In their 53 seasons of existence, the Minnesota Vikings have only employed eight different head coaches. The eighth, Leslie Frazier, was relieved of his duties by the Vikings on Monday morning after guiding the Vikings to a 5-10-1 season.
From a professional/fan standpoint, this is a move that had to be made. We all knew that the writing had been on the wall for this coaching staff for quite a while. But I'm not about to "celebrate" Frazier being let go. He took the reins of this team under some pretty adverse circumstances (the end of the crap storm that was the 2010 season, the lockout in 2011) and had a team that played their tails off for him every week. I think that Frazier is going to land on his feet somewhere, likely as a secondary coach or even a defensive coordinator, but it wasn't going to work for him in Minnesota any longer.
So, where does Frazier rank in the lexicon of Minnesota Vikings' coaches? Well, unfortunately. . .it isn't terribly high, in my opinion. With a team that's only had eight head coaches in their history, it's pretty easy to do up a list. Your mileage may vary on some of these. But, in this writer's opinion, here is the hierarchy of Minnesota Vikings head coaches.
1) Bud Grant
Yeah, there's no debate here. A lifetime record of 158-96-5 in his NFL career, spending 18 seasons patrolling the sidelines of old Metropolitan Stadium and the Metrodome, puts Grant as not just the greatest head coach in Minnesota Vikings' history, but on the list of the greatest NFL coaches of all time. He even stepped in after the Les Steckel disaster of 1984 to steady the ship until the team could bring on a new coach. (We'll get to Les later. . .much, much later.)
Yeah, Bud never won the Super Bowl, despite getting to four of them and leading the Vikings to twelve post-season appearances in his 18 years as coach. But anyone that wants to judge Bud Grant on that basis alone is probably pretty dumb and, in all likelihood, doesn't know a whole lot about football, so their opinion can safely be dismissed. At the end of the day, Bud Grant basically embodies the spirit of this franchise, and I'm looking forward to seeing him at the opening of the new stadium in 2016.
2) Dennis Green
The next tier gets a little bit murkier, but I think that we need to crown Denny's ass on this one as being the best non-Bud Grant coach in Vikings history. He coached the Vikings for a decade, making it to the post-season in eight of those ten years. The man recognized offensive talent, helping to build and coach what was one of the greatest offenses in the history of the league in the 1998 Vikings. And for all the turmoil that the Vikings' quarterback situation has come to over the past few years, Green might have had the most quarterback-friendly system ever. In his ten years as head coach, seven different quarterbacks led the team in passing (Rich Gannon, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, and Daunte Culpepper).
Sure, the defense slowly went into the proverbial toilet under Green, but man. . .that offense. Keeping the Vikings consistently competitive for a decade despite all the change at the game's most important position puts him at #2 on this list.
3) Jerry Burns
If this were a list of who gave the best press conferences in Vikings' history, Burnsie would be number one with a bullet. Credited with the creation of the West Coast Offense (before Bill Walsh named it such), Jerry Burns had a pretty decent run in his six seasons as Minnesota's coach. He led the Vikings on their improbable charge to the NFC Championship Game in the strike-marred 1987 season, and served as the team's offensive coordinator for eighteen seasons (under both Grant and Steckel) before getting a chance to be the head guy.
And, since you're looking for it at this point anyway, there's this. . .and here's your requisite naughty language warning.
And remember, it's not Schnelker's blanking fault.
4) Brad Childress
Yes, I can hear the screams of "TOO HIGH," not unlike the Cleveland Indians fans in the stands in Major League. But before he made all of us hate him, Childress appeared to have the Vikings on the right track. The team slowly improved over his first few seasons, from 6-10 to 8-8 to 10-6 and the first of two straight NFC North titles. Then the team decided that they needed to take a shot while the window was open, bringing in Brett Favre for the 2009 season and going "all in" for a Super Bowl run. It didn't work, and the the whole operation went to hell. But the guy was decent for a while.
5) Mike Tice
I might be in the minority on this, but I don't know that Tice ever got a fair shake as the head coach of the Vikings. (I almost put him ahead of Childress, but just couldn't justify it.) He was a victim of Red McCombs' ability to squeeze pennies so hard that Abe Lincoln would cry in pain. In his final year, Steve Loney served as both offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, for crying out loud. But he did what he could with what he had.
The "Love Boat" ordeal and numerous other things happened under his watch, but he also gave us one of the greatest wins in Vikings history, and his team nearly caused Joe Buck to have a stroke in the process. That's good enough for me to put him here on the list.
6) Norm van Brocklin
I feel sort of bad about putting the Vikings' first ever head coach this far down on the list, but. . .well, I can't really justify anything else. I wasn't alive for the van Brocklin era, but it appears that he never really got along with Fran Tarkenton because he didn't like Sir Francis' penchant for running around. So naturally, after van Brocklin resigned in February of 1967 (leading to Bud Grant's hiring), the Vikings traded Tarkenton to the New York Giants. Makes sense, right?
van Brocklin never got the Vikings to the post-season, compiling a 29-54-1 record in six seasons as Minnesota's coach. But, that's mitigated by the fact that he did take over an expansion team rather than an already finished product.
7) Leslie Frazier
Yep. . .this is about where our most recent coach ranks in the annals of franchise history. I mentioned the adverse circumstances that he dealt with during his tenure, but he only had one good season of the three that saw him coach for all sixteen games. He stuck with some bad coordinators and an outdated defensive system for way too long, and we've been over the quarterback situation ad nauseum. He might have been the nicest guy to ever patrol the sidelines for the Minnesota Vikings, but unfortunately it's not the National Congeniality League. Like I said, I think he'll land on his feet somewhere.
8) Les Steckel
Just like the first name on this list doesn't really require any debate, neither does the last one. Steckel was the anti-Grant, only getting one season as the Vikings' head coach. And, quite frankly, one was enough. By the time the 1984 season was done, Steckel didn't have a whole lot of support. The players hated him, the fans hated him, the media hated him, and that season. . .the first that yours truly spent actually caring about football in general and the Minnesota Vikings specifically. . .might have been the one instance of a Vikings' team ever just giving up. They spent the second half of that season getting slaughtered every week. He's pretty solidly in the basement as far as all-time Vikings coaches go.
So, that's my take on things, folks. . .and we now have a coaching search ahead of us. I'm not expecting the Vikings to hire the next Bud Grant or anything. . .though we really won't know whether they are or not for quite a while. . .but even the next Dennis Green would be pretty nice.
What do you folks think?