'The timing wasn't right' for Bryant McKinnie, Leslie Frazier says
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But in an eight-minute interview with a small group of reporters following the Vikings' afternoon walkthrough, Frazier repeatedly said he didn't feel his overweight left tackle was the right fit for what the team hopes to accomplish in his first season as coach.
"We made a decision for our organization that we thought was the best thing as we're trying to bring a world championship to Minnesota," Frazier said. "In order for us to do that, there are certain things I talked to our team about on that first night, that Sunday night, that we got together as a group and I talked to them about the criteria and what I thought was necessary to win in our league, and in order for us to get where we need to go, there are certain things that has to happen.
"In Bryant's case, he's been a terrific player for the Vikings. I love him as a person. We've gotten a great relationship together. But at this point, for all parties involved, I just thought it was the right thing to do, and I'm sure he's going to catch on with a team and he's going to do well. He's a terrific player right now, but for where we are right now and where we're trying to go to, it just wasn't the right fit for the direction that we want to go."
Frazier repeatedly declined to elaborate on the exact reasons for McKinnie's release, although multiple reports have said the 10th-year pro weighed nearly 400 pounds and also had high cholesterol, prompting the Vikings to place him on the non-football injury list.
But Frazier did say the issue became apparent when McKinnie reported to the Vikings' facility on July 27 to "do the things (players) had to do to receive their bonuses," presumably including a physical. The Vikings released him six days later after failing to find anyone to take him in a trade.
Owner Zygi Wilf said he was aware McKinnie was going to be released but allowed Frazier and Rick Spielman, the Vikings' vice president of player personnel, to make "a football decision."
Wilf added, "The team is in Coach Frazier's hands. I'm not going to worry about that. He has my full confidence."
The following is a transcript of the relevant question-and-answer portion of Wednesday's interview with Frazier:
Did he ask for his release as he said he did?
"There were a lot of conversations about different things in that process, and I don't want to divulge too many details, but some of the things that he says -- I don't know everything he said -- it's OK to believe the things that he said. I appreciate Bryant, appreciate what he did for us."
Were you concerned he would endanger himself on the field?
"It was just a matter of, for what we were trying to do as far as getting ready for this season, it just wasn't going to work in a timely fashion for us to do the things we need to be able to do. Organizationally, after much discussion, just decided this was the best move for this football team."
How long did you think it was going to take him to get into shape if you held onto him? Would it have taken him an entire year?
"Well, I didn't actually tell you what it was that determined whether or not we were going to keep him or not. It was a number of factors. Just the things that were involved just didn't fit with what we were trying to get done."
At what point did you know you had a problem? Did he come in last week or did you hear something about what kind of condition he was in?
"Probably Wednesday when the guys had to come in and do the things they had to do to receive their bonuses. Had an idea. Had no idea where things were going to go, but just had to go through the process and as I mentioned, I know good things are going to happen for Bryant. Unfortunately for us and him, it didn't work out here in Minnesota. But good things will happen for him."
This team relied on Bryant for nine years. Is there disappointment that it had to come to this -- that you had to cut loose one guy at one of the most important positions on your team?
"Well, the left tackle position ... that's an extremely important position in our league, and I know things will work out for Bryant. But we have a guy who we have high hopes for in Charlie Johnson, and we'll give some other guys a chance at that rotation as well. But Charlie's the guy we've penciled in there, and we're excited to have him. He has a Super Bowl ring. He knows what it takes to win in this league, and hopefully, he'll do well."
Just to clarify, you said Wednesday. Is that something that he refused to do things that you asked of him after that, or was it things that had happened prior to him showing up?
"No, Bryant has been compliant with the things I've asked him to do. There were just some things that transpired over time that, as I sat down and talked with our team about what I think it takes to win in our league, that it just wasn't going to work out at this point."
Were you able to gauge players' reaction to McKinnie's release?
"It's hard to say. We've got 90 guys here. But by and large, I think the guys understand what we're trying to do and the direction we want to go. So, I think they understand what we're trying to do."
How much of the move in your mind was philosophical. Did you look at him and think you could get him to shed the weight, or was it just you didn't think you could have this in your program?
"One of the things in Bryant's situation -- although I've never mentioned why we parted ways -- it just wasn't a good fit for what we're trying to do and where we want to go. As I mentioned, I want nothing but the best for him. But for us and what we're trying to do, it just -- the timing wasn't right."
Speaking of that, is there a feeling with everything that you went through last year, such as Sidney Rice's situation, that you want to put your mark on this team by ending some of the nonsense that we saw last year?
"More than anything, I want to bring a championship to Minnesota. I've been around some championship organizations and teams, and I feel like I have a feel for what it takes from a player's standpoint as well as a coach's standpoint to put that together. That's what every decision is based on. Every decision. If you look at our roster, who's here, who's not, every decision is based purely on that -- what's going to bring us a championship to Minnesota? And that's it."
Was it imperative for you, as a new coach, to maybe send a message right away?
"Not at all. I didn't look at it that way at all. The only thing I've tried to do from the moment I stepped in this position, from January and even in the interim basis (last season), is to help shape this team into a championship football team. And none of that means doing this to get people's attention -- just handling every situation independently and that's what I've tried to do."
Did finances have anything to do with it, given his salary and where you guys were at with the salary cap?
"Not at all. Left tackle -- you don't just dispense of those guys for money reasons. Those are the guys you pay money to. No, money was not an issue."