Sunday, March 1, 2015
Blog Page 124

Near the end of the 2012 NFL season I started heavily advocating for the Vikings to draft an elite punter prospect and part ways with one of the franchise’s all-time best, Chris Kluwe.  While I can’t speak for the Vikings front office and coaching staff, as I have no first-hand knowledge of their thought process, but I can say that my thought process had absolutely nothing to do with his stance on same-sex marriage.

Instead, I noticed a dip in his stats, as well as a decline in how his punts passed the “eye test” and thought his regression was pretty obvious.  On top of that he was aging, entering a contract year, in line to make a significant sum of money for a punter, and was coming off of surgery.  Those facts are enough to land many NFL players in the unemployment line whether or not they are outspoken civil rights advocates.

On Thursday, however, Chris Kluwe alleged that he was harassed by special teams coordinator Mike Priefer for his stance on gay rights.  The allegations were made in a big way, using the ever-popular Deadspin as his platform, and he did not seemingly hold anything back.  He concluded that his tenure with the Vikings ended because Priefer was a bigot, while Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman enabled the behavior by being cowards, and brought his release right back into the limelight after a full season without him has come and gone.

In the article, Kluwe details meetings where Frazier asked him to quiet down and text messages from Rick Spielman asking him to fly under the radar.  He also talks of Vikings P.R. gurus trying to keep him unaware of media requests.

The most damning allegations are against Priefer, however, who Kluwe claims went way overboard with his language.  He says that Priefer commented that Kluwe would burn in hell with “the gays” for defending them and expressed his disgust at the thought of two men kissing.

“We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows,” Kluwe claims Priefer said at the start of a specialists meeting.

Kluwe doesn’t dance around his intentions for writing the article.  He hopes to end Mike Priefer’s NFL career for good.

I find it interesting that Kluwe is trying to get a man fired for using controversial language and extreme rhetoric in a debate about a social issue.  After all, Kluwe was thrust into the national spotlight for doing exactly that on many, many occasions.  Many in this country consider the gay rights debate to be over, with guys like Priefer bigots in the truest sense, and will see no hypocrisy in Kluwe’s ways.

They see it as “eye for an eye.”

That could very well end up being the outcome, too, as Kluwe’s release of his article couldn’t be timed worse for those he accuses.  Leslie Frazier is unemployed and thought to be a strong possibility to run Tampa Bay’s defense, but the “coward” label may give Lovie Smith pause when considering his options.  Rick Spielman is trying to attract top-notch coaching candidates to his vacancy to save bring his franchise out of the cellar, but coaches usually aren’t too eager to run away with the circus.

Meanwhile, Priefer could very well end up on the outside of the Vikings organization, looking in.  The Vikings released a statement that said they are going to investigate Kluwe’s allegations and that they do not tolerate discrimination of any sort.  While the team officially reiterated that Kluwe was cut for no other reason than 0n-field performance, they also say they will take the allegations very seriously and that they will eventually have more to say on the matter.

For a guy that was thought to be someone the Vikings wanted to retain, and was even mentioned by some as a head coaching possibility, Priefer has a lot to lose if owner Zygi Wilf is as supportive to Kluwe’s cause as the article indicates. After losing his job in Minnesota and being unable to win a job in Oakland, however, Kluwe had little to lose by airing his feelings at this point.  Some might even argue he had something to gain.

Regardless of where anyone falls on the social issue of gay rights, it is inexcusable for a person in a position of power to belittle his employee for holding personal beliefs.  That isn’t a matter of opinion.  That is law.  For this reason, it seems likely that Priefer is in line for some sensitivity training, an attitude adjustment, and maybe even some job searching.

Priefer may have some defenses in his pocket, however, and the rest of this story has yet to unfold.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Priefer doesn’t flat out deny Kluwe’s accusations and move on, like some might expect, but instead takes to the media in an attempt to clear his name.

