Frazier calls out Vikings' GM Spielman
In what turned out to be his final press conference as the Minnesota Vikings head coach, Leslie Frazier essentially called out general manager Rick Spielman.
Frazier, who told ESPN on Friday night that he will become the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on new coach Lovie Smith's staff, said the team’s lack of depth and the entire organization’s inability to fix its quarterback situation were equally to blame for the slide from a 10-win playoff team to 5-10-1.
“I have a contract, our staff has a contract, through 2014 and I hope that the Wilf family will honor that and give us a chance to come back next season and try and get our quarterback situation fixed, try to get the depth of our roster along with some other errors that need to be fixed,” Frazier said after Sunday’s 14-13 win in the final game ever at Mall of America Field.
About 16 hours later, Frazier was fired by owners Mark and Zygi Wilf. He exits with a 21-33-1 record that includes a 3-13 mark just two years ago and a 32nd-ranked defense that came within four points this season of matching the franchise record for most points allowed in a single season.
The Vikings blew five leads in the final minute of regulation this season. The combined time left on the clock in those five games: 2:43. But ultimately Spielman and ownership viewed the resulting 0-4-1 record not as something in Frazier’s favor but an indictment of his staff’s ability to close out games with an effective four-minute offense and two-minute defense.
“We just looked at the whole body of work since Leslie’s been here,” Spielman said. “He’s done a lot of very good things, but we felt, as an organization, it was the right thing to do to move forward. We have the utmost respect for Leslie and what he’s brought to this organization, but again, we have to look for consistency year-in and year-out. And that’s what we’re going to be looking for when we bring in a new head coach: the consistency year-in and year-out, that we are competitive on the field.”
At his mid-season press conference, Spielman made it clear that coaches get paid to make decisions and are ultimately evaluated on who starts and who doesn’t. But in Sunday’s post-game press conference, Frazier said it’s more complicated than that when it comes to quarterback.
Frazier ended up starting three quarterbacks — Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman — this season. Ponder went 2-6-1, Cassel went 3-3 and Freeman’s lone start and action was a 20-for-53 debacle in a 23-7 road loss to the Giants on Monday Night Football. Freeman had practiced with the first team only four times before that game.
“In this position, when you’re talking about the quarterback position, you don’t make these decisions alone,” Frazier said. “The quarterback position, this is a franchise position. It’s a collective decision. At the end of the day, I’m the head coach but when it comes to the quarterback, it’s not like inserting an offensive guard or a wide receiver or tight end. That’s a completely different matter so believe me there were discussions in each one of those situations.”
Spielman took responsibility for the quarterback situation — admitting “I have not gotten that right” — but said he still expects his head coach to achieve consistency when there are issues at quarterback.
“You look at our division this year, the time that (Chicago’s Jay) Cutler missed, the time that (Green Bay’s Aaron) Rodgers missed,” Spielman said. “Those guys had lost some games but somehow survived, and Chicago and Green Bay played for the division title (on Sunday).”
Ultimately, Frazier wasn’t able to get his point across well enough to ownership to save his job. However, with Frazier’s firing, the burden to produce a consistent winner clearly shifts to Spielman, who will be making his first coaching hire since being promoted to general manager in 2012.
Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, admitted he feels partially responsible for Frazier’s firing.
“It was definitely an interesting year, and not the way that I thought it would play out or probably anyone wanted it to play out,” said Ponder. “So with my job, I didn’t play well enough to keep the job and for us to win as many games as we should have. So it stinks knowing that was a contribution to what happened.”
Ponder is the only quarterback technically under contract for next season. Cassel, who finished the year as the starter, has a clause that allows him or the Vikings to opt out of the final year of a two-year deal. Meanwhile, Freeman becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Ponder said Monday that he wants to be a starter. Whether it’s here or somewhere else doesn’t matter, he said.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Ponder said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if both Matt and I are back. I think there could be a lot of competition there, which is good for both of us.”
Ponder then took a shot at the coaching staff, which didn’t return him to the starting lineup after two separate injuries this season.
“If we compete for the starting job, I think I would expect that once a decision is made it will be probably best to stick with that guy and not have what happened this year,” Ponder said. “Matt’s done well and obviously he’s been the starter the past few weeks. And he’ll probably be named the starter going into the offseason if he opts in or they opt in. We’ll see. I think it could be a good competition. We have a good relationship. I think it could work out well.”