Vikings' Frazier faces important year ahead
This is the 11th in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Minnesota Vikings' July 27 start of camp.
July 10: Quarterbacks
July 11: Running backs and fullbacks
July 12: Wide receivers
July 13: Tight ends
July 16: Offensive linemen
July 17: Defensive linemen
July 18: Linebackers
July 19: Safeties
July 20: Cornerbacks
July 23: Specialists
July 24: Coaches
July 25: 5 things to accomplish in camp
July 26: Fans’ guide to camp
TODAY'S POSITION: COACHES
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 5
Head coach: Leslie Frazier (second season), 6-16
Coordinators: Bill Musgrave, offense, (second season in position with Vikings, fifth season as coordinator in NFL, 20th season in NFL), Alan Williams, defense (first season in position, 12th in NFL), Mike Priefer, special teams, (second season in position with Vikings, seventh season as coordinator in NFL, 12th season in the NFL)
Position coaches: Brendan Daly, defensive line; Jeff Davidson, offensive line; Craig Johnson, quarterbacks; Jimmie Johnson, tight ends; Fred Pagac, linebackers; James Saxon, running backs; Mike Singletary, linebackers and special assistant to head coach; George Stewart, wide receivers; Joe Woods, defensive backs.
From the top down: Frazier was given the head coach title after guiding Minnesota through a tumultuous end of the 2010 season as the interim head coach. Frazier, who seemed destined at some point to become a head coach, had the Vikings 3-3 in his six games as an interim. But last season's 3-13 record was a disaster and some wondered if Frazier would even survive his first full season as a head coach. The front office was right to give the even-keeled Frazier another chance to prove himself, but this season is probably a make-or-break campaign for Frazier, who was the defensive coordinator before replacing the fired Brad Childress in 2010.
Frazier was supposed to provide the calm, confident influence on a team that has had more than its share of chaos for far too long. Frazier is mild-mannered and the players seem to appreciate the approach. However, the Vikings have underperformed on the field and still had too many issues off of it. Since Frazier was hired, Minnesota has had 10 arrests, reportedly leading the league in that unsavory category.
Frazier pushed for the Vikings to sign quarterback Donovan McNabb last season to disastrous results. Cornerback Chris Cook, who Frazier personally met with before the draft and vouched for his character, was arrested for domestic abuse and missed most of last season before being acquitted this spring. Frazier never had full control of personnel decisions, but with Rick Spielman being given the title of general manager, Frazier probably has little say now. Spielman said he wants his coach's input, but the final decision will be Spielman's alone. When Spielman was promoted in January, the staff said the decision would help each key leader, letting Frazier concentrate on coaching his team.
And the Vikings will need to show something on the field if Frazier hopes to remain with the team. Frazier's expertise lies on the defensive side and with new defensive coordinator Alan Williams, Minnesota will stick with Frazier's preferred cover-2 defense. Frazier, a disciple of Tony Dungy, hired someone very much like himself, pulling Williams away from the Indianapolis Colts. Williams was Indianapolis' defensive backs coach, just like Frazier previously and the two had coached together with the Colts. Williams likely won't change much schematically with Minnesota's defense. He said his main concern is getting the players well-versed in the system and just playing within the system, reacting and running to the ball and making the plays when in position.
Pagac, last year's coordinator, tried to be more aggressive and some of the players reportedly lost confidence in their assignments. Frazier ended up taking over the defense at one point during the season and it was clear Pagac would be replaced this offseason. Minnesota offered Pagac the option to stay though and he accepted a job as the linebackers coach, where he was well-regarded before moving to coordinator. An interesting situation only becomes more fascinating because last year's linebackers coach, Mike Singletary, is still around and still coaching the linebackers. Singletary, a close, personal friend of Frazier's, was also hired last offseason as a special assistant to Frazier and he maintains that title. It will be interesting to see how Pagac and Singletary work together as the year progresses and how their responsibilities as linebackers coaches are shared.
Musgrave returns for his second season as offensive coordinator with a lot to prove himself. With McNabb's struggles and Christian Ponder being thrust into the starting quarterback spot early in his rookie season, the Vikings' offense never got untracked. Injuries to franchise running back Adrian Peterson added to the difficulties.
Musgrave was expected to utilize a two tight-end offense often and emphasize the short passing game, but tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph never became heavily involved. With Rudolph in his second season and Minnesota signing John Carlson in free agency, expect Musgrave to again try to have his philosophy stick. Signing deep-threat receiver Jerome Simpson should take the pressure off the short and intermediate routes as well. With Ponder and Musgrave having a full offseason to work together and everyone in the second year of the system, improvement should come. But Musgrave's status as an offensive coordinator is still in question.
Rising star: Daly returns to the team where he received his first NFL coaching experience as an assistant defensive line coach from 2006-08. Daly, who spent the past three seasons as the head defensive line coach for the St. Louis Rams, takes the same position in Minnesota, replacing Karl Dunbar. Daly, 36, is young and energetic and brings a different feel to practices with the defensive line group. With his prior experience with the Vikings, Daly already has a rapport with his two most important pieces, defensive end Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. Allen, who isn't shy about sharing his opinion, says he is excited to work with Daly again and see what he can bring to the unit that was Minnesota's strength last season.
Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Packers, 2. Bears, 3. Lions, 4. Vikings. In his six seasons as head coach in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy has led the Packers to the playoffs four times, including a Super Bowl championship in 2010. Green Bay advanced to the NFC championship game in just his second season and he successfully pulled the franchise through the dramatic switch at quarterback from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy, who has a .656 winning percentage in the regular season, runs the offense while well-respected Dom Capers leads the defense and is perhaps the best defensive coordinator in the league. Lovie Smith's success in Chicago gives the Bears a nod over Detroit. Smith has guided the Bears to a Super Bowl and another appearance in the NFC Championship game in 2011. Under Smith's leadership, Chicago has won the NFC North three times in the past seven seasons. Smith has former head coaches leading the offense and defense in former Vikings' coach Mike Tice (offensive coordinator) and Rod Marinelli (defensive coordinator). Jim Schwartz has led a resurgence in Detroit. The fiery, young coach led the Lions to their first playoff appearance in 12 years last season. Detroit has improved from two wins in his first season in 2009, to six in 2010 and finished 10-6 last year. The Lions have respected coordinators Scott Linehan (offense) and Gunther Cunningham (defense) as well. Minnesota's crew can't match the experience and success the rest of the division has enjoyed.
Frazier says: "Going back from the Senior Bowl, having a chance to work there, and then coming back to the offseason program, it has been great for our staff just to get a chance to get to know each other a little bit better in a different environment where you're not preparing for Week 1 of the season. You're preparing for the offseason and it just helps us to be able to plan, work together, and then have a chance to work with our players, kind of brings it all together. I can't underestimate the importance of a first-time staff having the chance to work here, especially when you don't know very much about your players other than what you see on tape. It's been great for us as a staff."
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