The Vikings fired head coach Leslie Frazier, but players said they can't help but think back to…
Players applaud Frazier in emotional meeting
General manager Rick Spielman addressed the team during an early morning meeting with the news of Frazier's firing and the process for the organization from here – they are looking to make the replacement search both thorough and quick – but Frazier also talked to the players who had just recently become his former players.
"Today it was hard to fight back the emotions when he came in and talked to us and seeing how some of the guys reacted," cornerback Chris Cook said. "I wish him the best of luck. He's a great coach and I know he'll get another opportunity somewhere else to show what he can do and prove himself."
Player after player talked about what Frazier meant to them and how he influenced them after his three-plus years as head coach and three years before that as defensive coordinator.
Safety Jamarca Sanford came to the Vikings as a seventh-round draft pick in 2009 when the Vikings were riding the wave of Brett Favre, making it to the NFC Championship Game in Sanford's rookie season. Since then, Sanford has turned into a starting safety and teared up while Frazier addressed the team.
"It was real emotional. He's a good man. At the end of the day, this is a business, but me and Coach Frazier, you felt it in his voice that he was really hurt and I hate to see a good man (hurting) like that," he said. "At the end of the day, we're all people and we all have feelings. I just hate to see a good man hurt like he was hurting this morning. Coach Frazier, he's going to have a bright future because he's a good man. He's a man of his word. He'll be good. That's my last worry, worrying about how Coach Frazier is going to be in life. I know he's going to be good."
Even after he was fired, Frazier told players that he appreciated what the organization did for him, giving him his first opportunity as a coordinator and then a head coach in the NFL.
Personal relationships with Frazier ran deep. He told players if they ever needed anything, they shouldn't hesitate to call.
"I'm going to call him as soon as I leave here," linebacker Erin Henderson said Monday morning as players cleaned out their lockers at the end of the 2013 season. "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.
"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."
Frazier stood by Henderson this season as he went through personal and emotional issues, allowing him to take time away from the team and seek counseling.
Cook also was a recipient of Frazier's patient ways. When Cook was preparing for the NFL draft in 2010, it was Frazier who went out to Virginia to personally visit with Cook before the draft. With character concerns surrounding Cook, Frazier felt he could vouch for him and the Vikings selected Cook in the second round.
Frazier was also a key figure in the Vikings sticking with Cook when he was dealing with charges of assault by strangulation in 2011. The Vikings kept Cook on the roster during his legal issues that year, and he ended up playing in only six of 16 games.
"He stuck by my side through a lot of things that I've been through," Cook said. "I told him yesterday after the game and told him I appreciate him for sticking by me and believing in me and my abilities. He's a great guy and I love him to death."
Even the rookies on the offensive side of the ball grew attached to Frazier.
"Man, I call him everything. He's like a father," receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. "He'll sit down and talk with you about your problems and off-the-field issues. He's a good man.
"He talked to us (Monday). It was kind of hard hearing his speech. He just told us if we need anything, just call him. We all still have his number and I'm going to do that in the offseason. I'm going to give him a call every chance I get."
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, like Patterson a first-round pick of the Vikings in April, said Monday morning's meeting was "very emotional" and "a bad situation for us."
In his two losing seasons (2011 and 2013) as head coach, Frazier was often criticized by fans that wanted to see a coach with more emotion and a public willingness to call out players. That wasn't Frazier's style, however.
Jared Allen has been through numerous coaches – Dick Vermeil, Herm Edwards, Brad Childress and Frazier. A fiery coach isn't always successful in the NFL, Allen said.
"This isn't college. I don't think motivational speeches – you know, win one for the Gipper – is really what the NFL is about," Allen said. "You come to work and you work hard. We have a very close locker room. Locker rooms usually don't get divided from coaching staffs. At least I haven't seen it. You're not always going to agree with someone or always get along. There's going to be ebbs and flows. But locker rooms get divided when people start doing their own thing. That didn't happen here. From the standpoint of sticking together and seeing it through, yes, the message did get through."
But, Allen added …
"Don't mistake kindness for weakness. Coach Frazier worked our butts off. Coach Frazier wasn't always just smiles and everything like that. But he's a good human being. That's the important thing. I'll always remember what Coach Frazier did for me off the field. He helped me grow as a man and for that I'll always be thankful."
While Sanford shed a tear during the coach's final address to the team, Frazier did not. Players said Frazier was composed, and maybe that was because he knew for some time that this day was a possibility.
Last week, Frazier felt a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was due, in part, to too many players concerned about his job status. He addressed the team then, too, and told them to do their job, not worry about his.
Cook said players gave Frazier a round of applause as he walked out of the meeting room on Monday.
"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. At the same time, it's part of the business, part of the game now."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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