Head coach Leslie Frazier lost the interim tag because he gained the respect of his players, fellow coaches and Vikings management through a tidal-wave season that ended with him stewarding a calmer ship than the one that set sail in August.
In a way, you can thank Brad Childress for where the Vikings are now. And it's a good thing, really. Yes, many will blame Childress for the Vikings' mess this season — Brett Favre, Sidney Rice, Randy Moss — but there's no need to recap that sad soap opera. Yet Frazier might have been Childress' best hire back in 2007 because Childress knew what his limitations were and that he needed a coach who better related to the players than he could offer.
That's why Frazier also has a leg up on any other coach the Vikings might have considered bringing in. One, he has a unique knowledge of the players and what they can do. Two, he saw what worked and didn't work with Childress. Three, he already has experienced about as wild a ride as any coach could with his team, having had the roof cave in, quite literally and figuratively, in his six-game trial run.
Forget the up-and-down 3-3 mark. Frazier already has passed his test with flying colors.
There is no playbook for what the Vikings have endured — some of it self-inflicted, some of it bad fortune — in the past six months. And the steady-as-she-goes style of Frazier has been, and might be for the future, the perfect antidote for what the Vikings face going forward.
And oh, do they have a lot going forward. We know they'll have a new quarterback, for starters. Frazier raised some eyebrows when he made it clear as an interim coach that he fully backed Brett Favre as the team's starter down the stretch, if he were healthy, over project Joe Webb. But if there was any question about what direction Frazier was headed going forward, he ended it with a pretty convincing comment.
"I cannot think of any circumstance where I would pick up the phone and say, 'Brett, do you want to come back next season?' " Frazier said.
That right there earned Frazier respect — and likely another couple hundred fans who wondered if he weren't just an extension of the failed Childress era.
And about that interim tag ... Frazier approached the job from the moment he got a tenuous grasp on it as if that grasp was ironclad. He worked from Day One as if he assumed this was his position to lose.
"From the day that Zygi and Mark asked me to step into that role of interim head coach, some of the advice I got from different people was, 'Don't look at it as interim, look at it as if you are the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and approach it that way,' " Frazier said. "And that's the way I began to do it from Day One. You are the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings; make decisions based on that fact."
So, which Vikings team is he taking over? The one that was within a few plays of a Super Bowl a year ago or the one that flopped to 6-10? Truthfully, without a QB right now, it's impossible to say they are a title team. Frazier was properly deferential to the way Joe Webb stepped into a bad situation and didn't embarrass himself at season's end, but it's clear the team must find another player — preferably one who could start in Week One next season — who can come in and solidify the position.
But quarterback is just one element of change that Frazier and the Vikings face. He knows that the steady times are not likely to last forever.
"It'll be dramatically different," he said. "You go through an evolution almost every season, it seems, with roster changes. ... We've just got to make sure that we do the right things with acquiring the right people and then re-signing the guys that we want to re-sign."
Frazier likely won't have final say over the 53-man roster the way Childress did, and sources close to the team think that will help avoid any ugly Randy Moss-like situations cropping up. The Vikings might not be able to claim their "Triangle of Authority" still holds water, but there certainly will be a "Structure of Accountability" with Rick Spielman, Rob Brzezinski and Frazier working into that process better than Childress or Fran Foley or any other pieces did previously.
The Vikings knew they needed someone they could trust. They needed someone the players could believe in. The powers-that-be looked at a team that won in Frazier's first two games, lost badly the next two and appeared to be teetering on the edge of entering headlong into a full-fledged coaching search. But Frazier got his players involved and excited about the Eagles game (one that was delayed two days, forcing the players to sit in hotel rooms for 72 hours), and the Vikings' brass took notice. In retrospect, it was the team's best performance of the season.
That was enough to convince them their search could be kept in-house and that Frazier was their guy. His calm and the respect he has earned should serve them well. Change is still a-brewin', but the right man will be overseeing the process.