This is my very first fanpost and I've been with the DN for nearly two years now so...bear with me.
It has been observed and pointed out and generally beaten to death that I like Leslie Frazier as a head coach and, well, to be honest...it's true. So, with that being said: if you don't want to read any article that could possibly paint Frazier as a decent coach then you should stop reading right now. Why? Because you've already made up your mind that he's trash and it's entirely likely that you won't concede a single point to me regardless of how good it is. A second disclaimer: Much of what I will go over as the reasons why and how Frazier does things like he does is based off of Tony Dungy's book "Quiet Strength." I picked that because Frazier is very much a Dungy disciple and he has clearly proven it with his actions. The book does get fairly religious at times and, while I'm not big on religion, it does give a pretty good look into the life and times of Tony Dungy. My main focus is on the coaching aspect of the book and one of the things I like the most about it is that Dungy explains why he did what he did or why he thinks he it was a mistake. The why is important and it is probably the biggest thing that connects Frazier's coaching style to Dungy's. You will be getting selected snippets of the book to help prove my points but I highly recommend that you buy the book, read it and re-read it from time to time. Something different will pop out at you every time you re-read it.
To start things off: Much has been said about Frazier's demeanor on the sidelines and in the post-game pressers. Both seem to be very much based off of Dungy and the results of Dungy's experiences as a coach. Dungy had talked about getting upset on the football field in high school and arguing with the ref over a call. He specifically mentioned his father asking him why he got so worked up and angry. His exact quote was "Did you change the ref's call?" Dungy admitted that it usually took him several plays to cool off and his father told him that he wasn't able to play to his best while he was busy venting. In reality, it is better to not get so worked up about the things that you can't control. Lesson number two is a fairly basic one: be yourself. If you're not a 'yeller', then don't yell. If you're a vocal and confrontational coach, don't try to be a quiet coach. I also firmly believe that Frazier paid attention to Dungy's dealings with the media. We know that negative sells with today's media. Dungy's philosophy was to be as positive as he could all the time-win or lose. It also goes back to the lesson on venting: what good does it do for the head coach to vent about the players to the media? When has that ever helped a team play better? More to the point: when has a coach done that and survived the season with his job? Jim Mora (Playoffs??) and Denny Green (The Bears are who we thought they were!) were both decent coaches who threw their players under the bus when talking to the media. Their players pretty much stopped giving their all after those rants. Sometimes it helps for the players to know what's coming. "We're going to look at the film and fix some things." That tells the players that he hasn't given up on them...and we wonder why they haven't seemed to give up on him.
One of Dungy's core tenets of football is one he took from a former coach and mentor of his: Chuck Noll. For those of you who don't know who Noll is, he was the coach of the Steelers during their Steel Curtain dynasty. Chuck Noll coached them to 4 Super Bowl wins and is now in the Hall of Fame. Chuck Noll's quote (as it appears in Dungy's book) is: "Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else." So, what constitutes the ordinary things? The ordinary things fall into two big 'catch-alls:' Fundamentals and Execution. We saw some of this firsthand last season when Adrian Peterson continued to have big games despite defenses loading the box with 8-10 players. Our blockers played with mostly sound fundamentals and excellent execution. The theory is that perfect fundamentals and execution may well be enough to make up for the wrong play call. In fact, perfect fundamentals and execution means that the offense could conceivably tell the defense exactly what play is going to be run and the defense would still be unable to stop it. However, if fundamentals or execution are poor? That can ruin even the perfect play call. So, when Frazier says that he will "look at the film and fix some things" that says to me that fundamentals and execution are not what they were last year. One of Frazier's few slips this year was when he said that the players have to execute the plays better. That stunk of frustration at dealing with complaints about the play calling only to have the correct play called and it still results in a failure because the players didn't execute like they were supposed to.
Another tenet is one Dungy learned from Chuck Noll and Dick Vermeil during Dungy's first season at Tampa right after they started 0-5 with three blowouts. They told Dungy not to change what he believed in. Chuck Noll's first season was 1-14 and they started his second season out at 0-4. He did not make wholesale changes and now he's in the Hall. Firing coordinators in mid-season is an example of a wholesale change. You can bet that Dungy has given some of the very same advice to Frazier in the past several weeks. Dungy got much of the same criticism in his first year and one of his statements to his players after a 13-7 loss to the Packers was: "A lot of people say I've got to make you afraid-afraid of being cut, afraid of me. I don't believe that's true." He went on to say: "There are three possible options to correct this and get where we need to be. One solution is for me to change, to decide I'm wrong, to change my vision for this team. That one is not going to happen. Another option is for you to change-put in more time, go harder, pay more attention to details. As a final option, we'll simply have to go find other guys. Your choice." Frazier's following of Dungy's example is indicated in the fact that Alan Williams and Bill Musgrave still have jobs despite their obvious shortcomings as coordinators. There are two reasons for this: the first is that it violates a core tenet of Frazier's philosophy for the team. The second is that, despite their problems, Williams and Musgrave are the most qualified coaches for their respective jobs. Sure, Frazier could conceivably take over the playcalling for one of them but there's no way he'd be able to call both the offense AND the defense. Dungy later learned the hard way when he relented to fan and owner pressure to get rid of his offensive coordinator despite the fact that the offense wasn't the main problem on the team. The team's problems continued-mainly because the action he was pressured into taking didn't solve a single thing. He was fired after that year. Jon Gruden took over and led them to the Super Bowl win in his first year...and they haven't won any since.
