Ever since he was promoted to interim head coach after Zygi Wilf finally pulled the plug on the Brad Childress Mistake, I have had Leslie Frazier's back. It wasn't blind faith per se- I saw and recognized many of his mistakes, particularly last season. There were plenty of times he screwed up in terms of clock management and other such fiascos, but coaches, like quarterbacks, sometimes need a year or so to really get their feet under them on their first go at it. I have defended him from those who claim he ‘needs more emotion'- I still firmly believe that's nonsense, as coaches such as Tony Dungy, Bill Belichick, and our own legend Bud Grant have shown that showing emotion has absolutely no correlation to successful coaching. (On the flip side, plenty of coaches have shown also that lots of emotion can still equal sucky coaching.) I don't care and never will care if the man doesn't smile or frown for the rest of his life, that doesn't matter.
I also have defended his disastrous decision to roll with Donovan McNabb last year, as by all accounts that decision was about 99% his. While it failed miserably, it still showed that Frazier was committed to "winning now", a commitment I think, regardless of its feasibility, all coaches should have, all the time. Granted, that move also highlighted the need for a real GM to prevent such a move, but it's not Frazier's fault that nobody was at the reigns to prevent it. Outcome be damned, he made a decision he felt could give the Vikings one more playoff push, and really- do you want a coach who just starts a season having essentially already given up on it, not making the best possible calls at that exact moment to win in the here and now?
There's one other key quality, one I believe above all others that he has, that has previously cemented my faith in him. And I feel he still shows it, but I'm going to save it for the end, a la a compliment sandwich (although make no mistake, we lost so this piece is still something of an insult Panini).
Yesterday, however, I was deeply disturbed by Frazier's decision to commit to Christian Ponder after his second interception. I'm not saying we should yank Ponder for the rest of the year- I still believe, especially at this point with playoffs essentially out of the picture, that we might as well stick with him as a starter the rest of the season just to confirm whether or not he's the QBOTF. That said, there was simply no denying that Ponder plain and outright STANK yesterday. Yes yes, the playcalling was a bit odd (we're going to get to that), and yes, his receiving corps is still not the best. But you cannot take away Ponder's two backbreaking interceptions, both of which were horrible decisions. And even some of the throws he did make were bad- he was just lucky that nobody picked more off, and that Kyle Rudolph apparently has the ability to catch just about anything within ten feet of him. The truth was clear: with Ponder at quarterback, we were not winning the game.
Even after the disastrous 11 and something minute drive that Green Bay had embarked on, our defense had remained shockingly resilient. The fact that, as utterly exhausted as they must have been, they managed to still keep it to a field goal is telling. At that point of the game, with a little over 4 minutes left and 9 points behind, there was still the faintest of hopes. Yes, Blair Walsh shockingly missed the field goal, and that did ice it. (The decision to kick then was a smart one, BTW- we were going to have to kick at some point regardless to win the game.) But there was absolutely no way anyone could have predicted that, especially with his Mr. Automatic status going into the game.
Is Joe Webb a starting-caliber quarterback? Is he even better than Christian Ponder? No to the first, probably not to the second. But- he was different. Even if he was just as inaccurate, even if his throws were no better, he was a different quarterback. Green Bay had predicated its defense around two things: one, Adrian Peterson is very, very dangerous; and two, Ponder is not. Throwing Webb in there would have thrown a few things off. Webb is simply a different player, and that's going to cause the defense to slip back onto its heels, at least for a drive. Considering we knew Ponder simply was not having a game wherein we could trust him to win it for us, it made absolutely no sense to leave Webb on the sidelines at that point. Things really couldn't have been worse, so it's a no-lose gamble.
And if you're committed to winning now, why the hell wouldn't you take said no-lose gamble?!
Had we won yesterday, we wouldn't just be in the thick of it for a wildcard spot... we would have been in the thick of it for the divisional lead. The Seahawks victory over the Bears was very bad for us, but that's largely considering Green Bay beat us. Had we won, then Chicago's loss would have been a boon for us. If you want to win now, if you want to get to the playoffs this season, as I just explained I feel our head coach absolutely must want- then this game should have been played to win. Not to develop Ponder.
Yes, Ponder is Rick Spielman's boy. I know he is connected at the hip to him. I even read a convincing conspiracy theory article that Spielman cut Sage Rosenfals just to force Frazier to keep Ponder as the starting QB throughout the season. That said, if the GM could have actually blocked an in-game decision like that, then our hierarchy is no better right now than it was under the failed Triangle of Authority. A GM should never have the ability to prevent a head coach from making such a move in the midst of a game; hell, I'd argue they shouldn't even have the ability to prevent such a move at any point in the actual season.
