Vikings promote Spielman to GM
By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The leaders of the Minnesota Vikings looked around the league and decided the traditional front office has proven to work for many other teams.
The frustration and embarrassment of finishing 3-13 finally put that into focus.
The Vikings elevated Rick Spielman Tuesday to general manager, streamlining a nebulous power structure and making the first move toward reviving a team that matched the worst record in franchise history.
Spielman was promoted from his previous role as vice president of player personnel, which he held since his hire in May 2006. He will now have final authority over all roster-related decisions, in addition to his previous duties running the scouting departments and the draft, instead of the by-committee approach to player transactions with head coach Leslie Frazier.
"We thought long and hard through the season, and we feel this is the right way. Knowing Rick and his body of work, we're confident he's the man to do it," team President Mark Wilf team.
The Vikings haven't had a true general manager since Mike Lynn in the 1980s. They've won a lot of games since then and been in legitimate contention for several Super Bowls, but snags in the group-decision system were exposed when Frazier's predecessor, Brad Childress, hastily cut malcontent wide receiver Randy Moss without consultation last November. Frazier also pushed last summer for the Vikings to acquire veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb to give rookie Christian Ponder more time to learn, but the offense was stagnant during six games under McNabb and Ponder took over in October.
The sharp decline from NFC runner-up two years ago to consecutive last-place finishes with a 9-23 combined record pushed this parting from the preferred collaborative management style the Wilfs have used. They acknowledged that back-to-back division titles in 2008 and 2009 clouded their judgment of the current structure.
"It's a long-term solution for the franchise. We've been successful in the past, but we felt like for the long-term progress and success of the ballclub the model that exists pretty much throughout the league for those successful teams is a model we would follow," team Chairman Zygi Wilf said. He added: "Speaking to other owners and learning from other teams and seeing how their systems have worked, we came to the conclusion that this is the way this has to work."
The power to hire and fire head coaches will stay with the lead owners, the Wilf brothers. Mark Wilf said the organization has "full confidence" in Frazier, and all of the officials who spoke to the media Tuesday expressed confidence the Vikings can turn around quickly. They have the third pick in this year's draft.
"Three and 13 is not acceptable for our fans of the Minnesota Vikings. It's not acceptable for our ownership. It's not acceptable for this organization. I'll take my share of responsibility in that 3-13 record," Spielman said, his voice cracking.
He was emotional earlier in the day, too, when he addressed the staff, and he appeared a bit nervous during his news conference, at one point accidentally referring to Frazier as "Leslie Football." But he expressed plenty of confidence in his ability to help rebuild the Vikings.
"The coaches will still be heavily involved through all our personnel. But it's my responsibility in the end to decide what's best for this organization moving forward. I know I've had a great conversation with Leslie. I have no doubt moving forward that this is even going to grow stronger in our relationship to put a winner on the field," Spielman said.
Frazier praised the move, too. He said it only "enhances" his role.
"The biggest thing is you just want to know what the lines of demarcation are. For me, I know exactly where I need to go when I have to talk about certain matters and get those things handled, and that's good. It's really good for me," Frazier said.
Frazier will still have the final word on his coaching staff, with the defense under particular scrutiny. Frazier said he has no timetable for any changes, however, noting "ongoing discussions." He left open the possibility of switching to a 3-4 scheme, but he reiterated his comfort with their current 4-3 system.
Spielman, the older brother of former NFL linebacker and current college TV analyst Chris Spielman, will start his 22nd season as an NFL executive. He was a scout for the Detroit Lions from 1990-96 and the director of pro personnel for the Chicago Bears from 1997-99 before heading to Miami with head coach Dave Wannstedt in 2000 to be the vice president of player personnel for the Dolphins.
Spielman served mostly as an adviser to Wannstedt on draft, trade and free agency decisions, but Wannstedt's authority was reduced after the 2003 season and Spielman was promoted to general manager over six other candidates. Wannstedt resigned in the middle of a messy 2004 season, when Spielman's moves drew plenty of criticism, including the trade of a second-round draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback A.J. Feeley, who never panned out. Nick Saban took over as Miami's head coach in 2005, and Spielman was squeezed out.
Spielman spent one year as a television analyst for ESPN before coming to Minnesota to replace the fired Fran Foley. He was mostly behind the scenes, addressing the media only around draft time, but he said he's "very excited" about the pressure that will come with the new title and increased responsibility.
"Identify where we can get better and come up with that plan of action on to how to get better. Not just say, 'Yeah, we made a mistake here, what are you going to do?' No, it's going to be, 'Yeah, we made a mistake. Now what are we going to do to make sure that doesn't happen again?'" Spielman said.