Another issue is why underperforming players aren't yanked right away. Dungy used the example of the kicker the Bucs had back in 1997 when they started 5-2. They had just lost two straight and Michael Husted, the kicker, had missed several field goals in those games. I am going to quote the entire finish to that chapter because it has a good point but also because there is a striking similarity between the Bucs back then and the Vikings right now.
Michael's Mother was battling cancer in the middle of that season-cancer that ultimately took her life. Michael was a very private person, and while the team knew about his mom, the press and public were unaware of what he was dealing with. He was getting criticized for missing kicks, and I was getting criticized for not replacing him. It's not unusual-fans seem to think players live in a vacuum, not subject to the same pressures and problems as the rest of us. They boo and yell their displeasure because a player's not playing up to their expectations.
Michael never used his difficult personal problem as an excuse. He pushed ahead and held himself accountable for his performance. Kicking is a difficult task mentally at the best of times, and Michael really had his hands full those days. Even though he was missing kicks he would ordinarily make, I decided I was not going to replace him. While this was hurting the team in the short run, I thought both Michael and the team would be better off if we stuck with him. i was certain that we'd be a better unit for standing beside one of our own members through a difficult time.
I told the team during a meeting, "Michael is going through some tough times on and off the field. But I don't care how many kicks he misses along the way; he will remain our kicker. If he misses, we'll need to rise up and get the ball back. But before it's all said and done, he's going to make some big kicks for us.
Now that we had lost three games in a row, two of them at home, some of the naysayers understandably became more vocal. They had seen so many lean years in Tampa that as we headed back on the road at 5-3, they were certain we were the same old Bucs. Despite our fast start, they expected us to collapse over the second half of the season.
We traveled to play the Colts in Indianapolis. We were ahead in the third quarter until the Colts scored eleven points to tie the game. Early in the fourth quarter, Mike Alstott fumbled on our own eighteen yard line, and the Colts ran it in for a touchdown. We had already lost three straight games, and now we had given up eighteen straight points and were trailing in the fourth quarter on the road-in a deafening dome.
Trent Dilfer responded by marching us on a long drive for a touchdown to tie the score. Our defense held, and Karl Williams returned the Colts' punt across the fifty yard line. We were able to move the ball closer with our offense. With eleven seconds left, Michael Husted kicked a thirty-six-yard field goal to win the game.
That was an exciting victory and a pivotal moment for our team. Our players started to relax, realizing that we really had changed. We weren't the "same old Bucs." We had faced adversity on the road, and we had done what we needed to do.
In the years since then, Michael has expressed his appreciation for my sticking with him during that time. I didn't do anything special. I just treated him the way I would want to be treated. Even at the time, this made quite an impact on him and the other players. Michael went on to kick well for the rest of the season.
As to the argument that we need an quarterback to make up for all our other shortcomings. I have pointed out that the year the Colts won the Super Bowl for Peyton Manning's only ring so far is also the year that their defense gelled. They played the Chiefs in the playoffs, with a suspect run defense while the Chiefs had Larry Johnson at the height of his abilities. Peyton Manning did not play a good game by his standards but the defense held Kansas City to 126 yards of total offense and Larry Johnson to 32 yards on 13 carries. The Colts won 23-8. Getting the defense built up had been a major goal of Dungy's and he admitted that, in the years before, they usually lost if they didn't get a good game from Peyton Manning. Elite quarterbacks will still have stinkers, some of them will come in the playoffs. That is when they usually get sent home by a better team that is able to overcome the lack of elite play from their quarterback. Their second game of the playoffs was against Baltimore-who were fielding the top defense in the NFL. Peyton Manning didn't light it up in that game, either but the Colts won 15-6 on the back of their defense. When they played the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, the Colts were up by 4 with one minute left and Tom Brady was coming onto the field needing a touchdown to win it. The Patriots moved the ball fairly well until Tom Brady was picked off by Marlin Jackson. A good game by Peyton Manning still came down to a defensive stop to seal the win. Against the Bears in the Super Bowl, they were up 22-17 in the fourth quarter and couldn't seem to put the Bears away until the defense picked off Rex Grossman, returned it for a touchdown and then followed up that with another interception on the very next drive. You get the point? Even an extremely good offense led by a future Hall of Famer at the height of his abilities will still need to be bailed out by the defense from time to time. If the defense hadn't been up to the task, they would not have won the Super Bowl that year. Leslie Frazier knows that...he was on the coaching staff at Indianapolis.
So, there it is. A pretty small look into the likely motivations of our embattled head coach. There's no way to know for sure what is going on in Frazier's mind right now and we will likely never know unless he wins the Super Bowl and writes a book about his experiences.