Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier striving for consistency
This is the 11th in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Minnesota Vikings' July 26 start of camp.
TODAY'S POSITION: COACHES
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 6
Head coach: Leslie Frazier (third year), 16-23 overall record
Coordinators: Bill Musgrave, offense, (third year in position with Vikings), Alan Williams, defense (second year), Mike Priefer, special teams, (third year)
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 assistant head coach; George Stewart, wide receivers; Joe Woods, defensive backs
From the top down: Some were surprised Leslie Frazier was retained after Minnesota went 3-13 in 2011. Then, others were surprised he didn't get a contract extension after guiding the Vikings back to the playoffs last season with a seven-win improvement, a 10-6 record and a Wild Card berth. Frazier deserves credit for seeing Minnesota through some tough times. He's a calming personality that has seemed to rub off on his players, who attribute a lot of the success last season to Frazier and appreciate his demeanor. It took Frazier a while to earn his first head-coaching job, and now the question is how long he will stay as the Vikings' sideline leader? Instead of receiving a contract extension this offseason, Minnesota picked up a little-known option for another year on Frazier. He would have been entering the final season of his contract, but now has two more years under contract, conceivably giving the team more of a look to see if he is worthy of a longer term contract.
And perhaps Frazier is still learning to be a good head coach. The Vikings continued to have off-field issues through last season, but appear -- at least for now -- to have cleared up some of those issues and worked on bringing in players with good character. Frazier has been able to relate well to players, and could be considered a players' coach, but he couldn't even smooth over the issues with volatile receiver Percy Harvin, which led to Harvin eventually being traded.
Frazier's strengths lie in his attitude and ability to connect with players and coaches and keeping a strong, consistent message during the trials of a season. His in-game decision making is a work in progress and he's probably stronger in relating to his team than in the Xs and Os of systems. But Frazier has his core philosophies and sticks to them, and coaches and players know what to expect from him day-to-day and week-to-week.
While Frazier has demonstrated abilities to be a strong head coach, the jury is still out on two of his coordinators, Musgrave and Williams. Musgrave is considered a technical coach, credited for his work with quarterbacks and ability to design innovative offenses, but the offense hasn't seen a big breakout in his two seasons. The Vikings, understandably, stick with their run-first offense with MVP running back Adrian Peterson. But without a strong running game, the offense tends to stall. Yet, Musgrave also has shown occasional game plans that take advantage of opposing defenses. Like his quarterback Christian Ponder, he just needs to show it more often. Maybe with Peterson, new receiver Greg Jennings, further development from Ponder and tight end Kyle Rudolph, and if he gets a quick transition from first-round rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, Musgrave will have the pieces to do more with the Vikings' offense.
The defense improved significantly under Williams in his first year as coordinator after coming from the Indianapolis Colts. Williams has similar defensive philosophies as Frazier, coming up through the league with the Cover-2 defense. Both Frazier's and Williams' background comes from coaching the secondary -- and the defense's improvement really came from better play in the secondary. Williams' true impact might not be understood until he has a couple of years under his belt as coordinator. Improved health also was -- and is -- a big part of the improvement defensively. Minnesota has simply had overmatched secondary play with injuries ruining any minor depth the team might have had. But, last season the Vikings allowed 21.75 points per game after giving up 28.06 the previous year. Minnesota's yards per play dropped from 5.6 yards allowed to 5.2. So important in the NFC North against quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, Minnesota allowed fewer passing yards per game (251.2 in 2011 to 244.3 last year), a lower quarterback rating (107.6 rating to 92.3), and lower completion percentage (68.2 percent to 63.9).
Rising star: It might be tough to call Priefer a "rising star" but his knowledge of special teams has been vital to the Vikings' success and maybe it could lead to bigger roles for him in the future. Priefer saw something in a group of rookie kickers, particularly Blair Walsh, and believed it was in the team's best interest to part ways with veteran Ryan Longwell. Priefer believed with a few tweaks, Walsh had the ability to develop into a good NFL kicker. The move paid off big time when Walsh became the best of a heralded crop of rookie kickers and turned into an All-Pro kicker in his first season. Priefer made the decision the team needed more from its punting and recommended Minnesota find a replacement for Chris Kluwe. So, the team drafted Jeff Locke out of UCLA in the fifth round, the first punter taken and released Kluwe soon after. While the jury is still out on the move, Priefer has at least earned the benefit of the doubt. Since Priefer took over as the special teams coordinator for the Vikings in 2011, the team has ranked first in kickoff return average and tied for first in kickoffs returned for touchdowns. Meanwhile, Minnesota has also bottled up opposing returners, ranking first in the league in fewest amount of kick returns of 20-plus yards allowed.
Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Packers; 2. Vikings; 3. Lions; 4. Bears.
The dean of NFC North coaches and the most respected staff belongs to Green Bay, with little argument. Head coach Mike McCarthy has won a Super Bowl with the Packers and has guided the team to a 74-38 record overall, winning three division titles and totaling five playoff appearances in his seven years as the team's coach. He's surrounded by the well-respected Dom Capers, one of the league's best defensive coordinators and someone with head coaching experience. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements has been in his position for two seasons and Green Bay has been one of the highest-scoring teams in the league. Shawn Slocum oversees the special teams unit that will need improvement this year.
Detroit gets the edge over Chicago, simply from an experience factor. Jim Schwartz is beginning his fifth season as the Lions' head coach but hasn't exactly proven himself and Detroit's enigmatic nature follows their coach's personality. His fiery attitude has sometimes leads to run-ins, such as his handshake fiasco with San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh. Schwartz helped Detroit recover from a long streak of losing seasons to make the playoffs in 2011, improving each of his first three years, but then dropped to 4-12 last year. Yet, he was given another chance and will have to likely get the Lions back on the winning track to keep his job. Scott Linehan is considered innovative as the offensive coordinator. Gunther Cunningham has had a long career as a defensive coordinator, but Detroit's defense allowed the sixth-most points in the league last year and Cunningham's job could be in jeopardy as well. The team hired John Bonamego to try and turn around its poor specials teams.
Chicago parted ways with longtime coach Lovie Smith and decided to give Marc Trestman his first NFL head coaching job. Trestman is coming off a successful run as head coach of the Montreal Alouttes in the Canadian Football League, where his teams won two Grey Cups. He does have 17 years of NFL coaching experience, the last coming as an assistant head coach in 2004 with the Miami Dolphins. He's known for his work with quarterbacks and the Bears are hoping he can help Jay Cutler to his best season. He has Aaron Kromer, who was the New Orleans Saints' interim coach for the first six weeks last season, as his offensive coordinator. It's the first coordinating job of his career. Mel Tucker was hired as the new defensive coordinator, a position he's held the past five seasons in Cleveland and Jacksonville. Joe DeCamillis comes to Chicago after years as the Cowboys' special teams coordinator and also carries the title of assistant head coach.
Frazier on the importance of continuity with the coaching staff: "I think it means a lot. When you are trying to have a consistently good football team, it helps the players to be able to know what the system is and the guys that are returning, year-in and year-out. The fact that we're able to retain our coaches and bring back our coaching staff intact for the most part -- and especially the coordinators -- as a player, you just have a certain amount of confidence. If you're Chad Greenway, if you're Adrian (Peterson), our special teams players, you come back and you kind of feel like you know the system, you know what's expected, and it's just good for everybody involved."
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