Why did Frazier go with Ponder for one last go at it? There are a few possible reasons but I don't care for any of them. Did he really believe Ponder presented a better opportunity than Webb? Unless Webb has horribly regressed from his few in-game showings last year, that's ridiculous, considering the game Ponder had been having. Was he kowtowed into not making such a move because of Spielman's influence? Then either he needs to grow a spine, or Wilf needs to once again restructure the authority situation. Was he really afraid that would shatter Ponder's ego? Quite frankly then, at that point, we know Ponder is not the QBOTF, and we might as well be rolling with Webb/ The Highlander anyways. Or had he just plain given up any hope that we would win anyways? Then, as well explained above, that's not good either. Basically, I can't figure any good reason whatsoever for leaving Ponder in at that point.
Again, I can buy keeping Ponder as the starter come next game- this is all about the inside-this-game decision. Screw quarterback controversies- if making the move wins us the game, then just worry about that situation later. Win the game NOW.
Regarding the playcalling, as I tweeted during the game, there is one more thing that should have Frazier's seat heating up, and that's his decision to keep Bill Musgrave as our Offensive Coordinator. Now, some have asked me who, if not Musgrave, would be the OC for the rest of this season. I can buy that. I can also buy such a move at this point does give up on the season, as a new offensive playbook would be disastrous at this point, even considering how sucky this one is. Frazier, being a defensive-bred guy, can't take over the job adequately. Musgrave unfortunately bought himself a new lease on life with the pre-bye win over the Lions, considering about the only feasible time to replace him would have been right after that. (Mind you: that said I never mourn a win, and am still very glad we won that game.) So, I can buy the fact that we- and by extension Frazier- are stuck with Musgrave's boneheaded playcalling for the remainder of this season. Even if we get mathematically eliminated from the playoffs I'm fine just riding him out for now, as again it would cause chaos to remove him.
All of the above clarified, Wilf and Spielman should be watching what Frazier does with Musgrave in the off-season. If he fires him the day after our season- however long it should last- then OK. If he should stick with him and clarify such a commitment, at the very least those two should inform him that one of them should go... if not both will go. Musgrave has been a disaster as OC, he was a disaster last year, and he was a disaster everywhere else he has been an OC. The fact that Frazier ignored that last tidbit when hiring him in the first place is a tad questionable, but I do understand the logic that he would be good for Ponder's development considering what he did with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. But his time has clearly run out, no matter what happens for the rest of the season. I didn't care for the fact that he retained his job last offseason. If Frazier doesn't do something about it this offseason, then it should be his head on a stake next to Musgrave's. I am of the firm belief- as I do believe most are- that the head coach is responsible for his entire coaching staff and their success/ failure. Musgrave is a failure; Frazier making the decision to not can him will be an even bigger failure, and one entirely on his shoulders.
Leaving Ponder in and not rolling with Webb for one last hurrah in a winnable and very important game is done, nothing more can be done about that. Musgrave's fate remains unresolved. In my book, Frazier now has a huge black mark because of the first, but he can at least spare himself the killer for one more season if he handles the second correctly.
The one thing I have seen Frazier consistently do, including in this game, is keep his team motivated. Now that I will not take from him. Motivating a team and keeping them fighting until the final whistle is arguably the most important part of a head coach's job. One can say that that's exactly what won Tom Coughlin two Super Bowl rings, and what cost Rahim Morris his job last year. Motivation, inspiring the will to fight no matter what, that to me is huge, and Frazier achieves that on a regular basis. We saw last year long after the season was lost a team that largely still had a will to win no matter the odds. Even yesterday we saw it, when a thoroughly exhausted, sore, and ragged defense still held a ridiculous 11 minute Green Bay march to a field goal, and kept the game within a fighting chance of victory. I won't take away the importance of key veterans such as Jared Allen and Antoine Winfield when it comes to those kinds of efforts, but without a doubt Frazier deserves a fair amount of credit. Even in our horrific losses to the Bucs and the Seahawks this season we by and large remained a scrappy bunch. This should- again, minding the Musgrave situation- buy Frazier at least one more season to fully right the ship. You can only coach the talent you've got on the field, and hopefully with another successful draft, we should have plenty of that on the field next season (quarterback situation notwithstanding). Frazier should at least get one more shot with that.
But again- not if he continues terrible in-game decisions like what he displayed yesterday, and certainly not if he keeps Musgrave on his coaching staff.
So, we'll see.