Maybe he won’t, though.  Maybe his superiors within the Vikings organization will tell him to “fly under the radar.”

And maybe he’ll listen.

UPDATE:  Well, that was fast.  No sooner did I get this article posted did Mike Priefer issue the following statement regarding the situation:

“I vehemently deny today’s allegations made by Chris Kluwe. 

I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals. I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member. 

The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way. As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.

The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children. 

I will continue to work hard for the Minnesota Vikings, the Wilf family and all of our loyal fans.”

Apparently I was wrong, he did decide to go the complete denial route.

 

 

Some, like me, think Erin Henderson played well enough in recent years to keep him on the roster beyond 2013.  Unfortunately for him, it is no longer his play people are concerned with, and he has likely played his last down for the Vikings.

Henderson was arrested, for the second time in two months, for driving drunk.  Around the middle of the New Years Day, Henderson drove his SUV off the road, through some grass and a parking lot, and then came to a spot thanks to the help of some trees.  According to USA Today, Henderson was alone in the vehicle and was not injured.

Henderson was booked at the Carver County Jail with charges of 2nd and 3rd degree DWI and test refusal. possession of marijuana and paraphernalia, and violation of a limited drivers license.  He posted the $12,000 bail and was released with a court date set for March 3rd.  While the Vikings cannot make any veteran roster moves until after the Super Bowl it seems likely that they will release Henderson, eating only $250,000 of his signing bonus, and move on before his legal matters are resolved.

With a pair of incidents tainting Henderson’s season it is very likely that he will face league discipline.

The one promise Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman gave media and fans regarding the hiring of the next head coach was a willingness to conduct an extensive search that includes 13 different possible categories.

 Off the record, I’m betting one of those categories include looking at former Vikings’ coaches or former coaches that have served on the same staff with Rick Spielman. Former Vikings’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has already surfaced as a possible candidate to replace Leslie Frazier.

 So, I decided to do a little search to look for a few under-the-radar names that might have a connection to Spielman or the Vikings. My search also includes consideration to any connections to a possible future franchise quarterback that the Vikings might be scouting in the 2014 NFL draft. This is what I found.

Well, the lack of  “unnamed sources” was nice while it lasted.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today coaxed some quotes out of Vikings players, speaking on the condition of anonymity, regarding the decision to start Josh Freeman less than two weeks after signing him.  The article does little to clarify who ultimately decided that Freeman would start that game, a crucial must-win matchup, but we know for certain that it was Leslie Frazier who was selling the idea to the rest of the locker room.

“You could tell Josh did not know the offense,” one player told Pelissero.  “Practices did not really go that well that week. But Coach Frazier was in the team meetings like, ‘Oh, I think this is the best week of practice we’ve had all year.’ And everyone’s like, what? What are you talking about?”

“Debacle,” said another player describing the decision. “When they started Josh in that Giants game, we were as confused as anybody.”

The decision to sign Freeman really didn’t cost the Vikings much.  In return for the $2 million he will be paid they got an up-close look at a young, experienced NFL quarterback and the possibility of getting a compensatory pick if he is not retained.  What they lost was the $2 million, which was unlikely to be spent on any other mid-season signings, and project quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

The gamble wasn’t the signing, it was the decision to play him so soon, and the results were pretty atrocious.

Freeman is due to become a free agent this offseason.  Pelissero cites four different sources that say Freeman was late for team meetings on multiple occasions while with the Vikings and one player noted that he was often one of the last players to show up to Winter Park.  If true, these issues combined with his one awful performance, likely means Freeman will not be retained unless our yet-to-be-determined coach is sold on his abilities.

Spielman admitted on Tuesday that he has yet to hit on a quarterback and is prepared to continue the search for that special franchise guy.  His statements were far from a ringing endorsement of Freeman or Christian Ponder.  Freeman can walk, Ponder sounds like a guy who wants out, and Matt Cassel could conceivably opt out of his contract for 2014, which means Spielman is truely headed back to the starting line when it comes to finding his guy.

