EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- After a season of promise dissolved in blown fourth-quarter leads and curious quarterback decisions, the Vikings fired coach Leslie Frazier on Monday.
"This was an emotional day and an extremely emotional decision," owner Zygi Wilf said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
"This was an extremely, extremely difficult decision when you sit there and evaluate and go through the process," said general manager Rick Spielman. "You look at the whole body, not this or that. As we sat there and evaluated it, we felt that change was needed for the organization to take a step forward."
Spielman said spent much of the day talking to players about the decision.
"I talked to the team today and said I will do everything that I can to get the right head coach and the right personnel here," he said
Spielman said that he will begin interviewing candidates in the next several days and isn't looking for a coach with a specific type of background. He's hoping to have a new head coach named by the college Senior Bowl game later this month, but said that isn't a firm deadline.
"We will interview extensively," Spielman said. "A lot."
Parts of the press conference focused on the team's quarterback situation. Spielman said that while Frazier consulted with him and the Wilfs, the final decision about which quarterback to start had been up to Frazier.
"I have the confidence that we'll get the quarterback situation resolved," said Spielman, who added: "Those answers will all come in time. Right now we'll be working on getting the next head coach in place. I wish that you could get a quarterback easily. It's probably the most difficult position to fill."
Currently, all of the Vikings assistant coaches are still under contract to the team. Spielman said that if any of them are interested in going elsewhere, they would need to come to the team for permission--and decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.
Spielman said that even though a half-dozen NFL teams are currently without head coaches after Monday's firings, he thinks the Vikings job is an attractive one.
"I think this is a very attractive job when you talk to people on the outside," he said. "The young talent on the roster, the new stadium coming in. I don't think we're in a total rebuilding mode. ...We have great ownership that's going to do whatever it takes to put the best players on the field. I feel this can be a very quick turnaround."
Players had kind things to say about Frazier after hearing the news, and Spielman refered to the former head coach as "a great man."
"I'm sure he's probably got all kinds of stuff coming today, but I think it's important he knows how I really feel and how much I appreciate all he's done for me in all six years I have been here," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "As rocky as it may have been, I know he's always had my best interests at heart and that means a lot to me."
"It's a harsh business," safety Harrison Smith said. "As a player, we all love coach Frazier, as a coach, as a man. You can't meet a better guy. And also as a player, we didn't make enough plays on the field. So you just feel like you let him down a little bit."
Said defensive end Jared Allen, "Don't mistake kindness for weakness. Coach Frazier worked our butts off. Coach Frazier wasn't always just smiles and everything like that. He helped me grow as a man, and for that I'll always be thankful."
Frazier, who has a year left on his contract, was 21-33-1 after taking over for Brad Childress with six games left in the 2010 season. The team weathered adversity that included the collapse of the Metrodome roof late that season, and Frazier was named permanent coach following it.
The Vikings were 3-13 in 2011, but made the playoffs at 10-6 last season before going 5-10-1 in 2013. Rather than extend Frazier's contract, the team picked up an option for 2014, making this season make-or-break.
Spielman said one of the things that's needed is for the Vikings to be more consistent on a yearly basis.
The Vikings finished 5-10-1, losing four games despite leads late in the fourth quarter, and tying another under the same circumstances. Quarterback Christian Ponder was ineffective and eventually benched, and the team's defense came within four points of setting a Vikings record for most points allowed in a season.
Frazier, 54, was the defensive coordinator before succeeding Childress, and the team's poor defensive play this season was a continual cause of frustration.
Frazier's hand-picked coordinators, Bill Musgrave on offense and Alan Williams on defense, struggled at times to match their schemes with personnel and left themselves vulnerable to second-guessing over their play calls, even inside their own locker room.
After Sunday's season-ending 14-13 victory over the Detroit Lions at the Metrodome, a win that left the Vikings with the NFL's eighth-worst record, Frazier hugged his players as they walked back into the locker room; most seemed to accept that the coach's dismissal was inevitable.
