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Updated: January 4th, 2012 12:08am
Pelissero: At least Vikings know who to blame if power structure flops

Pelissero: At least Vikings know who to blame if power structure flops

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The way things were going, there were only two plausible outcomes: Rick Spielman was going to get promoted or get fired.

That was the gravity of the situation when Minnesota Vikings ownership began serious discussions roughly two months ago about promoting Spielman to general manager, at the same time the team he helped put together was spiraling towards a 3-13 finish.

There had been too many disagreements about roster moves, too many disagreements about playing time, too many situations a little too close to those that drove Spielman out of Miami seven years ago.

Spielman never gave an ultimatum. He didn't need to.

By the time things were finalized on Monday, tilting the power structure Zygi and Mark Wilf espoused since they bought the team in 2005, the Vikings felt they had little choice but to put someone in charge of rebuilding a football operation that needed a vision.

"We've had success in the past many years, and we probably should have taken a harder look even through success," Zygi Wilf said on Tuesday, hours after the promotion was announced. "But a year like we had this year made us realize the long-term success of our ballclub is something that is of utmost importance."

No longer could the Vikings give up draft picks for aging veterans and delay the development of younger players, as they so often did while winning back-to-back NFC North Division titles in 2008 and '09.

No longer could Spielman bring himself to cave in a committee decision-making process that pitted his global outlook against coaches whose sole focus was winning now, even with a roster that wasn't built to do so.

The authority the Vikings handed Spielman on Monday -- control over all football matters and final say on the 53-man roster -- doesn't ensure success. The overhaul ahead is too arduous and Spielman's track record too limited to draw strong conclusions.

What's certain is Spielman will get to execute his vision now, for better or worse, without interruption or exception, and assume all the pressure that goes with being the most powerful football man in the building.

"That's what you want," Spielman said. "When you're in professional sports, whether you're a player, whether you're a coach -- I thrive off of that and I really enjoy the pressure part of it."

It beats taking grenades for decisions that weren't his own, such as the trade that brought Donovan McNabb from Washington in July and artificially inflated expectations for a season that was lost before it began.

It beats fighting battles over who gets exposed to waivers to make room for a practice squad call-up, then agonizing over the next battle he might lose and get blamed for the mistake anyway.

Spielman has made his share of mistakes, too, although he'd argue his draft record ranks well above league average. He hasn't earned the right for this decision to pass without scrutiny.

But when the Wilfs say Spielman's promotion will help Leslie Frazier focus on being the head coach, it's equally an acknowledgement Frazier will be better off taking a back seat in the personnel room to a guy who's been in it for most of the past 15 years.

"The biggest thing is you just want to know what the lines of demarcation are," Frazier said. "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."

It may not be good for Frazier that Spielman now is in a stronger position to decide the fate of the coaching staff, too, even if the new GM said repeatedly on Tuesday that's the coach's responsibility.

Though Spielman will be accountable for the football operation and specifically the roster, what's stopping him from shifting that accountability to the sideline if the next group of players doesn't at least double this season's paltry win total in 2012?

The Wilfs hold Spielman in high regard. He's been their guide on football matters since joining the Vikings as vice president of player personnel in 2006, and the promotion confirms ownership believes in both his expertise as an evaluator and his rebuilding plan.

"I do think we have the right people," Mark Wilf said. "We sat together as an ownership and felt this structure needed to be clarified."

Frazier's predecessor, Brad Childress, had final say over the roster from the time Spielman joined the Vikings in 2006 to his firing in November 2010.

In his previous stop in Miami, Spielman spent four years in a similar position alongside Dave Wannstedt before taking over as GM in 2004, when he cleaned out an aging roster, the Dolphins plummeted to 4-12 and Spielman ended up out of work.

"I think you learn from your experiences," Spielman said. "We had a lot of success down in Miami. We had the one disastrous year. But that's how you get better, and to me, that's what we're going to do internally in all our football ops departments, is to look and see where we can get better."

The defensive coaching staff is expected to be replaced. The rest of Frazier's assistants seem safe, and the scouting department likely will remain unchanged, Spielman said, meaning all other change will have to be effected through remodeling of a roster that's now his sole responsibility.

The way things are going, Spielman has an unenviable task ahead. If nothing else, the Wilfs -- and Spielman himself -- will know who to blame if his vision ends up blind.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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