Vikings GM Rick Spielman now on the hot seat
Eden Prairie, Minn — For better or worse, Rick Spielman is making the football decisions for the Minnesota Vikings.
Spielman has been entrusted by the Vikings’ owners, Zygi and Mark Wilf, to hire a new head coach. It will also be Spielman trying, again, to find a franchise quarterback. Spielman hasn’t proven himself in either task, but the Wilfs have empowered Spielman to make the two most important decisions and set the course of the franchise.
Spielman received his second chance as an NFL general manager in January 2012 when he was promoted from vice president of player personnel in Minnesota to the top football executive spot. Leslie Frazier was already in place as coach, a decision Spielman didn’t get to make.
Undeniably, Frazier’s tenure as the Vikings’ coach didn’t go well. He finished with a 21-32-1 overall record, and had his one playoff appearance sandwiched by three- and five-win seasons. Frazier’s hiring of coordinators was suspect.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had his moments, but was under fire often, particularly with the quarterbacks he had to work with. In three years, Frazier had two defensive coordinators, Fred Pagac and Alan Williams, who oversaw some of the worst defenses in team history.
Frazier had support in the organization, especially in the locker room. But there are legitimate reasons Frazier is gone.
It was Spielman who gave Frazier the roster to work with. One of Frazier’s final shots — as direct as the gentlemanly Frazier would be — was after Sunday’s final game when he said he did all he could with the roster he was given, citing the quarterback position in particular.
In his final salvo Monday, Frazier said the quarterback spot was ruled by organizational decisions. He consulted Spielman and the Wilfs. Spielman put the decision regarding the starter back on Frazier on Monday in a minor war of words between the two men who clearly had philosophical differences.
But even if Frazier had the right to pick the starting quarterback, he was still pulling from a less-than-stacked deck.
For all the credit Spielman has received for recent drafts and a few shrewd trades, he has shown no ability to properly evaluate the quarterback position. It was Spielman who made the leap — which was widely panned as a reach at the time — to take Christian Ponder No. 12 overall in the 2011 draft. Spielman made the decision to sign Josh Freeman five weeks into this season in what was a failed move.
Going back to his time as one of the Miami Dolphins’ personnel leaders, Miami had Jay Fiedler at quarterback. Spielman was involved in trades for Brian Griese and A.J. Feeley. He’s traded for or signed Sage Rosenfels three separate times.
And the man with all the power in the Vikings’ organization knows he hasn’t made the right calls.
"I haven’t got it right yet," Spielman said Monday. "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 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."
Spielman admitted his faults Monday. He said he’s excited about the process of interviewing coaches to see what information is available.
He has clearly done some background research, even if he says the decision on Frazier wasn’t made until Monday morning. Spielman spoke Monday about an extensive search process and has identified 13 categories from which he can find a new coach and said he won’t be "boxed in."
Quarterbacks aside, Minnesota’s defense was four points away from establishing a new record for most scoring allowed in a season. Again, Spielman isn’t saying he has all the answers and is hoping they come up during the search process.
"I am very excited about the process, just to learn and to talk to a lot of different people to see their philosophies," Spielman said. "The question that comes up is now the college [philosophies]. It’s usually trickled down where the NFL systems kind of went down to college. Now, it seems with the type of athletes coming out in the draft that it’s trickling up to the NFL, like the Philadelphia Eagles, which is a little bit of a spread offense, yet they had the leading rusher in the league. So it will be interesting as we go through this process because I’m looking forward to getting educated as well about a lot of different philosophies and how you approach this."
Spielman better hope the answers do come. Frazier took the fall for another disappointing season. Spielman gets to pick his coach now. He won’t be able to hide behind this one.
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