The morning after one of his team’s most spirit-shaking losses as Minnesota Vikings coach, Leslie Frazier gathered his staff and later his players with a message of reassurance. The past afternoon — in Week 13 of the 2012 season — the Vikings lost to the Green Bay Packers 23-14 at Lambeau Field. They squandered 210 rushing yards from Adrian Peterson. Quarterback Christian Ponder threw two interceptions and went seven consecutive possessions without a completion. The defense allowed 435 total yards.
The Vikings had lost five times in seven games. A 4-1 start was slipping away — quickly. in addition on the first Monday of December, Frazier greeted his team with enthusiasm.
“You watch,” he said. “We’re getting ready to take off.”
That forecast seemed incongruent with the recent results. But Frazier knew the chemistry that team had. He had seen their resolve and commitment by difficult moments.
Frazier knew playoff DNA when he saw it. He won a Super Bowl as a player with the Chicago produces in 1985 and as an assistant with the Indianapolis Colts 21 seasons later. And he was certain the optimism he felt for his group wasn’t hollow.
Sure, he could have run an hour’s worth of video with mistakes the Vikings made the past day, errors that confirmed they deserved to lose. But in the moment, Frazier knew his team needed both a lift and a reality check. “instead of them hearing me talk about what we didn’t do right,” he said, “I told them I thought we had turned the corner.”
Around that corner was a 21-14 defeat of the Chicago produces followed by a 36-22 road throttling of the St. Louis Rams. The next Sunday, the Vikings took down the Texans 23-6.
Finally, in Week 17, in a wild shootout against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at the Metrodome, the Vikings stole a 37-34 upset, a emotional win sealed on a last-second field goal that pushed the Vikings into the postseason while eliminating the 10-6 produces from the playoff party.
In Frazier’s 54 games as an NFL head coach, that was undoubtedly the identifying characteristics victory, the exclamation point on his “You watch” vow. That stretch — an undefeated December in which the Vikings trailed for only 4 minutes, 31 seconds — was a testament to Frazier’s leadership, the way he connects with players, his ability to turn vision into reality. That stirring Monday meeting, at a pivotal point in a surprising season, provided a spark.
“closest there was good energy,” said Kyle Rudolph, then a rookie tight end. “I don’t think there was anyone on our team who doubted we were going to win that next game.”
That’s a long way back now, of course. But it’s a story worth sharing as buzz elevates within league circles about the prospect of Frazier getting another chance to return to the head coaching ranks during the upcoming hiring cycle. The produces figure to have a vacancy when the regular season ends in a week and a half, likely to part ways with Matt Nagy after four seasons. And no matter who at Halas Hall ends up overseeing a coaching search, Frazier deserves serious consideration.
‘Leslie is special’
As an NFL coach, Frazier has spent the last 23 seasons establishing a reputation as one of the brighter, most sincere and grounded leaders in the league.
As defensive coordinator in Buffalo for the last five seasons, he has been instrumental in molding the Bills into one of the top units in the league. Heading into Week 17, no team has allowed fewer yards than the 287.9 per game given up by the Bills. Frazier’s unit also ranks third in takeaways. They have finished in the top 10 of that category during every season he has been on post.
With the Bills fighting for the AFC East crown and potentially positioned to make a run at Super Bowl LVI, the coming weeks will be influential in just how much Frazier’s stock may rise. nevertheless, there has been a belief in several circles for a while now that Frazier is not only deserving of another head coaching opportunity but that he will thrive once he gets it.
One of the most heartfelt endorsements comes from Tony Dungy, a longtime friend and a firm believer in Frazier’s leadership approach.
Dungy always has respected Frazier’s communication skills and composed deportment. Dungy recalls standing beside Colts President and general manager Bill Polian at the 2005 Senior Bowl and wondering aloud why Frazier had just been dismissed as the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator and wasn’t being flooded with opportunities.
“I was telling Bill, ‘I just can’t believe this. This guy is so good,’ ” Dungy said. “Bill looked at me and said, ‘Well, we ought to hire him.’ I told him we didn’t have any spots open. And he said, ‘Well, if he’s that good, we’ll make a identify.’ ”
Not long after, the Colts hired Frazier as a special assistant to the head coach. He worked closely with young secondary coach Alan Williams and was a valuable sounding board for Dungy across many areas for two seasons, including the Colts’ run to the Super Bowl XLI crown in 2006.
