|Written by Michael|
Bet on the NFL Leslie Frazier has prepared for nearly a quarter-century for this shot, interviewed unsuccessfully (but impressively) seven times, and this is how his big chance comes. The situation Frazier's inheriting now in Minnesota isn't exactly one a coach would dream of stepping into. A veteran team full of win-now type of players is 3-7, its quarterback is a 41-year-old whose mind is always prone to wonder back to the good life on that compound in Mississippi, its once stout lines have underachieved on both sides of the ball, and the locker room has been on the brink of implosion for much longer than most people realize.
And yet, maybe that's just what makes Frazier perfect for the job. No, it's not the way Frazier would've drawn it up, but his crisis-management chops are there. That's the way Tony Dungy sees it, anyway. Frazier's leaned on Dungy, a mentor of his and the coach he's most compared to, in his first few days on the job, and Dungy sees a protégé ready for the challenge.
Childress' issues in that locker room extend all the way back to 2007, when the coach docked receiver Troy Williamson a game check for missing a Sunday to be in South Carolina following a death in the family. His handling of Tarvaris Jackson in 2008 -- swearing he was the guy, then pulling him after two games for Gus Frerotte -- ruffled more feathers. And following the first Favre circus, last summer, it took a 6-0 start to keep a lid on the problems bubbling underneath. A 3-7 start forced that mess to the surface, and now Frazier's on clean-up.
But he's been part of fixing broken situations before. Dungy references the 2006 season, the latter of Frazier's two as his secondary coach in Indianapolis. That team, if you remember, crumbled down the stretch, a 44-17 beatdown in Jacksonville being the exclamation point on a 3-4 finish that followed a 9-0 start. That the Colts were able to summon the confidence to reel off four playoff wins right after that, Dungy thinks, had something to do with the calming influence Frazier had on the defense and the team.
The diversity of Frazier's experiences should help.
Where many coaches are tied to one tree, most often headed by men like Bill Parcells or Bill Walsh, he's got some stickers on that suitcase of his. He played for Buddy Ryan and Mike Ditka as part of the 1980s Bears, and coached for Andy Reid and Jim Johnson in Philadelphia, and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati before joining Dungy, and then Childress.
In other words, he's well aware there's more than one way to get the job done. He started Wednesday with some jarring change, ratcheting up the intensity at practice for that veteran group, a similar tactic to what Jason Garrett did in putting the Cowboys in pads on his first Wednesday as head man at Valley Ranch.
Garrett had some challenges that Frazier doesn't, but it seems like the rallying cry will be similar in Minnesota. Garrett asked his players to look in the mirror, and be accountable to themselves.
Frazier said it in a different way, that he needs his players to be "mentally engaged" on Sundays, implying that, somehow, they haven't been previously. That boils down to a message similar to Garrett's, which is to play at a level you can be proud of. It's obvious the Vikings haven't done that at all points this season, and maybe it wouldn't have mattered against the Packer juggernaut last Sunday, but it's fair to guess they wouldn't be 3-7 at full-go.
If Frazier can get the team going at that speed, then the possibility certainly is there that the job he's been chasing that came in a disjointed way becomes the position he wanted all along. Given the CBA uncertainty ahead, the big player decisions coming next year -- with Sidney Rice, Pat Williams and Ray Edwards among the team's free agents, and a clear need at quarterback -- if this team plays well for Frazier down the stretch, he could be around for awhile.
That won't answer some of the bigger issues in Minnesota, however. The most important one, on the football side, will be creating a clear chain of command between coaching and personnel that hasn't existed in a long time. Beyond football, there's the team's survival in Minnesota long-term, with just 11 games left on the Metrodome lease.
But for now, Frazier can't worry about any of that. This Vikings team, to a man, believes it finally has a coach it can get behind. And Frazier's job is to deliver for those players. Dungy, of course, knew this day was coming for Frazier, saying, "There was never a doubt in my mind. You see him around people, the way he leads, the way he communicates, the way players gravitate toward him. I thought (it would happen). Really, it was obvious."
So he's good for this job according to sportsbook. What the next six weeks should tell us is whether this job is good for him.