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COMMENTARY: Vikings' Leslie Frazier makes order out of chaos

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Leslie Frazier is in his Winter Park office working on a game plan for the season opener against the San Diego Chargers. Never mind that he has no idea what his roster will look like and that the contest is four months away --...

Leslie Frazier
Minnesota Vikings interim head coach Leslie Frazier walks onto the field before an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., in 2010. Frazier later was named head coach. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)


Leslie Frazier is in his Winter Park office working on a game plan for the season opener against the San Diego Chargers. Never mind that he has no idea what his roster will look like and that the contest is four months away -- if the season starts on time.

"Ordinarily, we'd be preparing for OTAs and mini-camps," Frazier said. "But so far this year, that's kind of on hold. So we're able to jump ahead a little bit. We can put together a skeleton of what we want to do against San Diego."

As Frazier prepares for his first full season as Vikings coach, he can't help but notice the NFL is sort of falling down around him. The labor situation, with the accompanying lockout, is a mess. But he's handling it OK because, well, this is what he does.

Leslie Frazier makes order out of chaos. He is the calm after any storm.


Frazier could bring tranquillity to a mosh pit. And that's pretty much what he did after taking over the Vikings 10 games into last season.

Looking back on it, the team was in disarray. There was the Randy Moss fiasco, the firing of Brad Childress and the never-ending saga of the injured Brett Favre and his alleged racy text messages as a New York Jet. The Dome roof collapsed. Weather played havoc with the schedule.

Frazier calmed things down.

"I knew that we were a fractured group and that we needed to come together in order to have a chance to finish on any kind of a positive," Frazier recalled. "Anything I was doing in 2010 was

preparing for 2011. In my mind, I knew the lay of the land and I knew we needed to get that team, our team, focused on football and not on some of the stuff that had gone on in the weeks prior to that.

"Calmness would be a good way to phrase it, but it was more than that. There needed to be some unity toward a common goal. My style of leadership is just to empower the people around me to understand their role and to know that I'm supportive of them and to be able to influence their thought process and their preparation. That comes from respect and trust.

"I think our players respect me. I think they trust me. And that's how you get people unified toward one common goal."

This is a fellow who almost never loses his temper and, when he does, might show his displeasure simply by scowling. That is amazing to me considering that Frazier learned the NFL ropes under the tutelage of coaches such as Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan and Andy Reid. Those guys are hard-edged.


Ditka, in particular, was a wild man. He probably should have been on Prozac long before he was on Levitra. Priorities, priorities...

"One of the things that I learned, and that was solidified in my mind when I was in Indy with Tony (Dungy), is that you have to be yourself," Frazier said. "That's what the players want. If I try to pretend to be Mike Ditka when that's not my personality, then those players are going to see right through that and you're going to eventually lose them, especially when you face some adverse times.

"That is the most important thing for me. You can sleep at night when you haven't compromised who you are to achieve your goals."

Frazier has put together what appears to be an outstanding staff, one that includes former head coach Mike Singletary. Some first-year coaches might be uncomfortable with a high-profile former head coach on staff and, according to public perception, perhaps "waiting in the wings." Not Frazier.

"I know that's so true," Frazier said. "I also know just being around people like Buddy Ryan, Mike Ditka and Tony that you want to surround yourself with the best. Now, you have to be a pretty secure person in who you are in order to do that. In our business, I really believe that's an ingredient for success. You can't be so ego-driven that you're afraid of who is going to get credit.

"It's not about my name being in the newspapers after a win. That doesn't move me. What moves me is bringing a championship to the Minnesota Vikings. Now that gets me excited."

All he needs right now is to get his players in camp. Frazier isn't even allowed to call and say hello. He pushed hard to get a quarterback early in the draft. But as the lockout washes away OTAs and mini-camps, the likelihood increases that rookie quarterback Christian Ponder will not be able to start the season under center. There just won't be enough time for him to learn all he has to learn.

"It kind of reminds me of when I came into the league and you didn't have all these OTAs and mini-camps," said Frazier, a star cornerback with the Chicago Bears in the early to mid-1980s. "You had that one mini-camp after the draft and you didn't expect a rookie quarterback to come in and start right away. We had Jim McMahon taken in the first round, but there was nobody clamoring that he had to be a starter.


"It's different this year, no doubt. We do have some areas we targeted, areas we want to upgrade. Is free agency the way to go to do that? Is there someone we've identified that can upgrade us in that area? Or do we say, you know what, we'll try to get the guys that are here to play a little better and look forward to the 2012 draft?"

As unflappable as he is, however, there is a way to get Frazier going. Just bring up the "Super Bowl Shuffle," the cheesy-but-popular 1985 music video featuring, among others, McMahon, Singletary, William "The Fridge" Perry and Walter Payton. Frazier, who led the team in interceptions that year, did not have a "rapping" part. Instead, he was part of the dance line and chorus.

"No! No! 'The Super Bowl Shuffle,' man...that's not something I'm sitting around bragging about, me out there two-stepping!" he said with a big laugh. "That's not a highlight for me. But believe me, they tease me. Yes, they do.

"Believe me, those guys give me a hard time about that shuffle. Even to this day, it blows me away to remember that and to talk about it."

Meanwhile, this San Diego game plan thing is getting old.

"We'll do a study on the NFC North," he said. "We'll go back and dissect them. And we're still looking at potential free agents, just trying to be sure that you've got them lined up right. So we've got some things to keep us busy. But what we really look forward to is getting our players in."

When he does, Frazier is confident the team will be successful. In a way, he believes he was meant to be here in this situation.

"I've always believed that whatever situation I was in we were going to be successful," he said. "When I left Trinity College (as head coach), I didn't leave to be a defensive backs coach my whole career. I left Trinity with the goal of becoming an NFL head coach.


"I've always believed this was going to happen."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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