I was away for a few days, celebrating our 30th anniversary, so I didn’t get to watch the final game at the Metrodome between the Vikings and the Detroit Lions (see Arif Hasan’s summary here). I was also away from my computer when the news came down that the team had fired head coach Leslie Frazier. I wasn’t surprised that Frazier took the blame for the awful 2013 season, but it also wouldn’t have surprised me greatly if they’d decided to keep Frazier. The problem was really at the quarterback position, not the head coach (although Frazier and his staff certainly made some mistakes). One of the big mistakes was on display during the game against the Lions: the outstanding performance by Cordarrelle Patterson … in whom the coaching staff had so little confidence that he barely saw the playing field for most of the season.
Even with the best running back in the game and a rising star at wide receiver, the Vikings could only do so much with the quarterback floundering. I liked Christian Ponder when he was drafted, and I’d hoped to see him grow into the kind of quarterback you can build a franchise around. Instead, Ponder regressed to the point that benching him was a kindness. Matt Cassel was an excellent signing as a backup and did quite well when he was called upon to take over the starting role. I hope he decides to come back for the second year of his contract (which can be voided by either the team or the player). I still don’t understand what happened with Josh Freeman…
The Vikings have the 8th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and would have had the same pick even if they’d lost the game to the Lions because all the teams above them in the draft order lost on Sunday. The obvious choice with that pick would be a quarterback (Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M has been the common prediction for the Vikings in early mock drafts). There are certainly other needs that could be addressed if all the “can’t miss” quarterback prospects are off the board by then, including cornerback, linebacker, safety, defensive end, and nose tackle. I’ve even seen fantasists floating the idea of trading Adrian Peterson to the Rams for their two first-round picks. I guess having had multiple first-rounders in the last two years has spoiled the draftniks.
Before the news of Frazier’s firing, John Holler explained why it was likely to happen:
If the Vikings fire Leslie Frazier today, it’s not because he isn’t a good head coach. He is.
It won’t be because his team quit on him. They didn’t. At a time when pragmatic fans were thinking it wouldn’t be so bad if the Vikings lost all their remaining games when they were 1-7 at midseason, the Vikings went 4-3-1 in the second half – the best record in the division, as well as a 2-0-1 record against the NFC North in Act II of their annual meetings.
It won’t be because his players didn’t have his back. They do. If you were to ask anyone who has spent any amount of time with Frazier to define his character, you wouldn’t hear a dissenting opinion. If the Vikings had a 36-12 record over the last three years and players were asked if Frazier was a better coach or human being, that 12-win average would pale by comparison.
Frazier is a good coach. He is an exemplary man.
The Vikings are going to undergo a significant overhaul in the next few months and, at the moment, it doesn’t appear as though that is going to include Frazier. Have the Vikings succeeded under his watch? The empirical evidence says no. Given that 8-7-1 won the NFC North, it can be argued that the Vikings were more snake-bit than dismal.
But, in a bottom-line world, over the last three seasons as head coach, Frazier has a regular season record of 18-29-1 in 48 games and is 0-1 in the postseason.
If the thought process at Winter Park is based on a belief that Frazier can be the person to mold the young core of the Vikings team moving forward, he will be back next year. But, in the NFL, lame-duck coaching contracts are rarely fulfilled. Change is constant in the NFL. Players come. Players go. Coaches come. Coaches go. Unfortunately, character isn’t a consideration. If it was, Frazier would have been given a vote of confidence.
He didn’t get it.
In the end, it’s not personal. It’s only business.
Frazier’s firing got almost unanimous response from the Twin Cities sportswriters who’ve been covering the Vikings:
Update, 2 January: Cordarrelle Patterson just won the Offensive Rookie of the Month award, having been the first rookie to score at least three rushing and three receiving touchdowns since Roger Craig in December, 1983. He’s the fourth Viking to win ORotM, joining Adrian Peterson, Randy Moss, and Percy Harvin.
Patterson was also named to the All-NFC North team:
Even if several players got spots because they were the best options in a mediocre division, the Vikings’ group of all-division players did provide highlights. Patterson was the best kick returner in the NFL, leading the league with a 32.4-yard return average and becoming the only player in the league to return two kicks for touchdowns. Peterson finished fifth in the NFL with 1,266 rushing yards, despite carrying only 18 times in the final four games and missing two with groin and foot injuries. And Robison had the best year of his career, finishing with nine sacks and ending the year second in the NFL with 81 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
It’s tough to find too many snubs on the Vikings roster. The biggest one might be punt returner Marcus Sherels, who surged at the end of the season and finished third in the NFL with a 15.2-yard return average. Sherels, though, was up against a strong field; every punt returner in the NFC North had a touchdown this season.