MOST COACHES who've been around long enough to dig a hole and plant a coaching tree will tell you they get little pleasure out of going up against guys who used to call them boss.
Andy Reid is no different. He's coached against former assistants three times since taking the Eagles job back in 1999 - Brad Childress twice and John Harbaugh once - and each time he would've preferred root canal to tangling with one of the branches on his ever-growing tree.
He was supposed to go up against his good friend Childress again Sunday at the Linc. To make the rematch a little more palatable, Childress' family was going to make the trip to Philadelphia and spend Christmas with the Reids.
But those plans went up in smoke last month when Childress was fired by Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. Childress' defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, yet another former Reid disciple, was named the team's interim head coach.
Getting your first head-coaching opportunity at the expense of the man who hired you can be awkward. But it's the way the business works.
"That's hard," Reid said. "But Leslie handled it as gracefully as it can be handled, replacing a friend and still giving complete respect to Brad for the job he did. I've had a chance to talk to both guys, and they're both in good places.
"Both guys are good guys. I compare it to our two quarterbacks. That could be a rough situation if both guys didn't handle it the right way. But they have a mutual respect for each other. Leslie was 100 percent behind Brad [when he was the defensive coordinator]. I mean, 100 percent behind him. And he still feels very much the same way."
The 5-9 Vikings are 2-2 since Frazier replaced Childress. They won their first two games after he took over, beating Washington and Buffalo, but have lost the last two to the Giants and Chicago by a combined score of 61-17.
Considering that Brett Favre probably has played his last game after suffering a head injury in Monday night's 40-14 loss to the Bears, and considering that running back Adrian Peterson is questionable for Sunday night's game against the Eagles with knee and ankle injuries, the chances of the Vikings finishing on a high note aren't good. Which isn't going to help the 51-year-old Frazier's chances of being retained.
But he insists that isn't something he's even thinking about right now. "I don't think about [the interim tag] at all," he told reporters. "I'm not concerned at all what happens after the last game of the season.
"What weighs on me is the disappointment our players have right now, and trying to get things turned around, so that when we go to Philadelphia, we play a whole lot better than we played [against the Bears]."
Those kinds of comments frequently make skeptics like myself roll our eyes and say, sure, yeah, uh-huh. But former Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, who played for Frazier and is a longtime friend, said he really means it.
"His attitude is, 'I'm not looking beyond this week,' " said Vincent, who is the NFL's vice president of player development for active players. "He's a man of such strong, strong conviction and faith. [His attitude is], I'm just going to maximize where I'm at today. It's about this week. It's about these coaches today. It's about the locker room today.
"It doesn't matter what's going on the outside. It doesn't matter where he's going to be at the end of the season, He wants to lead this team today.
"I remember he called me on the way to the Dolphins 2 years ago when he was interviewing with [Bill] Parcells for their head-coaching job. The way he talked going into that interview and the way he talked after he found out he didn't get it, it made you, on the other side, say, 'Wow, I want that spirit.' Because he just took it in stride. He just said, 'I'll go back. I'll continue to get better, continue to help coach Chilly and the Vikings win football games.' "
Frazier, who was a starting cornerback on the Bears' 1985 Super Bowl-championship team, never really envisioned getting into coaching when he was younger. He is a mild-mannered man who wasn't sure he had the personality and temperament to be a coach.
"I looked at Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan and the coaches I had played for and said, 'That's not me,' " Frazier told reporters recently.
But he finally realized you didn't have to be a yeller and screamer to be a good coach. When Trinity College, a small Christian school in Deerfield, Ill., about 5 miles from the Bears' practice facility, decided to start a football program in 1988, it offered the head-coaching job to the then 28-year-old Frazier, who had blown out his knee with the Bears a year earlier.
He initially turned down the offer, but then had a change of heart and ended up taking the job, staying at the school for 9 years and winning two conference championships. He left in '97 to coach the defensive backs at the University of Illinois.
Reid came calling 2 years later, hiring him to be his defensive backs coach. Frazier was in Philly for 4 years before moving to Cincinnati to be the Bengals' defensive coordinator.
Frazier didn't have any NFL coaching experience when he arrived in Philadelphia. But that hardly made him unique on Reid's first staff, which included a whole bunch of NFL coaching neophytes such as Childress, Steve Spagnuolo, Ron Rivera and Pat Shurmur, and even the 37-year-old Harbaugh, who had just 1 year of NFL experience. All of them turned out to be outstanding hires.
"Coach Reid knew that he had certain guys on his staff who had NFL experience like coach [Jim] Johnson and coach [Tommy] Brasher defensively and coach [Rod] Dowhower offensively," said the Eagles' current defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott, who joined Reid's staff in 2000 as a 26-year-old assistant. "Then he brought in young, smart guys to put around that experience."
Said Reid: "I remembered Leslie as a player. I can't remember who actually gave his name to me [as a potential assistant]. But I had it on my list before I took the job here. I knew with Jim being the defensive coordinator, he was very hands on. So I knew I could put some young guys around him.
"You could tell by his work ethic that things were going to be OK. He was an early-in, late-out guy. He lived with [offensive line coach] Juan [Castillo] learning the [offensive] protections. Most [defensive] guys don't go there first. But he made sure he had an idea of all that. I think that helped him down the road as a coordinator."
The league's Rooney Rule, which mandates that every team interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching vacancies, has helped Frazier, an African-American, get his foot in a lot of NFL doors the last couple of years. Since '08, he's interviewed for at least a half-dozen head-coaching jobs, including the Dolphins, Seahawks, Broncos, Lions and Rams, who ended up hiring Spagnuolo.
The popular knock against Frazier is the same one that followed Tony Dungy for several years before the Bucs finally hired him as their head coach - too soft-spoken; doesn't have the assertive personality to be an NFL head coach.
People who know Frazier and people who have played for him say that's nonsense.
"As good a coach as he is, he's an even better person,'' Reid said. "And very much like Tony personalitywise. He's mild-mannered, but he's got fire under there too."
Vincent said Frazier has the perfect personality to be an NFL head coach.
"When things aren't going well, people on the outside want to see a coach going nuts [paging Tom Coughlin, paging Tom Coughlin]," he said. "We like seeing body language and screaming and yeah, get in his face.
"But the flip side is, Bill Walsh wasn't that way. And nobody ever criticized him for being that way. He wasn't picked apart. He was a smart man who knew how to communicate with his players. He had an appreciation for [knowing when] is the time for discipline and when is the time for constructive criticism.
"Coach Walsh, Tony [Dungy] and coach [Chuck] Noll all have proved that you can still win and still be who you are. You don't have to change."
It's only a matter of time before Frazier is running his own ship with no "interim" strings attached. If Wilf doesn't see fit to retain him, somebody else will eventually hire him. Maybe this year, maybe next year. But he will be a head coach.
"I've talked to a number of clubs about opportunities and their respective situations, but it never happened for one reason or another," Frazier told reporters. "I do believe I can be a successful head coach in this league and I'd like that day to come that I am one.
"I'm looking forward to being the head coach and not the interim or whatever. Hopefully it's in Minnesota, but who knows?"
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