If Leslie Frazier thought he had a challenging rookie season as a player with Buddy Ryan barking at him, he may be looking back on those days of the early 1980s with a fond sense of revisionist history.
These days, Fraziers encounters in his rookie season as a full-time NFL head coach are more challenging. There is greater responsibility, more instantaneous reaction and a sporting fan base thirstier for public morsels, good and bad.
If Frazier had any notion that things would go swimmingly once he was in charge of the Minnesota Vikings, those illusions were quickly revealed as delusions during his stint last season as the interim coach. In 2010, some of the challenges could be written off as bitter leftovers from the table Brad Childress had set. There were the desperation move of begging Brett Favre to return, using the unprecedented tactic of sending three players to retrieve him from his Mississippi mansion. There was Childress last desperate effort to salvage what turned out to be the coachs final season by trading for Randy Moss. Moss was released after four games, and the way Childress handled it without notifying the front office or ownership helped precipitate his firing.
But it wasnt just player-related issues Frazier had to deal with when he took over on an interim basis during the final six games after Childress was canned. The collapse of the Metrodome roof led to two home games being played away from home, and then a snowstorm turned Sunday afternoon game turned into a Tuesday night game and an extended stay in the City of Brotherly Love. Through it all, Frazier managed a 3-3 record and pulled the Vikings out of a tailspin.
But what little on-field momentum Frazier built at the end of 2010 hasnt carried over, and the separation from the Childress era is long enough that the issues facing the Vikings are on Fraziers watch now. And the new issues are starting to create their own vortex.
Without the benefit of an offseason program, wiped away because of the NFL lockout, Frazier couldnt keep tabs on his players for about five months, and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie took full advantage of the freedom to pack on weight. Frazier wouldnt have any of it and released him two days into training camp.
Safety Madieu Williams, who brought with him playmaking promise from the Cincinnati Bengals, suffered a neck injury in his initial training camp with the Vikings. He was never the same player and, when he refused a pay cut, was released.
Despite Frazier repeatedly saying that the salary cap had nothing to do with those moves, the Vikings needed to trim more than 10 million in 2011 salary before the start of the regular season, which actually was the byproduct of the teams all-in 2010 strategy that with aging and expensive veterans.
But even before those roster moves, the offseason troubles were mounting. Not long after Frazier was given the job full-time, defensive lineman Everson Griffen began a string of poor West Coast decision-making. Back in Los Angeles last January, he was arrested on suspicion of felony battery and brought down with a taser before his arrest. He was initially pulled over for a traffic stop and, according to the arresting officer, became aggressive with the officers and tried to run away. Frazier made a call to Griffen to try to put him on the right path.
The coach had to make a similar pre-lockout call to cornerback Chris Cook when he was arrested on suspicion of brandishing a gun during an altercation with one of his mothers neighbors, a charge that was later dropped. Cook said this summer it was a learning experience after a rookie shock and that he had matured. But his arrest on Saturday continued a troubling trend for him over the past three years, starting with a suspension at the University Virginia. He was released from jail on Tuesday after being charged with felony domestic assault and issued a public apology via Twitter to Vikings ownership, coaching staff, my teammates and friends and family.
There have been no such legal troubles from Bernard Berrian, just a series of lackluster performances, grousing about being under-used, public Twitter feuds with fans (including a co-author of a proposed Vikings stadium bill), and two deactivations in the past three games. Frazier finally had enough of it and put Berrian on waivers.
McKinnie (despite one Pro Bowl nomination), Williams and Berrian were all chronic underachievers carrying hefty salary-cap numbers and all are now erased from the Vikings roster. Griffen and Cook are two young players who have showed plenty of potential, but they carry a lot of risk for a coach whose early rsum and reputation is being tarnished.
Frazier is trying to establish a culture where players are held to a consistent accountability, both with their work ethic and through promoting a positive image. He admits that discipline might not always be considered "fair" among the players, but the coach is stressing consistency. Frazier tries to offer that even-keeled approach in his coaching and the discipline he hands down, from opening-series benchings to deactivations to the outright release of perceived problem players (or just those that dont fit with what hes trying to accomplish).
Fortunately, Frazier still has some core players with hearty, impassioned desires to be great.
Jared Allen has always been a fiery leader on the field and is standing up and imploring that same competitiveness from others. Adrian Peterson isnt as outspoken as Allen, but any of his teammates who watch the reckless abandon with which he runs knows he leads by example.
In all of the messes his players have put Frazier in so far, he has protected them as much as possible with his public comments. At some point (soon would be good), they need to follow suit and protect the job (and image) of the coach who has publicly treated some of them with more respect than theyve earned.