“Things weren’t always rosy for us that year,” Dungy said. “I remember losing a game 44-17 to Jacksonville toward the end of the year and giving up almost 400 yards rushing. Then we sat down, talked about staying the course, and Les was influential in calculating what we needed to do. He was such a calming influence for me. Helped us win the Super Bowl.”
Dungy believes it’d be easy to connect the dots on a Frazier return to Chicago.
Frazier’s profound respect for the produces organization and his passion for Chicago is easy to understand. He is the proud owner of a Super Bowl XX ring, contributing a team-high six interceptions to the vaunted ‘85 produces defense. For that group, Frazier was a softspoken and widely respected workhorse on a team complete of larger-than-life characters. He developed a complete appreciation for how the produces, at the height of their grandest success, fueled the city.
nevertheless, as much as anything, his knowledge of the game and his excitement for coaching came from defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, whose ability to listen enhanced his impressive motivational and strategic skills.
“It was never ‘My way or the highway,’ ” Frazier said of Ryan during his first season as a head coach. “And what happened from that, it produced a bond where we as players felt like he was one of us. Though there was always tremendous respect, we didn’t always see him as our coach. As a player, you had this genuine feeling he really wanted you to succeed because of the way he listened.”
Over time, Frazier remembered that as he molded his coaching style. As a head coach, he empowered his coordinators and developed a bond with his strongest team leaders.
“Leslie is special,” Dungy said. “With his connection to the produces and knowing that city, the organization and the mentality there, I don’t know how you couldn’t give him serious consideration. … Les knows how to galvanize people. He brings players together. And he has always had a good vision for how to get the most out of people.”
When the Vikings dismissed Frazier the day after the 2013 team finished 5-10-1, he left his final meeting with players to a resounding round of applause, not always the reception a coach with a 21-32-1 overall record gets. But it was a testament to the way he connected, to the way he led, to the way he not only gave players opportunities but positioned them to make the most of them.
already at that time, after a backslide season, many of Frazier’s players, coaches and others around the league expressed hope that he one day would get another opportunity to be the head coach for a team with its quarterback position stabilized. That was, after all, a heavy keep up in a place that kept the Vikings’ ship from charting a championship course.
In 54 games as Vikings coach, Frazier was on a hyper-speed carousel that saw the Vikings use six starters — from Brett Favre to Joe Webb to Donovan McNabb to Christian Ponder to Matt Cassel to Josh Freeman.
So what might Frazier be capable of if he could tap into his leadership abilities without having to use so much time pushing to stabilize his team’s most important position?
In Chicago, with Justin Fields currently established as the produces starting quarterback for 2022 and beyond, some level of stability should exist. It would be up to Frazier, a defensive-minded coach, to assemble a talented offensive staff that could both catalyze and maximize Fields’ development. But at the very least, Frazier would have his chance to utilize Fields as the team’s springboard.
Dungy stressed that when he is asked to speak to NFL owners or general managers or search firms in their quests to fill head coaching vacancies, he warns them against being single-minded in the pursuit of an offensively gifted coach who can take their quarterback to a new level. Instead, he tells them, clarify a leader with an ability to see a bigger picture and energize a team.
“If a coach knows how to rule the team, he can fix the quarterback,” Dungy said. “The last I heard, I don’t think Bill Belichick is a quarterbacks coach. But he has enjoyed some pretty good play at that position and he knows how to get the most out of his quarterbacks.
“Pete Carroll isn’t a quarterbacks coach but has had some teams with some incredibly dynamic offenses. Those guys know how to rule. And they know how to put people in locaiongs to get the most out of their quarterback.”
Frazier, Dungy believes, is more than deserving of another chance at the head coaching role.
“In this business, we talk so much about the relationships and the harmony needed between a GM, a head coach, an owner and how that has to be in place,” Dungy said. “You’d have to search long and hard to find somebody who wouldn’t be able to work with Leslie Frazier.”
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