NFL: Best of friends
MINNEAPOLIS -- The connection was instant when Leslie Frazier and Mike Singletary arrived for their first NFL training camp. Rookie roommates with the Chicago Bears, the two men just clicked, starting a friendship of nearly three decades on commo...
MINNEAPOLIS -- The connection was instant when Leslie Frazier and Mike Singletary arrived for their first NFL training camp. Rookie roommates with the Chicago Bears, the two men just clicked, starting a friendship of nearly three decades on common ground.
They seem like an odd couple. Frazier is the picture of calm, someone who commands respect without needing to raise his voice. Singletary is the eye of the hurricane, his fiery, take-no-prisoners personality on display for everyone.
At least that's the perception. In reality, the two men say they share similar personalities and beliefs. Both are quiet by nature, possess a deep religious faith and are passionate about their families and football. Their wives are close friends; their kids grew up together.
Frazier and Singletary played on one of the most renowned defenses in NFL history, won a championship together, did the "Super Bowl Shuffle" together and held a football clinic for kids every summer after their playing days.
Yin and yang
The two talk at least once a week and don't hesitate to call each other at all hours of the night if something is on their mind. Their relationship is such that Frazier said he considers Singletary his brother.
"There is not enough time for me to tell you how much value and how much trust I have in him," Singletary said.
Frazier, however, draws the line on one issue: He will not drop his pants in the locker room to deliver a point during halftime of a football game.
"No," the Vikings defensive coordinator said, laughing. "I will leave that to my friend in San Francisco to handle."
Singletary made national headlines by dropping his trousers last season in his first game as interim coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He also benched his quarterback, ordered tight end Vernon Davis to the locker room before the game was over because of his attitude, and created a YouTube classic with his "I want winners!" postgame rant to the media.
It seems unlikely that Singletary can top that performance when he brings his team to the Metrodome today to play the Vikings and his close friend. The interim label removed from his title, Singletary is trying to rebuild the organization in his mold, even if it means dropping his pants to underscore that his team was getting its, um, backside kicked.
Frazier, for one, wasn't surprised that his friend took such extreme measures, saying, "I've seen some of those rants up close and personal as a player."
With Da Bears
They came into the NFL as rookies in 1981, Singletary as the hard-hitting linebacker and Frazier a ball-hawking cornerback. The Bears finished 6-10, but Singletary saw the makings of something special. Frazier saw his friend emerge as a vocal leader.
"I can remember him calling us together sometimes as a team and just lashing out," he said. "People think (coach) Mike Ditka was going crazy, but Singletary would get after us as well and talk to us about how we were going to be champions. If you knew what kind of team we were at that time, you didn't see it. But he believed it. He believed that we were going to be world champs."
They did just that in 1985 with the famed Super Bowl XX team. Singletary was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Frazier led the team in interceptions, but a devastating knee injury he suffered in the Super Bowl ended his career.
The injury cut short a promising career. Frazier led the Bears in interceptions three consecutive seasons and picked off 20 passes in 65 games.
"In all my time watching football and coaching football, Les might be the most underrated defensive corner I've ever seen," said Ditka, now an NFL analyst on ESPN. "He was a great player who never got the credit that he deserved. We relied on him and knew that we could put him on the best wide receiver and he would get the job done."
On coaching paths
Singletary had a Hall of Fame career before retiring in 1993. Known as "Samurai Mike," he earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors twice and was selected to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls.
"Everyone knows how truly special he was as a player," Ditka said.
Frazier saw potential in Singletary as a coach, too. Frazier went into coaching after his injury and helped start the football program at Trinity College in Illinois in 1988. He and Singletary hosted a football camp for kids at the school every summer.
"I would look at him and say, 'Man, he could coach if he really wanted to do it,' " Frazier said. "The kids really related to him. He was a great teacher and he commanded so much respect just like he does now."
Coaching intrigued Singletary, but he felt the lifestyle would not allow him to spend enough time with his family. He also had business interests he wanted to pursue.
Frazier continued to encourage his friend to consider coaching, a move he ultimately made in 2003, when he was hired by the Baltimore Ravens to coach linebackers. That started a fast track that took Singletary to San Francisco, where he replaced Mike Nolan, who was fired after seven games last season.
His first-game theatrics aside, Singletary's vision is unmistakable. He wants the 49ers to be physical and play with passion and emotion. He believed his team's practice facility needed a steep hill for conditioning -- and presumably discipline -- so he had one constructed. Nearly every day of training camp this summer included two practices in full pads with lots of hitting.
"He is a very intense leader," said starting quarterback Shaun Hill, a former Vikings backup. "The thing I think everybody appreciates about him is he's 100 percent up front and honest.
"If he has something to say to you he's going to say it. You don't have to worry about where you stand, he will tell you. That's not always the case in the NFL."
Fire and brimstone?
Singletary made reporters laugh during a conference call this week when he said Frazier is filled with competitive rage and described him as a "madman." That prompted one reporter to ask Singletary if they were talking about the same person.
"Leslie can fool you," he said. "He seems to be a quiet guy, really calm and reserved, but inside of him is a rage. Inside of him is a madman. He doesn't let it come out too often, but it's in there. He does a great job covering it up."
"I have no idea what he is talking about," he said, laughing. "When we do talk, I will be sure to ask him that question."
Singletary said he noticed it on the field and also in the way Frazier calls his defense. He recalled a few occasions when Frazier came back to the huddle after a play breathing fire.
"Every now and then someone would do something to him and he would come back to the huddle and say, 'Mike, they have no idea who they are dealing with,' " Singletary said. "So I would know that they were in trouble when they did that."
It's a side of Frazier that few people get to see, even Ditka, who couldn't remember if he ever noticed his former player that angry.
"He might have said, 'Shucks. Aw, heck,' " Ditka said, laughing. "Les was a guy who was quiet, but in a lot of ways that's good. Walk softly and carry a big stick, you know."
Frazier isn't one to rant and rave, but don't mistake that for a lack of fire in the belly. He makes points in his own particular way, leaving no ambiguity in his message.
"You guys (media) don't get a chance to see me in adverse situations very often, but our players do on the defensive side," he said. "The way I go about getting their attention is a little different than most, but it is effective."
Singletary said he believes Frazier's personality, character and coaching acumen would make him a successful head coach. Frazier was a finalist for openings in St. Louis and Denver this offseason and also interviewed with Detroit.
Frazier likely will be a hot candidate after this season, too. He has switched agents and is now represented by high-powered Bob LaMonte, whose clientele includes a number of head coaches, among them Singletary and the Vikings' Brad Childress.
"(Frazier) is a guy that any organization would be proud to have," Singletary said.
Their mutual admiration exists, but the good wishes will be put on hold for a few hours today. The two friends will talk before and after the game and perhaps laugh about Singletary's "madman" reference. They always have something to discuss.
"There isn't a subject that we haven't covered between the two of us," Frazier said. "Kids, family, football, our faith. He's been a great friend, and there's tremendous trust there."
49ers (2-0) at Vikings (2-0)
When: Noon today.
TV/radio: KBRR (GF Channel 10); The Fan (1440 AM).
Synopsis: The 49ers have the better run defense (No. 3 vs. No. 15 in the league), but at this early stage you can't put a lot in that.