Minnesota Vikings fire coach Leslie Frazier

Leslie Frazier’s admirers were all over the Minnesota Vikings

locker room and throughout the organization.

Credited with keeping the team on an even keel and eliciting

maximum effort through several rough stretches of his three-plus

seasons, Frazier rarely spoke a pessimistic word. In the NFL,

though, even the class acts have a hard time staying when the

losses pile up.

The Vikings fired Frazier on Monday, one year after they made

the playoffs and one day after they finished a 5-10-1 season.

”It’s a harsh business,” safety Harrison Smith said. ”As a

player, we all love coach Frazier, as a coach, as a man. You can’t

meet a better guy. And also as a player, we didn’t make enough

plays on the field. So you just feel like you let him down a little

bit.”

After going 10-6 in 2012, the Vikings were done in by a leaky

late-game defense and ongoing instability at quarterback. Frazier

finished 21-33-1 in three-plus years, including 8-22-1 outside the

Metrodome.

Speaking to the team shortly after his dismissal, he received a

round of applause on his way out.

”It was a somber moment. Everybody was really kind of quiet and

really just took it all in,” cornerback Chris Cook said. ”I feel

like everyone is sad to see him go.”

Frazier wasn’t available for comment, but after the

season-ending win over Detroit on Sunday he urged the front office

to honor the remaining season on his contract and made a point to

mention the quarterback problem and a lack of depth the Vikings had

this year while expressing pride in the job he’d done.

Hired by Brad Childress to be the defensive coordinator in 2007,

Frazier interviewed for seven NFL head coach openings over a

three-year span. His chance came with the Vikings when Childress

was fired in the middle of a messy 2010 season. Chairman Zygi Wilf

and President Mark Wilf made the decision to give Frazier the job

for good in 2011, and the owners made the final call on Monday to

fire him, general manager Rick Spielman said, despite pervasive

fondness for Frazier.

”He was well-respected in this building. That’s what makes the

decision so difficult,” Spielman said.

Spielman touted 13 categories of possible replacements —

college head coaches with NFL experience or current defensive

coordinators, for example — and promised to work swiftly without

panic through the interview process.

”Talking to ownership, we will be very busy. I just told them

don’t plan on any stadium meetings for the next two weeks,”

Spielman said.

The Vikings went 3-13 behind an ineffective Donovan McNabb and

then rookie Christian Ponder at quarterback in Frazier’s first full

season. In 2012, they staged a remarkable turnaround, riding Adrian

Peterson to a spot in the playoffs.

Childress had his contract extended in 2009 with the Vikings on

their way to the NFC championship game, but they came unglued the

following fall. Wary of a similarly expensive over-commitment, the

Wilfs merely picked up a fourth-year option on Frazier’s deal last

January, putting him in a prove-it situation for 2013.

Spielman didn’t directly answer a question about whether he gave

Frazier a quarterback and a roster he could consistently win with,

but he subtly and gently brushed aside the weaknesses the coach

noted the day before. Spielman also pointed out that Green Bay and

Chicago played for the NFC North title on Sunday despite losing

Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler for several games each.

”I feel very optimistic about this young talent that we have on

this football team,” Spielman said.

The Vikings lost four games and tied one this season when they

led with 52 seconds or less remaining in regulation, though, so

quarterback was far from the only problem. Though veteran

cornerback Antoine Winfield was cut last spring to save space under

the salary cap, the defense that has been Frazier’s expertise

faltered badly.

Players, of course, weren’t picking that apart. This was one

last chance for them to speak highly of the person who happened to

be their coach.

”That’s a relationship I’ll remember and have the rest of my

life,” Ponder said. ”And I wish him luck. He’s going to be

successful somewhere.”

With two seasons as an assistant under Tony Dungy in

Indianapolis, the 54-year-old Frazier came from the same mold, a

soft-spoken man of deep Christian faith who has excelled at

creating a culture of harmony and respect. So was Frazier too nice

to thrive in this league? Defensive end Jared Allen scoffed at the

suggestion.

”Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. Coach Frazier worked our

butts off. Coach Frazier wasn’t always just smiles and everything

like that,” Allen said, adding: ”He helped me grow as a man, and

for that I’ll always be thankful.”

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