The Minnesota Vikings fired coach Leslie Frazier on Monday morning, one year after they made the playoffs and one day after they finished a 5-10-1 season.
After going 10-6 in 2012, the Vikings regressed this year, done in by a leaky defense and an inability to find stability at quarterback. Frazier finished 21-33-1 in three-plus seasons.
The 54-year-old Frazier had one season remaining on his contract.
“We have tremendous respect and appreciation for Leslie and what he has done for the Minnesota Vikings,” owner Zygi Wilf said in a statement distributed by the team. “He stepped in and established a strong positive culture here, and he has been the consummate professional as our head coach and in this community. Making this change is difficult but what we determined is best for the organization.”
The Vikings planned an afternoon news conference at Winter Park.
Both of the Broncos’ coordinators, Jack Del Rio on defense and Adam Gase on offense, are on the Vikings’ radar, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Del Rio played linebacker for the Vikings, and Minnesota has been inquiring about Gase.
Quarterback Christian Ponder sputtered and produced three straight turnover-plagued performances to start the season. The Vikings lost all three, on last-minute touchdowns to Chicago and Cleveland.
They lost two other games and tied one in similar fashion, squandering leads inside the 52-second mark in all five of those. Though veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield was cut before the season to save space under the salary cap, the defense that had been Frazier’s expertise faltered badly.
Drafting Ponder 12th overall in 2011 was the primary responsibility of general manager Rick Spielman, but the shaky quarterback situation was far from the only problem for this team.
Hired by Brad Childress to be the defensive coordinator in 2007, Frazier interviewed for seven head-coach openings over a three-year span: Atlanta and Miami in 2008; Denver, Detroit and St. Louis in 2009; and Buffalo and Seattle in 2010.
His opportunity came with the Vikings when Childress was fired in the middle of a messy 2010 season.
Credited with keeping the team on an even keel while attention swirled around Brett Favre and the Metrodome roof collapsed the night before a scheduled game, Frazier went 3-3 as interim coach, including an improbable win at playoff-bound Philadelphia after the NFL postponed that contest by two days because of a forecast snowstorm.
Frazier got the job for good in 2011, but after a lockout-shortened offseason, the Vikings went 3-13 behind an ineffective Donovan McNabb and then rookie Ponder at quarterback. In 2012, they staged a remarkable turnaround, riding Adrian Peterson to a spot in the playoffs.
Childress had his contract extended in 2009 while the Vikings were on their way to the NFC Championship Game, but the team came unglued the following fall. Wary of a similarly expensive overcommitment, Wilf and the front office merely picked up a fourth-year option on Frazier’s deal last January, putting him in a prove-it situation for 2013.
Right away, his future with the team turned grim.
And as widely liked as Frazier has been throughout the organization, the ultra-competitive landscape of the NFL rarely allows coaches with two double-digit-defeat records in three years to keep their jobs.
His playing career as a cornerback for Chicago cut short by a knee injury in the Super Bowl, Frazier soon ventured into coaching, building the program at Trinity College from scratch in 1988.
Fifteen years later, he became the defensive coordinator for Cincinnati. With two years as an assistant with Indianapolis, Frazier came from the Tony Dungy mold of coaches, a soft-spoken man of deep Christian faith who has excelled at creating a culture of harmony and respect around the locker room.
After the Vikings beat Detroit on Sunday to wrap up the season, Frazier stumped to stay. He said he was proud of the job he had done.
“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 said at the Metrodome. “You just know that things are going to work out.”