Leslie Frazier continues to lean on leaders, avoid talk about future
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For a second consecutive week, Minnesota Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier gathered his informal leadership council after Wednesday's morning jog-through and delivered the message he wants repeated in the locker room.
"He's just passing the word," veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "Just go out there, lead by example, the other guys are going to feed off of us, go out there, practice hard and that's pretty much it."
This, in essence, is Frazier's plan.
Keep things simple. Don't talk about anything beyond Sunday. Show faith in the players -- from that accomplished group of veterans to the last guy on the roster -- and leave the results in their collective hands.
"I've always believed that players really make this thing work," Frazier said. "You can draw circles on the board and say, 'Hey, if you step here, this is going to happen. If you catch this ball, that's going to ...' It's about players making plays in our business."
That's one of the reasons Frazier continues to deflect big-picture questions each time he speaks with reporters.
If players think about that stuff -- a 4-7 record, the slimmest of playoff hopes, a lame-duck coaching staff and more than 20 players with expiring contracts -- they're not thinking about teams like the Buffalo Bills, who come to the Metrodome on Sunday with a 2-9 record that includes five losses by five points or less.
"I've experienced some things in this league, both as a player and a coach -- my faith gets me through a lot of those moments where I've seen where it might seem a little bit dark for a moment and light arrives," Frazier said. "And so I'm not in the least concerned what happens (after) our final game of the season. Things will work out just fine."
The Vikings were far from perfect in last weekend's 17-13 victory against the Washington Redskins, who might have won if not for five dropped passes, an underthrown ball to an open receiver and an illegal block that wiped out a punt-return touchdown.
But the Vikings opened the Frazier era 1-0 by making fewer errors -- no turnovers, only three penalties -- and exploiting the Redskins' weaknesses, particularly along the lines.
"Over and over again -- 'OK, guys, it's all about who we're playing this week, and that's it,'" quarterback Brett Favre said. "Sometimes, that gets overlooked across this league. It's like going back to the little things, which I thought we did a good job.
"I wouldn't say it was a boring game, but it was mistake-free for the most part. It was a win. If you have a bunch of those in a row, people start saying, you'll be more exciting."
Frazier is acutely aware of how fans have reacted to the disappointing season that led to coach Brad Childress' ouster and Frazier's promotion last week. They've played five games at the Metrodome this season and been booed off the field at halftime of all of them, chants of "Fire Childress!" growing more frequent until owner Zygi Wilf granted fans' wish on Nov. 22.
As he often did during his time as defensive coordinator, Frazier made a point in his Wednesday media conference of encouraging fans "to be loud and boisterious -- in a positive way, of course. That's what I expect. We have great fans here."
Asked whether he'd agree that support has to be earned instead of asked for, Frazier said, "You've got to ask for it and we plan on asking. I'm asking, I'm begging -- whatever it takes. And we're going to show that we're worthy of it by our play."
Frazier said he hasn't talked further with Wilf about what it will take to shed his interim title "and I don't intend to. I really want to concentrate on the Buffalo Bills and what we've got to get done to win this game, and those things will take care of themselves."
About the only major change Frazier has made is moving on Saturday morning into the office previously occupied by Childress, who watched the Washington game and answered Frazier's call that evening.
"He's just so unassuming," Favre said. "Half the time, you really don't know he's there. But a lot of the guys have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his philosophy, and it shows."
The revival of the leadership council, dormant during Childress' final months on the job, is one example of the respect Frazier tries to show in return. Intentionally or not, Frazier seems to be garnering support by setting himself up as the anti-Childress when it comes to managing -- and embracing help from -- the individuals in his locker room.
"It's extremely important -- in this role, as important as anything," Frazier said. "When you're working one side of the ball, you're primarily concerned with that group, and you've got to be able to relate to them as well. But now, as a head coach, man, to be able to touch every guy and make him feel as if he's important to this ballclub -- whether he's a practice-squad guy or your starting quarterback or wide receiver -- that takes some doing.
"That's the way it has to be, because you might be (rookie halfback) Toby Gerhart, who hasn't had 20 carries in a game and all of a sudden, you've got to go perform. If you believe that the coaches believe in you, you don't feel like, 'Oh, man, what are they thinking when I get in the game? I'm not Adrian Peterson.' You actually believe that these coaches believe in me, they trust me, and we're going to do what we talked about doing during the course of the week.
"Being able to manage people is paramount in the role that I'm in."