After the game, Frazier said he would face any decisions with peace. "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. For that reason, you don't have to walk in fear. You just know that things are going to work out."
In his postgame comments, Frazier twice noted that the Vikings need to "fix" the quarterback position. He also acknowledged that he consulted with ownership and Spielman before every quarterback change this season.
Frazier's comments on the quarterback situation were jolting because he's handled criticism of that area delicately in the past. The team's decision to draft Ponder 12th overall in 2011 turned out to be a major whiff. The quarterback merry-go-round this season became a disruption and an embarrassment and reflected the organization's desperation at that position.
"It's a quarterback-driven league and if you don't have that position functioning the way you need to, I don't care what you need to do in the other areas of your team, you're going to be fighting uphill," he said after Sunday's game. "I've done everything I can do in my tenure here as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. I just know in our league you need to get that quarterback position fixed."
Frazier described his job status as an "elephant in the room" last week and asked his players not to focus on it. Star running back Adrian Peterson, last season's NFL MVP, and several teammates again voiced their support for Frazier after the game.
"He's a great coach and even a better human being," Peterson said. "That's what I love about him the most. This season, man, it's been tough. Five or six games we lost in the last seconds of the game. And that changes the whole dynamic when it comes to decisions that are about to be made."
"He's just a man of God, first off. When you sit there and you listen to him talk ... you're always gaining great knowledge from him. ... A lot of people like the rah-rah type guy. I'm more about words and what's being said. No matter how it's said, you can hold on to it and learn from it. He does a great job of being a teacher. I feel like that's what this organization needs."
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, the elder statesman in the locker room following 11 seasons with the Vikings, also was among those asking for Frazier to be given a chance to at least finish out his contract, which runs through 2014.
"He's done a great job with us," Williams said. "When he stepped in 1/8during the 2010 season3/8, he got us a couple of wins in that bad season, and then he had the playoff season last year."
Linebacker Chad Greenway also has been around Frazier since he arrived in 2007 as Mike Tomlin's replacement as defensive coordinator. Frazier came in having won a Super Bowl as a player with the Bears and as an assistant with the Colts in 2006.
"He's more than capable of coaching in this league," Greenway said. "He's won so many games as a coordinator, a head coach. He's put us in position to win, been consistent with his message week in and week out. And he kept us together. Of course, we're going to have his back. He's our coach."
Frazier finished fourth in NFL Coach of the Year voting in 2012. He received leaguewide praise for directing the largest turnaround in Vikings history, a year-to-year increase of seven victories.
Now the organization is primed to initiate a significant makeover this offseason, one that's not just limited to a coaching change. The Vikings likely will start over at quarterback in their never-ending quest to find stability at that position.
Ponder was eventually replaced by Matt Cassel, who was signed as a backup and can opt out of his contract. Josh Freeman was signed after he was released by Tampa Bay four games into the season, but had only one disastrous start and will also be a free agent. Ponder has one year left on his guaranteed contract.
The Vikings have 15 unrestricted free agents, meaning another roster shake-up looms. Their defense has only four surefire starters for next season -- defensive end Brian Robison, linebacker Chad Greenway, safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- and must be rebuilt.
Though handcuffed by his quarterbacks' limitations, Musgrave was slow to incorporate rookie Cordarrelle Patterson into the offense. Patterson entered the league raw as a receiver and needed time to learn the system. The coaches understandably didn't want to overwhelm him, but Patterson is so physically gifted that they should have found ways to get him involved sooner.
Defensively, the Cover-2 scheme requires better personnel than the Vikings possess. And players grumbled privately and publicly about Williams' play calls during critical moments at different times this season.
The defense didn't dominate headlines as much as the quarterbacks, but that unit was no less responsible for the mess. The Vikings ranked last in the NFL in points allowed (480, four short of the franchise record of 484, set in 1984. They also ranked last in pass defense, 31st in total defense and 31st in third-down defense.
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