The Sports Xchange, Published January 03 2014
Former Vikings coach Frazier calls out GM SpielmanIn 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 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.
--The Vikings have reportedly requested permission to interview Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
--Quarterback Christian Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, admitted he feels partially responsible for coach Leslie Frazier's firing on Monday morning. Ponder never lived up to his draft billing and regress in Year 3, forcing Frazier to bench him in what became a three-headed quarterbacking nightmare that ultimately cost Frazier his job.
"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, who went 2-6-1 as a starter this year. "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."
--Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleged in an article Thursday that he lost his job because of his outspoken public support of same-sex marriage.
The Vikings issued a statement Thursday, saying Kluwe's release in 2012 was based on his football performance, but the organization would review Kluwe's allegations.
Kluwe, writing for Deadspin in an article titled, "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot," blames former coach Leslie Frazier, general manager Rick Spielman and special teams coach Mike Priefer. Kluwe also writes that he wants to make sure Priefer never gets another coaching job again.
"I honestly don't know if my activism was the reason I got fired," Kluwe writes. "However, I'm pretty confident it was."
Reached by ESPN.com, Kluwe said that he didn't approach the team, the NFL or the NFLPA about the comments at the time because doing so is "something that ends careers."
Kluwe said in the article that Priefer criticized the punter throughout the season for his support of same-sex marriage.
"I vehemently deny today's allegations made by Chris Kluwe," Priefer said. "I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member.
"As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field. The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children."
Kluwe was released by the Vikings last May. He has yet to find another job.
The Vikings released a statement Thursday after Kluwe's accusations became a national story:
"The Minnesota Vikings were made aware of Chris Kluwe's allegations for the first time today. We take them very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter.
"As an organization, the Vikings consistently strive to create a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for all of our players, coaches and front office personnel. We do not tolerate discrimination at any level.
"The team has long respected our players' and associates' individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. Because he was identified with the Vikings, Chris was asked to be respectful while expressing his opinions. Team ownership and management also repeatedly emphasized to Chris that the Vikings would not impinge on his right to express his views.
"Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy. Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.
"We will have further comment at the appropriate time."
Vikings players lined up to support Priefer.
Kicker Blair Walsh, who used to have Kluwe as his holder, issued a statement that read, "I have had countless conversations and interactions with coach Priefer, and I personally can attest to his integrity and character.
"His professionalism in the workplace is exemplary, and I firmly believe that my teammates would whole-heartedly agree. The allegations made today are reprehensible and totally not compatible with what Mike Priefer stands for."
Punter Jeff Locke posted on his Twitter account, "In my short time with the Vikings, Coach Priefer has treated me with respect and has helped me develop as a player and person. I have never witnessed any actions or statements by Coach Priefer similar to those described in the recent Deadspin article."
Fullback Jerome Felton wrote on Twitter, "Coach Mike Preifer (sic) has always been professional and one of the best special teams coaches I have been around! ... I have never witnessed him say anything close to what's been alleged. That's just my experience!"
Safety Harrison Smith posted on Twitter, "Since I've had the privilege of playing for Mike Preifer he has been nothing but a class act coach and a respectful human being."
--Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson was arrested on New Year's Day for suspicion of DWI, his second drunk-driving arrest since November.
"We are aware of the matter involving Erin Henderson," the team said in a statement. "We are continuing to gather information and will have further comment at the appropriate time."
Henderson was arrested Wednesday in Chanhassen, Minn., on suspicion of DWI. According to jail records, Henderson was booked into the Carver County Jail at 3:03 p.m. for fourth-degree DWI, third-degree DWI, second-degree DWI test refusal and violating the conditions of a limited driver's license, WCCO-TV in Minneapolis reported.
Henderson sued the state of Minnesota in late November 2013 after being arrested for probable cause of driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance. He filed a lawsuit, stating the police didn't have probable cause to stop him.
In another incident, according to the Minnesota State Patrol, Henderson was stopped on Aug. 31, 2013 after troopers noticed him weaving. He was warned and released.
USAToday.com's Tom Pelissero expects Henderson to be released after the Super Bowl, once rosters become unfrozen for non-playoff teams.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Christian Ponder is the only quarterback technically under contract for next season. Matt 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, Josh 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."
SEASON REPORT CARD
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- The root of the collapse from 10-win playoff team to 5-10-1 was quarterback play. The Vikings were doomed when it became painfully obvious during an 0-3 start that Christian Ponder had regressed in Year 3.
The Josh Freeman in-season signing led to more confusion and one heck of an embarrassing Monday Night Football performance in which Freeman, after just four practices with the first team, completed just 20 of 53 passes in a 23-7 loss to the Giants. Matt Cassel wasn't great, but he did keep this unit from receiving a failing grade by going 3-2 as a starter. In the final four games, he saved the Bears overtime win in relief and posted a 2-1 mark as a starter in the final three games. Overall, the three quarterbacks combined for a 59.5 completion percentage (19th), 18 touchdowns, 19 interceptions and a 76.0 passer rating (24th).
