June 28, 2013 10:41:03 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Finally, the dirt on Leslie Frazier.
Thursday, Frazier returned to his native Columbus, serving as keynote speaker at a fundraiser held at the Trotter Convention Center for the Mayors Senior Citizens Thanksgiving Luncheon.
What passes for a scandal when it comes to Frazier, now the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, was revealed during Frazier's introduction by mayor Robert Smith, one of Frazier's coaches at Lee High who has remained his friend for close to 40 years now.
Smith told an enthusiastic crowd of about 400 about driving around Columbus earlier in the day, the two men reminiscing about the people and places Frazier recalled from Columbus circa the mid-1970s.
"He asked me about Mrs. Joyce Coleman, his first-grade teacher," Smith told the audience. "He said he always remembered her because when back then, he was always running around playing Wild Wild West, a TV show from back then. He was doing that in class one day and Mrs. Coleman told him, 'Yeah. You just keep t up. You'll be doing Wild Wild West here next year when you repeat first grade."'
OK. As scandals go, it's pretty mild stuff. For those who have known Frazier, it is not at all surprising.
Alfred Walker Jr. was a couple of grades behind Frazier at Lee High. While he remembers Frazier as superb athlete, it was not that quality that impressed him most.
"The thing about Leslie is that while he was Mr. Lee High, Mr. everything really, you would never know it," said Walker, who is in the food service business in Houston, Texas, and in Columbus on business. "He could have been the Big Man on Campus, but he never came off that way. He was just a real friendly, serious-minded guy. I guess what I remember best is he was always prepared. He could have gotten by on talent alone, but he wanted to always be prepared. That always stuck with me."
During his short speech, Frazier paid homage to the two influences that shaped his life and guided him throughout his career as an athlete and coach.
He credited his grandmother, Ozella Gaston, who took him into her home along with his two brothers when they were young children, as being a transformative figure in his life. He said he never forgot the sacrifices his grandmother made.
"As I went along, I just never wanted to do anything that would lead to my grandmother getting that phone call that went, 'We just picked up Leslie' for getting into some sort of trouble," he told the audience.
His grandmother would also play a role in what Frazier sees as an even greater influence in his life.
"She always made sure I was in church on Sundays," Frazier told his audience. "Now, as a little kid, I didn't always want to get up and go to church. She made sure I did and I've found that was the greatest gift she ever gave me."
Frazier quoted Bible verses liberally, as he told his audience about how his Christian faith sustained him through times of uncertainty. His faith helped him come to terms with a premature end to his career as an NFL player and guided him "every step of the way" as he began his career as a coach, which included stints as a college coach, an NFL assistant coach and, finally, the head coaching position with the Vikings, a job promotion that came n January of 2011.
Interestingly, he told his audience, his faith and the vivid memory of not wanting to disappoint his grandmother played a role in helping the Vikings sign a player who would become a dominant force for the Vikings.
The player was Jared Allen, an immensely talented and deeply-troubled defensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs. It was in 2008 and Frazier was an assistant coach for the Vikings.
"Jared had some serious problems with alcohol, to the point where the Chiefs had had enough and were looking to make a trade," Frazier recalled. "He had several teams looking at him, including the Vikings."
Frazier was intrigued. He arranged to go with the team owner to meet with Allen in San Diego. After talking with the troubled star, Frazier said he began to have an overwhelming feeling that the Vikings were the best place for Allen.
"I sensed there was something spiritual at work here," Frazier said. "I remember telling him, 'You're going to be a great player wherever you go. But if you come to Minnesota, you'll become a better man.'"
Recalling how the mere thought of disappointing his grandmother motivated him, he told Allen something else:
"Come to Minnesota and you'll be the man your father always wanted you to be."
It worked. Within a few hours, Allen had called his agent and told him to end negotiations with other teams. He was going to sign with the Vikings.
Since then, he's been a first-team All-Pro three times.
More than that, Frazier noted, "he's become one of the spiritual leaders of our team."
Near the end of his speech, Frazier could not resist acknowledging a few of the people who had played key roles during his formative years in Columbus -- John Dickerson, his baseball coach at Lee High and Dennis Coleman, his head football coach at Lee High.
And, of course, there was Joyce Coleman, the first-grade teacher who scared the Wild Wild West right out of Leslie Frazier.
She stood and waved and beamed with joy.
No hard feelings.
That's the way all scandals should end.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]