Before we even begin, yes, Leslie Frazier ultimately failed as Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings. His tenure here was shaky and had mixed results, unfortunately mostly negative. And yes- at the end of the day, firing him was the right move and one we all saw coming. But, and I know this is very weird with all that said, I think he still deserves a bit of a salute on his way out. Certainly the players feel that way. We’ve all known Frazier was a player’s coach, and that the locker room loved him. As was pointed out both in 2011 and again this season, the one bright spot no matter what was happening in terms of wins-losses was that the players were trying. They fought for wins even long after a season was lost both times, and that speaks volumes to me that they did that not once- but again, just two years later.
We’ve all said ad naseum here enough times the various reasons Frazier no longer deserved to be employed as our head coach. And, while this is a tribute to Frazier, let’s take a brief second here and acknowledge the wisdom of Zygi Wilf not extending him last season- clearly, he learned his lesson there with Brad Childress in 2009. So a quick thumbs up to our owner for proving he’s not a man to make the same mistake twice.
But enough on that. Again, we’ve spent weeks explaining why Frazier needed to go. I prefer, now that all is said and done, to give him his due respect for keeping our team from falling apart. You look at when coaches like Brad Childress are fired, or for a more recent example, Greg Schiano. You think the players are struggling to hold back tears when those kind of guys get the boot? Maybe they try to hold back tears of joy for the sake of professionalism, but Frazier deserves some respect for how upset the Vikings players are right now. It speaks a lot that after two disastrous seasons (sandwiched around one playoff season that ended ultimately in flames anyways), the players really didn’t want to see this happen. It seems they’re not surprised, but they are clearly hurt all the same.
One thing that struck me, reading all of the player comments in the article I linked, was how strongly the various men emphasized that he was a good man. That he didn’t just coach them on the field, but that he also coached them off of it. Jared Allen pointed out that he felt Frazier helped him “grow as a man”, and that’s a pretty high compliment in my book- especially from an ‘older’ guy like Allen. Now I know the NFL isn’t a congeniality contest- I doubt too many players not named ‘Tom Brady’ would say that Bill Bellichick helped them “grow as men”. But I still find that an impressive trait, an impressive quality, and it’s one that Frazier clearly embraced and exemplified.
I recall that for years before the ax finally fell, I would SCREAM at my TV screen for Brad Childress to be fired, hoping that somehow my words would flow through the screen, through the field, and up into Zygi Wilf’s subconscious and take root. And while I had plenty of sarcastic comments about Frazier whenever a timeout was used in mind-numbing fashion, or whenever Marvin Mitchell was inexplicably playing an actual, factual NFL snap, I can’t say I ever felt the same vitriolic towards him. Not even close. Yes, again, I felt he needed to go. But somehow, for some reason, I was still bummed just a tad when it actually happened.
I do want to thank Frazier, thank him for keeping my favorite NFL team from quitting. For keeping them together, for keeping them fighting, even yesterday afternoon when he knew he was coaching his final game for us. His address to the players was beyond noble- telling them to not worry about him, to focus on the game, to fight the good fight and not worry about their beloved leader. And I think the quality of his character truly shone through when he gave a final address this morning to his players. Not only that Wilf saw that he deserved it (fairly certain Childress did not get the offer to do so), but also that he did it. Some lesser men would have politely turned the opportunity down and moved along, but Frazier wanted to say goodbye to his team.
Look, say what you want about results in the NFL- I mean, the argument is very legitimate of course. But sometimes you want to take a step back and simply nod your head and tip your cap because even if the results weren’t there, even if the firing was justified, at the end of the day at least he was a good man. We don’t seem to have too many of those left these days and he’s definitely one of them. And I do think the final word on him should just be that. Plenty of poor head coaches are also poor men. But Frazier at the least wasn’t the latter. Perhaps someday down the road, Frazier will have learned from the mistakes he made in his tenure as our head coach. Perhaps his decision making will improve. Perhaps he’ll have a better grasp of time outs, of which personnel to put on the field, of when it’s time to let go of schemes that just aren’t fitting. If that day comes he will make one hell of a head coach. But even if it doesn’t, the one thing he can always hang his hat on is that he has made one hell of a good man. When players as diverse as Christian Ponder, Chris Cook, Jared Allen, Cordarrelle Patterson, etc. all say as much, you know it’s true.
Again, this isn’t a salute to him as a coach, because he didn’t do that job well enough to keep it. But when you see a good man come and go, you should always take a second to acknowledge him and give him his due tribute. Because at the end of the day, in the grand scheme of things, it’s far better to be a good man than a good coach.
And so, Leslie Frazier, this is my such tribute. Fare thee well, and I wish you the best.