The offensive line did not live up to its preseason billing after returning intact from last season. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson proved he'll be a future superstar, but the coaching staff was too conservative with incorporating him into the offense. Prized free agent Greg Jennings showed a few glimpses of his old self when paired with Cassel, but, overall, his season was a reminder that in most cases quarterbacks make the receiver, not vice versa. And Jennings sure as heck wasn't playing with Aaron Rodgers or Brett Favre this season.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Yeah, the Vikings were eighth in rushing (130.1). Yeah, they were second in average per carry (4.9). And, yeah, they were first in rushing touchdowns (23). But when the bar is set as high as reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson set it last season, well, this season wasn't good enough.
A season that started with Peterson rushing 78 yards for a touchdown on the first snap from scrimmage in Detroit quickly became a struggle to control the line of scrimmage. The line allowed too much penetration, creating too many tackles for loss and leading to the coaching staff losing faith in the running game for a while early on.
Peterson still had a strong season that would be considered great by others less talented. But injuries and two missed games marred his season and dropped him to fifth in the league with 1,266 yards rushing. The Vikings did, however, go 2-0 in games in which both Peterson and his primary backup, Toby Gerhart, were sidelined. No. 3 back Matt Asiata, who went into those games with only three career carries, had 44 carries for 165 yards and three touchdowns in those two games.
PASS DEFENSE: F-minus -- The Vikings blew five leads in the final minute of regulation because of quarterbacks and a pass defense that were incapable of protecting leads.
They went 0-4-1 in those games, managing only a tie in overtime in Green Bay. Although Jared Allen reached double digits in sacks (11 1/2) for the seventh straight season, the pass rush wasn't nearly as dominant as it has been in recent years. That left an injury-plagued, overmatched secondary exposed on a consistent basis. And that combination was abysmal on third downs, where the Vikings ranked 31st while consistently giving up third-and-long conversions. Ultimately, that led to the Vikings ranking 31st in pass defense (287.4), 31st in total defense (397.8) and last in scoring defense (30.0).
The release of cornerback Antoine Winfield in a salary-cap move last spring started a downward spiral for the secondary. Winfield was the team's best defensive back. When he left, that became free safety Harrison Smith, a future All-Pro candidate. When Smith spent eight weeks on injured reserve with a turf-toe injury, the secondary unraveled. Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes showed tremendous promise toward the end of the season, amassing a team rookie record 23 passes defensed before an ankle injury sidelined him the final two games.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Vikings get a middle-of-the-road grade in part because opponents knew they could win by throwing the football against the second-worst pass defense in the league. When teams absolutely needed to run, however, chances are they got the yards they needed. The Packers ran for 182 yards on 42 carries in a win at the Metrodome and then hit the Vikings with 196 yards on 34 carries in the tie in Green Bay. Nose tackle is one of the under-the-radar positions that's in serious need of an upgrade this offseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Rookie kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson led the NFL and set a team record with a 32.4-yard average, while punt returner Marcus Sherels finished second and set a team record with a 15.2-yard average.
Rookie punter Jeff Locke's numbers -- 44.2-yard gross, 39.2-yard net -- were similar to long-time former punter Chris Kluwe's numbers a year ago. Unfortunately, those numbers were part of the reason Kluwe was released to make room for Locke. Locke did better as the season went along, but lacked the consistency and ability to pin teams near the goal line the way Kluwe did for a number of years.
The Vikings' coverage teams were the only thing standing in the way of an A grade here. The kickoff coverage was 31st in the NFL. That included a 80-yard touchdown off a pooch kick in the closing seconds of the last-minute loss at Baltimore.
COACHING: D -- The coaching staff mishandled the quarterback position, was too conservative in the way it incorporated Patterson into the offense and deserves blame for an outdated defensive scheme that played a role in five blown leads in the final minute of regulation. However, even though coach Leslie Frazier was fired with a 21-33-1 record in three-plus years, he shouldn't be given a failing grade. He's partly responsible for the drafting of Christian Ponder in 2011, which came before Rick Spielman was promoted to his current position as general manager. But Spielman didn't improve the position enough and made things more difficult for Frazier by signing Josh Freeman during the season. Spielman also is responsible for the team's depth, which became an issue in the secondary after Antoine Winfield was released and injuries began to mount. Offensively, coordinator Bill Musgrave was way too conservative with Patterson early in the season. By the time Patterson's season took off, the team was realistically out of the playoff picture. Defensively, coordinator Alan Williams lost the respect of players, who grumbled openly after multiple games about the defensive calls that were made.