Zulgad: Leslie Frazier brings much-needed stability to Vikings
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Leslie Frazier said he wasn't trying to send a message two days into training camp when Bryant McKinnie was jettisoned from the Minnesota Vikings roster.
But whatever his intention, there was little doubt the defensive coordinator-turned-head coach served notice of how he would run things when he cut the nearly 400-pound left tackle.
The message: The circus that has so often surrounded this franchise was leaving town.
Frazier is a mild-mannered man whose voice rarely raises about the level of conversational tone. Don't let that fool you. He has run a tight ship in training camp and brought an end to the theatrics and dramatics this club seemed to embrace in years past.
"As players, we appreciate it, and I think we knew what were getting with Coach Frazier, and that's what we really expected," linebacker Chad Greenway said after Tuesday's practice.
"He's as consistent and steady as they come, and he's going to expect that from his players, and he's going to make decisions according to that, and he's going to hold himself to that as well."
Greenway has seen plenty of drama unfold in his six seasons with the Vikings and much of it has started in training camp. In Greenway's rookie season, receiver Koren Robinson led police on a chase that reached speeds of more than 100 miles per hour as he raced through St. Peter and attempted to get back to Mankato.
Then, in 2008, the saga of Brett Favre began with the question of whether the Green Bay Packers would let him go or trade him to the Vikings. The Vikings and then-coach Brad Childress attempted to distance themselves from that one, but Childress was directly responsible for the Favre mania that continued the next two years.
The most memorable moment of the 2010 training camp was standing on the field on a hot and muggy morning and seeing Vikings owners and executives continually huddling as reports swirled that Favre had told members of the organization he wouldn't return.
Childress denied any knowledge of this in his post-practice news conference and attempted to silence his players as well. That actually caused an already ridiculous situation to become that much more bizarre.
Frazier's first training camp as an NFL coach hasn't come without some speed bumps. In addition to the McKinnie situation, fourth-string quarterback Rhett Bomar was arrested for drunken driving early on the morning of Aug. 7 in Mankato.
In both those cases, Frazier handled the situation quickly and decisively and then got back to the business of football. The atmosphere, as a result, in Mankato and around Winter Park has been far better than it was under Childress. Unnecessary tension that once existed is long gone.
"When you're trying to build a championship team, it's hard if you've got a lot of other things you're dealing with other than football," Frazier said.
"Nothing against anything that we've ever done -- it's just my mindset is we've got to be focused on the now and what we have to get done to win a championship. That's not to say that we're not going to have to deal with some issues along the way, but not to the point where hopefully it becomes a distraction to what we're trying to get accomplished."
Frazier took over for Childress with six games left last season and in short order had to do more crisis management than many coaches end up having to handle in their careers. This included the collapse of the Metrodome roof that forced one "home" game to be moved to Detroit and another to be played at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.
Then there was the trip to Philadelphia in which a Sunday night game was postponed because of a blizzard that never happened and was moved to Tuesday.
Despite all of this, Frazier's demeanor never changed and there was never any sign that he was about to lose it. That, along with an upset victory over the Eagles, helped convince owner Zygi Wilf he was the man for the job.
And in many ways, really the anti-Childress.
"It's great, because you can focus on the job at hand," said end Jared Allen, who joined the Vikings in a trade from Kansas City in 2008.
"You don't have to have meetings about outside stuff. Meetings about how to handle the press in certain situations. The questions are more about how we're doing as a team (this year), and that's the focus. The focus isn't on one guy. I think Coach set a good example about when he came in."
Much to Wilf's delight, Frazier hasn't changed one bit since having the interim tag removed from his title at the end of last season.
Where Frazier is truly effective is by allowing his actions to speak for him. The McKinnie move proved you can be a good player and that will get you nowhere if you don't put the team first.
McKinnie signed with Baltimore on Tuesday and the Vikings' decision to let him go could end up being a mistake. Especially if Charlie Johnson continues to struggle as the replacement.
The Vikings could have kept McKinnie around, attempted to have him work his way into shape and then put him back on the field. But the risk in doing that would have been a media circus surrounding McKinnie's every move and the potential for players to say, "Here we go again."
That was something Frazier did not want to have happen, and there is no arguing that, while not every player might have agreed with cutting McKinnie, they all respected something was done before it became a distraction.
"There's an expectation for you as an individual," Allen said of playing for Frazier. "If you can't meet them, it's nothing personal, but (he's) going to find someone that can. That's been his philosophy since I've been here, even from a defensive standpoint.
"I think that's what allows us to have a positive work environment. Nothing is disrespectful. Nothing is in your face. It's that there is a level of expectation. If you can not meet that level of expectation, there is somebody out there that can. And so whether you're a 10-year vet (or) whether you're a rookie, the expectations are the same, and that's what we're all working toward."