MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After leading the Minnesota Vikings to a surprising playoff berth last season, coach Leslie Frazier had a contract option picked up for 2014.
The Vikings announced they exercised the fourth-year option on his Wednesday, helping Frazier avoid what would have been a lame-duck season in 2013 while also giving the team some flexibility going forward.
“Coach Frazier has done a remarkable job in building a strong foundation for the Minnesota Vikings and creating a very positive future,” Vikings owner Mark Wilf said in a statement issued by the team. “We value his leadership and look forward to working with him for many years to come.”
Frazier was entering the final year of his deal, and talks of an extension started to become an issue publicly as the Vikings mounted a stunning December run to the playoffs. Stuck at 6-6 and without injured receiver Percy Harvin, the Vikings rode Adrian Peterson to four straight victories, including a thriller over Green Bay in the regular-season finale to thrust them into the postseason. They lost to the Packers the next week in the wild-card round.
In deciding to exercise the option rather than extend Frazier’s deal out further, Vikings ownership could be looking to avoid what burned them with their previous coaching hire. While Brett Favre was leading the Vikings to the top of the NFC North and a 12-4 record in 2009, Zygi and Mark Wilf gave Childress a contract extension through 2013. That deal came back to bite them the next season when things went so poorly so quickly that they felt compelled to fire Childress 10 games into that deal, a decision they’re still paying for this year.
Frazier’s agent, Bob LaMonte, said there have not been negotiations on a longer-term extension with the Vikings.
Frazier took over for the fired Childress with six games to go in the 2010 season. He went 3-3 to finish that season, 3-13 in his first full year in 2011 and 10-6 in 2012.
GM Rick Spielman has spoken in glowing terms about the working relationship he has shared with Frazier since taking over the general manager duties last year.
“Leslie’s been doing an outstanding job,” Spielman said during the bye week. “Knowing the situation that we were going to have a lot of new faces on this roster, and I think the coaching staff has done an outstanding job.
“We can bring in guys that are talented, but it’s our coaches who should get the credit for developing these guys. And our coaches should get the credit for playing these guys and letting them grow into the positions as they grow.”
Frazier inherited a team in turmoil that was falling apart fast after starting the season with Super Bowl aspirations. Favre wasn’t playing nearly as well in his second season with the Vikings, a trade for Randy Moss turned into a disaster and the Metrodome roof collapsed shortly after he took over for Childress.
Last season, Frazier never wavered even when quarterback Christian Ponder was struggling, Harvin was hurt and the defense was having difficulty putting pressure on the quarterback.
“Just his voice and what he has brought to this team and the locker room, it’s been huge,” Peterson said in December. “Guys really connect with him on that level. Just feeling his presence through his words and the confidence he has in us. Everything he speaks out there, we embrace and trust in his word.”
The approach worked like a charm.
Ponder started to play better in December, Peterson topped 2,000 yards to run away with the MVP award and the Vikings surprised everyone by squeaking in as the sixth seed in the NFC. It was an emphatic rebound for Frazier after that rough first full season.
Frazier and the rest of the coaching staff made big strides, along with the team, as the season drew to a close in December, but apparently not quite enough to earn him a long-term extension.
But it does solidify things for the next two years at least, with Spielman and Frazier at the top of the organization’s pecking order.
Now a team that posted back-to-back last-place finishes in its division for the first time in the franchise’s proud history appears primed to get back into contention much sooner than first thought. Peterson will have a full healthy summer to work out after being limited last year while recovering from ACL surgery, Ponder will have another year of development under his belt and the Vikings will look to continue to the productive drafting that has aided the quick turnaround.
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