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Updated: December 27th, 2012 7:54pm
Pelissero: Calm behind scenes should mean stability in Vikings coaches

Pelissero: Calm behind scenes should mean stability in Vikings coaches

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It was a week or two after the 2010 season, and Brian Murphy still was showing up each day to his office at Minnesota Vikings headquarters.

One day, he looked out the door to his office and saw Mike Priefer, who looked back at Murphy and said something to effect of, "What am I doing here?"

The answer: Priefer was there to interview for the job Murphy had held for five seasons as the Vikings' special teams coordinator.

Days later, Murphy took the same job with Carolina Panthers and Leslie Frazier made Priefer one of his first hires as the Vikings' new head coach.

A similar situation was playing out elsewhere in the building, with Brad Childress' offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, eventually headed to Seattle and replaced by Bill Musgrave.

After the Vikings went 3-13 in 2011, the whole thing happened again, with Fred Pagac accepting a demotion after Frazier began interviewing potential defensive coordinators.

Mel Tucker turned down the job, Raheem Morris went elsewhere, Mike Singletary received a courtesy interview and Frazier finally settled on Alan Williams.

Now, for the first time in three years, the chances of a postseason shakeup seem almost nonexistent as the Vikings push towards the actual postseason, a win-and-in situation awaiting them in Sunday's regular-season finale against Green Bay.

They'll go through their normal evaluation of the entire football operation after the season, but contract extensions seem inevitable for Frazier as well as his three coordinators.

Not only has drama mostly abated behind the scenes, the Vikings have equaled their win total from the past two seasons (nine) with one of the NFL's youngest rosters -- and each unit has an achievement to hang its hat on.

Priefer suggested dumping veteran place-kicker Ryan Longwell and signed off on using a sixth-round draft pick for Blair Walsh, who broke an NFL record with nine field goals from 50-plus yards and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Williams weathered a midseason slump that included poor showings against zone-read attacks at Washington and Seattle, assuaging players' concerns with both flexibility and firmness and getting its most complete performance in Sunday's upset at Houston.

And Musgrave has produced game plans that gave the Vikings a chance to win six consecutive weeks since the loss of top receiver Percy Harvin, redefining scuffling quarterback Christian Ponder's role in an offense that revolves around Adrian Peterson.

Compare that to a year ago, when Longwell struggled through his worst season as a Viking, Frazier took away play-calling duties from Pagac and the doomed trade for quarterback Donovan McNabb left the offense searching for an identity all season.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin was benched for refusing to play the calls. Receiver Bernard Berrian was deactivated twice and later released for a pattern of indifference. McNabb didn't finish the season either, begging for his release after losing his job in Week 6.

There were disagreements in the personnel room about the direction of the roster, too, and Singletary's ineptitude and bizarre behavior as linebackers coach only added to the defense's dysfunction.

It all contributed to the Vikings' decision to shift full control over the football operation to Rick Spielman and allow Frazier to focus on what he knows best, with the benefit of a full offseason after losing five months' work in 2011 to the NFL lockout.

There have been fewer incidents this season, Harvin's unhappiness and departure after going on IR with an ankle injury notwithstanding. And the coaching staff has remained united, which Frazier attributed to the extra work they got at the Senior Bowl in January.

"When you have first- and second-year coordinators, that time of building camaraderie on the staff, it's a big deal," Frazier said this week. "We've had that this offseason, and so by the time our players got in the building, we were pretty concrete on what we needed to get done and how we wanted to get certain things taught.

"Having an offseason where we could spend some quality time together ... we could just concentrate on what happened in the past, what we need to fix personnel-wise as well as scheme, and come together as a group, where you can not only work together, but you can trust one another."

That's not to say there will be no changes pursued by Frazier, who has one year remaining on the three-year contract he signed in January 2011 after a stint as interim coach.

The Vikings generally have tacked on one year at a time to assistant coaches' contracts. But at least one, tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson, is known to be unsigned beyond this season.

Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who has a lot of responsibility with the run game, and Pagac, who has taken over the lion's share of duties with linebackers from Singletary, are two key position coaches the Vikings surely would like to keep in place.

"The biggest thing this year is the communication level between myself and Coach Musgrave, but the rest of the team talking about what they like or dislike, or making adjustments on the sideline or halftime," Ponder said.

"I think guys have a better understanding and a better feel for what they're successful at and what they're good at and I think everyone is a lot more comfortable in what they're doing."

In other words, players are buying in to what coaches are selling, which tends to be easier when things are going well.

The Vikings have won three games in a row to get to 9-6, and Frazier deserves credit for keeping them focused and competitive in what always looked like a rebuilding season.

Perhaps most important in the big picture, there is stability and direction from the top down in the football operation, giving the Vikings a chance to keep growing with a young core as Spielman wants.

So, while no decisions will be finalized until the usual round of meetings after the season, it's a good bet that stability will extend to a coaching staff that should return largely intact.

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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