Zulgad: With frustrated players, it may be too late for Leslie Frazier
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Leslie Frazier isn't new to crisis management.
One of the primary reasons Frazier was hired as the Minnesota Vikings' coach after the 2010 season was because of the job he did under trying circumstances in the final six games of that campaign.
Frazier got his opportunity when he was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim coach after Brad Childress was fired following a 3-7 start. Frazier was able to guide the Vikings to a 3-3 record, rallying a team that had turned on Childress.
In a bizarre season, Frazier didn't only have to manage players who had grown tired of the previous coach. He also had to keep things under control when the Vikings played back-to-back "home" games at Ford Field in Detroit and at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus after the Metrodome roof collapsed under the weight of a December snowstorm.
What probably got Frazier the job was the Vikings' upset victory at Philadelphia in a game that was delayed from Sunday to Tuesday night because of an expected snowstorm that never happened.
Players seemed to love Frazier's style and calm demeanor and ownership took notice. He was the anti-Childress and that was enough to get him the job in a league where teams are always looking for a 180-degree change in coaches.
The 2011 season was a trying one for the Vikings and Frazier but even during that 3-13 debacle, the grumbling about schemes and systems was kept as hush-hush as possible.
And that's what makes the current situation involving the 1-7 Vikings so interesting.
Veterans Kevin Williams and Brian Robison, both members of the defensive line, did not hide their displeasure with what happened Sunday in the Vikings' 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys won the game on a 90-yard drive that was capped by Tony Romo's 7-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds left.
The fact Williams was willing to go public with his displeasure is especially bad news for Frazier and his coaching staff.
Williams, in his 11th season with the Vikings, is almost always willing to talk after games but isn't ever looking to make headlines. However, he also isn't afraid to speak the truth when he feels something needs to be said.
"I think we could have been in better situations at the end of the game," Williams told reporters.
Williams and Robison weren't happy that the defensive coordinator Alan Williams altered his strategy for the Cowboys' final drive - Dallas started at its own 10-yard line with 2:44 left - and stopped sending four pass rushers.
The two also questioned, rightfully so, why offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave would call a pass play on first down after cornerback A.J. Jefferson intercepted a Tony Romo pass in Cowboys territory with 4:29 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Vikings ahead by three points.
When you have Adrian Peterson in your backfield and the lead, wouldn't it have made more sense to eat clock and, perhaps, have the Pro Bowl running back break off a long run? Instead, Ponder's downfield pass for Greg Jennings fell incomplete and stopped the clock.
According to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune, multiple players criticized the coaching decisions afterward. Meanwhile, the Vikings fell to 1-7 for the first time since the franchise's inaugural season in 1961.
There is little doubt that Frazier addressed the public criticism from players on Monday when the Vikings met to begin preparing for Thursday night's game against Washington, but that doesn't mean all is well.
When players decide to take their angst to the media, it often means that they are tired of trying to explain to the coaching staff why certain things aren't working or need to be altered.
Players on defense also weren't pleased with coaching decisions in Week 2 when Martellus Bennett caught a 16-yard touchdown from Jay Cutler with 10 seconds left to give Chicago a 31-30 victory. At that point, any frustrations were expressed in meeting rooms at Winter Park and the company line from players was that they needed to look at the game film to see what happened.
Of course, they knew exactly what went wrong.
The difference now is the ship is sinking and players are tired of being left to answer questions for which they feel there is plenty of blame to be spread around.
Since it's highly unlikely Frazier will lose his job before the end of the season, it will be his job to again go into crisis management mode and attempt to get everyone back on the same page.
That isn't going to be easy this time.
It might feel like the Vikings have played 14 games but they are only halfway through their schedule. There is a long way to go and the patience of many seems to already have run out.
Another issue for Frazier is that the previous situations he has had to manage usually have allowed him to rally the troops. The mess left by Childress, the Dome collapsing, being stuck in Philadelphia. That was "us against the world."
This time, though, the players are pointing the blame at the coach and his staff and they are doing it in a frontal manner. The Vikings' season already has gone very wrong but when things come completely off the tracks when players start to turn on the coaches.
Will Frazier be able to stop that from happening? Unfortunately, for him, it might be too late.