Minnesota Vikings head football coach Leslie Frazier, right, chats with Columbus Mayor Robert Smith during a visit home Saturday. Photo by: Luisa Porter
July 2, 2011 10:09:00 PM
Leslie Frazier is accustomed to heat. After all, he was raised in Columbus and grew up beneath the glare of the Mississippi sun. If the suffocating temperatures or the stranglehold of a media gaggle perturbed him Saturday afternoon, he didn''t let it show.
Instead, the Columbus native turned Minnesota Vikings head coach trotted easily up the steps of City Hall, ever the picture of grace and restrained Southern charm.
If anything good can be said of the NFL lockout, it is this: At least it gives a man a chance to spend a holiday with his family and old pals, away from the fishbowl.
Well. Sort of.
Frazier arrived in Columbus Friday evening with his wife, Gale, his daughter, Chantel, his son, Corey, and a notebook-wielding, tripod-laden entourage that included a television crew from Minneapolis-based ABC affiliate KPTV and writers from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Outside City Hall on Saturday, beneath a shade tree on Main Street, Frazier insisted that the lack of privacy doesn''t bother him, even when it turns a holiday weekend down home with the family into a media circus.
It comes with the territory, he said. You can accept the exposure or wilt beneath it, but if you remember who you are and whom you represent, somehow things work out according to God''s plan.
His unshakable faith has imparted to him an almost unflappable confidence, and it guides his every step.
It brought him through a childhood where he was raised by his grandmother and never saw his father.
It brought him through his teenage years at Lee High School, where he survived afternoons cutting grass for neighbors in the sweltering heat, humid nights striping the fields of Propst and Sim Scott Parks, and scorching days of Southern summer football practice -- something he jokingly suggested might benefit the decidedly cooler-natured Vikings.
It brought him to Alcorn State, where a hamstring injury nearly dashed his NFL hopes, and it carried him to the Chicago Bears, where a 1985 Super Bowl injury ended his NFL career and set him on a path he never thought he would take -- coaching.
Things haven''t gotten easier since Frazier was named the Vikings'' head coach last year. He is faced with an aging team, a spotty roster, and the ever-looming question of who will fill the all-important quarterback position.
Then, there is the NFL lockout.
Through it all, he prays, just as he prayed as a young boy at St. James Methodist Church, which he plans to visit Sunday morning. For everything he has accomplished, he gives credit to God. For everything he faces, he turns to God for strength.
"I don''t know how I would have dealt with the pressures otherwise," Frazier said Saturday.
Still, it''s all a bit strange, from the media hoopla, to the hometown that no longer looks the way he remembers.
"Driving in (from Houston, Texas) was surreal," he said. "I was thinking of where I grew up today and trying to remember how to get to the high school."
It''s not just changes to the city infrastructure he notices. It''s changes to the social fabric of Columbus as well. Back in the 60s and 70s, the world was divided into black and white. Now, all Frazier sees is Viking purple.
And though he never thought he would become a coach, now he doesn''t blink when he examines the trajectory his life has taken.
"My dream has come true," Frazier said, without a trace of hesitation in his soft voice.
Despite the notoriety, he remains decidedly low-key, and though his trips to Columbus are more sporadic now, he said he enjoys the ability to slip in and out relatively unnoticed.
"Sometimes I get a stare, but I get about pretty good," he said, noting he was able to have lunch at Ryan''s earlier in the day without much fanfare. When he is recognized, he signs autographs with affable aplomb.
Ever humble, and noted for his politeness, Frazier said his greatest pleasure comes not from being known but from getting to know and mentor his team.
In his spare time, he is active with All-Pro Dad, which connects athletes with children as role models, and recently he has been discussing with Mayor Robert Smith the possibility of setting up a scholarship for Columbus youth. They need to understand that coming from a small town in Mississippi doesn''t mean their dreams can''t come true, he said. He is proof.
"He''s a role model for any student growing up," Smith said. "He shows that regardless of race or nationality, you can be anything you want to be. He''s low-key, but he gets his point across, and players love playing for him. All the accolades he''s received in his lifetime, he deserves them."
The next time Frazier comes home, there may be one more honor: If Smith gets his way, there will be a street named after him.
And chances are, the NFL''s quietest coach will just smile and keep working.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
roscoe p. coltrain commented at 7/4/2011 6:09:00 AM:
Hey Mayor, instead of chatting with football players why don't you get up off that fat azz and get the ditch project started already?
benlee1 commented at 7/4/2011 11:52:00 AM:
This is not about the mayor, its simply giving man props for representing our city so well. I am proud of you coach Frazier.
roscoe p. coltrain commented at 7/5/2011 6:26:00 AM:
Well this is about the mayor: any man who will lie to you about a simple thing like a ditch will lie to you about anything else.
He needs to go back to bail bonding.
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