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Frazier remains safe, but how safe?

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted Dec. 19, 2011 @ 2:12 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

The general consensus, in polling people close to the Vikings' situation, is that head coach Leslie Frazier still remains likely to return in 2012, despite his football world crumbling around him.

But the reason why might not be terribly assuring for many people. It's most likely that the Wilf family will not want to have to pay three head coaches next season — Brad Childress, who is still owed money, Frazier, plus a new head coach — as well as two sets of assistants, and that appears to be the best anyone can offer.

With the Vikings heading for their worst season in franchise history, there is little else to fall back on.

The PFW Spin

No one definitively can say that Frazier remains the coach without question. That's because the Wilfs have failed to address the situation, and they likely are not going to until the day after the merciful end to a horrible season. What could go wrong has this season, and measures that were implemented to help prevent such a fall have failed miserably.

The team brought in a veteran QB (Donovan McNabb) who was supposed to usher in stability and provide a bridge to the future (Christian Ponder). Instead, McNabb's presence was a divisive force in the locker room and in coaches' meetings, and he was let go in favor of a rookie who seemingly has regressed in recent weeks.

A veteran defense expected to, at minimum, be a steadying presence has been, save for a monster season from DE Jared Allen, a disaster. To the point where the coaches are internally discussing a radical shift to a 3-4 scheme, one that would take Allen, its best player, out of his best spot. Sunday's loss to the Saints showed that the Vikings have zero chance to cancel out an elite passing game. Not even when Allen is burning up the edge.

A running game that should rank among the NFL's elite in terms of talent with Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart and Percy Harvin has been good (fourth in yards per game) but hardly dominant. The reason primarily is that the offensive line, save for C John Sullivan, has been terribly spotty and that the QB play has been as well.

Frazier has failed in several game-day coaching situations, especially of late. His questionable decision to go for it on 4th-and-goal in Atlanta was regrettable. Against the Broncos, it was Frazier's insistence on sitting back in a cover-2 (yes, Frazier appears to have re-seized control on the defense from coordinator Fred Pagac), a defense that his DBs clearly have shown they can't play effectively for long stretches, late in the game with a lead that quickly evaporated. In Week 14, it was starting Ponder against the Lions despite almost no practice time during the week and a balky hip. And Sunday, it was giving the ball to Peterson a mere 10 times, inexplicable in a game the Vikings knew they had to somehow slow down Drew Brees and keep him off the field to have a chance.

There also are those who say that Frazier's milquetoast demeanor isn't edgy enough to fire up his team, although proponents of Tom Landry and Tony Dungy clearly could make a good argument that this means little. The steady-as-she-goes approach, however, isn't working. Drastic moves must be made. McNabb's release was one, but that was not enough.

It appears coaching-staff changes are on the horizon — with Pagac the likeliest of victims — but they must be carefully chosen. Hacking and slashing Childress holdover assistants without purpose has no place. Frazier must identify his own weaknesses and attempt to fill those voids, on the staff and on the roster next season; all great leaders know they must surround themselves with the best people, sometimes the people that are even greater than they are.

If Frazier is to return, he must delegate more and micromanage less. Will he get the chance? Probably, but not certainly.

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