December 31, 2013 10:56:18 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Monday, the Minnesota Vikings fired its football coach, which normally wouldn't be of much interest in Columbus except among the most fanatic of NFL fans.
These are temporary jobs, after all; on average, NFL teams change head coaches every four years.
But the news from Minnesota hits a little closer to home since the coach that was fired was a much-beloved Columbus native, Leslie Frazier.
Frazier was fired the day after the Vikings ended their 2013 season with a 14-13 win over Detroit, which also fired its coach Monday.
The win completed a 5-10-1 season and marked a steep decline from last year, when the Vikings made the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
Such is the capricious nature of the NFL. One year, Frazier is hailed as great leader; the next he is assigned blame for a season that, when viewed closely, may not have been as big a departure from success as the record indicates. Plagued by inconsistent play at quarterback (the Vikings used three quarterbacks during the course of the season) and an under-performing defense (Minnesota gave up an NFL-high 480 points), the Vikings were not able to duplicate the success of 2012. For all those problems, there were enough "what ifs" this season to make you shake your head in frustration. Of the Vikings' 10 losses, Minnesota held a lead with less than a minute to play in five of those games. Do the math: Had the Vikings held those late-game leads, the record would be reversed and Frazier would be busy today putting together a gameplan for a playoff matchup.
Of course that's not what happened. We may not know whose fault it was, but we know who got the blame.
It's the nature of the NFL, of course. Since the end of the 2009 season, 21 of the 32 NFL teams had replaced their head coaches by the start of the 2013 season. All told, five head coaching got their walking papers Monday, which further emphasizes that NFL head coach may be the highest paid temp job in the world.
For whom the bell tolls? Everybody, eventually. Of course, that's cold comfort for Frazier's hometown fans. The prevailing sentiment is disappointment.
Frazier has maintained close ties with his hometown. He has been generous with his time, as those who attended a June fund-raiser at the Trotter Center where Frazier was the star of the show will attest. While some coaches and athletes are drawn to cameras and attention like moths to a flame, there is nothing in Frazier's character to suggest that he attended that fund-raiser as a means of feeding his ego. If anything, the lowkey coach prefers to avoid the spotlight. And that made his appearance all the more meaningful. He participated purely because it would help raise money for the annual senior citizens Thanksgiving Luncheon hosted each year by mayor Robert Smith, one of Frazier's friends.
Our respect and affection for Frazier has not been diminished by what happened Monday.
But we should temper our disappointment with the knowledge that Frazier is unlikely to feel sorry for himself and wouldn't want us to feel sorry for him, either.
For good reason. Until the end, Frazier has maintained the support of his players and the respect of coaches throughout the NFL. He will not be among the ranks of the unemployed for long, unless, of course, he decides to take a break from coaching. He'll have options, and soon, and we would not be at all surprised if Frazier does not eventually return to the fraternity of NFL head coaches.
After Sunday's game, as the speculation of his firing reached the point where it was unavoidable, Frazier made his case for staying on as the Vikings coach:
"I just have a lot of belief in my abilities as a coach and have a lot of belief in the guys on our team, a lot of belief in our staff, and for that reason you don't have to walk in fear," Frazier told reporters. "You just know that things are going to work out."
Given what we know of Frazier, we can remain confident things are going to work out for this beloved native son.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]