The Vikings will be armed with plenty of cap space and the eighth overall pick heading into this offseason.  If Chicago hangs onto Jay Cutler then the free agency class will really be lacking at the position.  If things play out just right, or wrong in this case, an acceptable rookie may not be available when Minnesota is on the clock.

This offseason has all the makings of one where Spielman will be forced to wheel and deal (not that he doesn’t seem to enjoy that) to get the quarterback, or quarterbacks as the case may be, that he wants to staple his career to.  I say that because it is true.

It is now Rick Spielman that will be held responsible for any future debacles, and if we have unnamed sources talking to Pelissero at this time next year, then Spielman will probably be headed to Kinkos to make copies of his resume.

In today’s society and culture, consumer’s seem to crave drama, and are willing to pay good money to see it unfold.  Whether it is our television programming, political races, or professional sports we collectively want to see one human essentially do battle with another.  Today, Leslie Frazier’s departure from Minnesota likely left a few NFL consumer’s unsatisfied, and when the purple history books are written his firing will be as forgettable as his three seasons as the team’s head coach.

Frazier is widely respected within NFL circles.  Since stepping out of the shadows and into his prominent role, Percy Harvin sticks out as the only person with first hand experience that seemed unappreciative of Frazier as a man, and even that observation is pure speculation and lacks concrete evidence.

Instead, Leslie Frazier left Winter Park shaking hands with those he knew and looked as dignified as ever.  When he got in his car, if he chose to turn on his radio, he likely heard quote after quote about how loved he is by his current and former players.  He probably noticed some local and national media members talk about how they never dealt with a head coach as classy as he is.  He surely heard the statements released by his former employers that included almost nothing but respectful endorsements of Frazier’s character.

Frazier himself, as could only be expected, exited his position with grace and composure by all accounts.  His words included only the most subtle hints at disagreements and dysfunction within the organization.  The organization, most notably Rick Spielman, also poked back a little bit to make clear that Frazier made decisions that led to his demise and that they are fully ready to start another chapter.

That was, and is, the extent of the drama with Leslie Frazier at the helm.  He didn’t win enough football games.  He didn’t make enough brilliant calls.  He couldn’t get enough out of some of his players.  He couldn’t make things click at the right times.  He did, however, run the Childress Circus out of town and replaced it with an overall sense of coolness.

In some circles, there are folks rolling their eyes at the “pity party” that ensued following the news of Frazier’s departure, but I think to get annoyed is to miss the point.  Few argue that Frazier should have been retained, or that he did enough to keep his job, but almost everyone is willing to let the man walk away with his dignity and his personal pride.

In the last few weeks we have seen an NFC North coach curse out his hometown fans.  We’ve seen a midwest team fire a coach that was able to make a respectable run with perhaps the only quarterback situation worse than Minnesota’s.  We’ve seen hundreds of reporters flock to the Nation’s capitol to watch a father and his son lose their jobs.  We’ve seen plenty of things that will steal all of the headlines while the Vikings quietly move on to evaluating their options.

The coaching search sounds like it will be extensive and time-consuming.  We will have lots of fun sifting through all of the options and all of the rumors.  We will debate who is the best fit, what each candidate brings to the table, and we will all hope the future is bright.  There is plenty of time for that.

Right now, though, I am still processing the events that have taken place since yesterday’s win closed out the Metrodome one final time.  I’m certainly not crying about it all, it is no “pity party” on this end of your computer screen, but there is no doubt that this firing doesn’t entirely feel right.

The way Frazier’s career with the Vikings has ended, the manner in which it all took place, is perhaps the most shining example of why he shouldn’t be out of work for long if he chooses.  The respectful quietness also makes me wonder if this decision won’t eventually end up looking like one of Rick Spielman’s worst.

Good luck, Leslie… from one Vikings fan with a computer.

 

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