has done a remarkable job in building a strong foundation for the Minnesota Vikings and creating a very positive future,” Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf said in a release. “We value his leadership and look forward to working with him for many years to come.”
Frazier, 53, had one year remaining on the original three-year contract he signed in January 2011 after finishing the last six games of 2010 as the interim coach when Brad Childress was fired. The eighth head coach in team history, Frazier’s record in his two-plus years with the Vikings is 16-22.
“I know everybody recognizes what Leslie Frazier has done as a football coach here in Minnesota,” general manager Rick Spielman said last month during his season-ending meeting with reporters.
Frazier’s calm demeanor has helped the Vikings smoothly overcome several off-field issues during his short time as coach, including the ongoing saga with temperamental receiver Percy Harvin. It also helped him get the interim tag removed two years ago.
In the final weeks of the 2010 season, Frazier guided the team through a series of unexpected circumstances related to the collapse of the Metrodome roof, which forced the team to play home games at Detroit’s Ford Field and TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. Minnesota also had to play a Sunday night football game in Philadelphia on a Tuesday night after severe weather hit the area. Distractions were everywhere, but the Vikings went 3-3.
In 2011, Frazier’s first full season started with the lockout and ended with the 3-13 record that seemed to almost immediately put his status in question. He had pushed for the ill-fated acquisition of veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb, and the team never built momentum during a rough season. The Vikings dealt with injuries to star running back Adrian Peterson, and the secondary gave up historical passing marks to opposing quarterbacks.
All along, the Vikings’ veteran leaders such as Peterson and linebacker Chad Greenway praised Frazier’s consistent approach in keeping the team on the right path.
“He does a great job with the guys,” veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, the longest-tenured player on the team, told Fox Sports North after getting word of the new agreement. “To have so many different personalities, he’s kind of tried to stay even-keel with everybody, and he’s not trying to get too high or too low. He kind of stays in the middle. He can’t coach everybody the same, naturally, but he tries to and you can tell he does a great job with it.”
Asked at his season-ending meeting with reporters whether Frazier had his endorsement for an extension, Spielman said, “I just said Leslie has done an outstanding job. 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.”
At the time of his season-ending press conference in January, Frazier said he had not had contract talks with the team’s owners, the Wilfs, or his agent and said, “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. I’m very appreciative of their support throughout the year. Very appreciative.”
Spielman used Minnesota’s late-season run, in which the team won four straight games to qualify for the playoffs, as an example of Frazier’s coaching style paying dividends. Players appreciate his consistency, message and communication.
Williams said he hadn’t talked with Frazier since the news but was happy to hear Frazier will have an extended stay with the team.
“To know where you stand with your coach is an awesome feeling,” Williams said. “You don’t have to get to know anybody. You don’t know if this is his last year. To have some stability at the top is always great for your football team. … You always want to see a coach succeed, and after the year we had this year with so many young guys being able to pull it together and win 10 games, this year was big. We’re definitely shooting for bigger things, but to definitely be able to accomplish that this year, run off the games the way we did at the end and early on was huge.”