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Transcript: Wilf, Spielman Address The Media on Monday

Posted Dec 30, 2013

Vikings Owner Zygi Wilf

Thank you everybody for coming here. Let me first say this was an emotional day and an extremely difficult decision. For those that know or have worked with Leslie Frazier, you know that he is a true professional and a very giving person. We have great appreciation for Leslie’s efforts, but we believe a change was needed to build a successful team moving forward. We are optimistic about our roster and about the future of the Minnesota Vikings and we are committed to bringing Viking fans a world championship, with that I would like to turn over to our General Manger Rick Spielman. Thank you.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman

Thank you all for coming, I just want to reiterate what Zygi said, this was an extremely, extremely difficult decision. When you sit there and evaluate and go through the process, I think all of you know how I work, you look at the whole body, you don’t just look at this or that. As we sat there and evaluated it we felt that change was needed for our organization to take a step forward. As far as the coaches, it’s very difficult because of the relationships that you have with Leslie, that you have with our assistant coaches. We work side by side and very hard in personnel on a daily basis, so when these decisions come, it makes it very difficult. But moving forward we felt that this was best for our organization to take the next step. I talked to all of the assistant coaches today, they are all currently under contract. I will meet with them on an individual basis. In order for them to go on to another team they have to get a written permission, I will look at that on a case by case basis on whether that permission is granted or not. Our number one goal is to start the search immediately. That process will start this afternoon and I expect to have interviews lined up over the next three or four days. A timeline on putting a new head coach in place, ideally, the situation would be you would like to have that done by the Senior Bowl. That is usually the time frame where it gives a head coach an opportunity to not only interview our coaches currently on this staff, but also put together the best coaching staff possible, but that’s not going to be the ultimatum, if it takes longer we will do that. This is going to be a very extensive search. I’ve sliced it every way you can slice it, I’ve looked at 13 different categories where coaches come out of and that can be everything from head coaches that are currently offensive coordinators, former head coaches, head coaches who are currently defensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, offensive coordinators without head coaching experience, college coaches with and without NFL coaching experience, so there is a long list of areas that you can look for in a head coach. The one thing that I can tell you though, as we did our research and looked if there was any specific category that was more successful than the other, there wasn’t. That’s why we have to do this extensive process and we have to go out and find the right head coach that we think is going to lead us into the future and to give us the best chance to take the next step forward. With that I will go ahead and open it up for questions.

Q: What would it have taken for Leslie to remain the head coach?

A: You know, we talked about it with the ownership last night, this decision, I know that there have been a lot of rumors floating around out there, this decision was not made until this morning. We went through the process last night with the ownership and just looked at the whole body of work since Leslie has been here. He has done a lot of very good things, but we felt as an organization that it was the right thing to do to move forward and we have the utmost respect for Leslie and what he has brought to this organization, but again we have to look for consistency year in and year out and that is what we are going to be looking for when we bring in a new head coach and the consistency year in and year out, that we are competitive on the field.

Q: Leslie talked about the quarterback position needing to be fixed and how that limited his opportunity to win, do you think that he was given a reasonable chance to win?

A: I’ll address the quarterback situation just like every other situation, I take full responsibility for the personnel decisions, whether they are good, and sometimes they don’t work out for whatever reason. I’m always going to be aggressive that if a personnel decision does not work out to try to get that rectified as quickly as we can. I talked to you guys mid-season about I’m responsible for putting the best 53 players I can possibly put on our roster, but I have to leave it up to the coaches to make those decisions on who gives them the best chance win on Sundays and Leslie consulted us, consulted our ownership about the quarterback situation, just like everything we have very open dialog, open communication, but ultimately the coach and his coaching staff have to decide who is playing and not playing on Sundays.

Q: What were the primary conclusions you took from Leslie Frazier’s body of work that led you to believe change was needed?

AJust going back and looking from when he took over, we went 3-3 his interim year, we were 3-13 the following year. There are some things that pop up when you look at it. Our road record has not been the best, the way we have lost some games this year as well, but I think it is just taking that whole body of work and digging down and analyzing everything to try to make this difficult decision. 

Q: You picked us Leslie Frazier’s option last year but you did not extend him further than that, was that because he needed to show you something this year to prove himself as a long-term guy?

A: I think that anything in this business, whether it is players or coaches that you are trying to look for that consistency and can you get that consistency year in and year out.

Q: Did you give Leslie Frazier enough talent to be a playoff team this year?

A:  Yeah, I feel very optimistic about the young talent that we have on this football team. I felt very strongly about the last two draft classes that we have been able to put together. Are there holes that need to be filled? Definitely, and we will address those holes. Last year we felt we needed to upgrade the receiver position. I think that was one of our main priorities and we were able to do that by going out and signing a Greg Jennings and to move up aggressively in the draft to get a Patterson-type, the development in how Jarius has come along, and Jerome Simpson, who was a different player this year than he was last year. But a lot of those personnel decisions will be made when we put the new coaching staff in place and they will have a lot of influence on not only the quarterback position but all of the positions and I am very open minded and feel it is very important to have open communication when making those decisions that everybody in the organization is on board with that decision. I don’t think we have ever came up with a decision where guys may have had disagreements but by the time we were done not everyone was on the same page. As long as I am General Manager here there will never be an incident where I would go out and sign a player or draft a player without working directly with the coaches and the coaching staff and our scouts to get everybody on the same page. Defensively I know people say we have some holes on defense. We are getting a little older there. But I can tell you that I was very encouraged by the way some of these young guys have stepped up and played. To see Xavier Rhodes before he got injured and the way he was playing, when Erin Henderson had his issues and to see Audie Cole step in and do a nice job, to find a Shaun Prater out there and to see him go out and compete and he was with us for half a year, to lose a key player like a Harrison Smith yet to have an Andrew Sandejo, who is not only one of our core special teams players, but also stepped in and did a very good job and you see what kind of football player he is. Are there holes? Definitely there are holes. Is that my responsibility to get those holes filled? It definitely falls on my shoulders and just like I said to the staff earlier when I talked to the team today is that I will do everything that I can to get the right head coach and to get the right personnel in here. It will be a very tedious process, and it will be looked at from every angle to make sure we are going to make the best possible decisions we can make.

Q: Can a coach be that consistent that you are looking until the quarterback situation is resolved?

A: I have the confidence that we will get the quarterback situation resolved. I really do. What that answer is right now, I am not going to have those answers until we get the coach in place and when we sit down and we delve into what we have at this position, what is potentially out there in free agency, what is the draft class? Those answers will all come in time. The main focus right now is working on trying to get our next head coach in place.

Q: Is it possible for a coach to make up for poor quarterback play?

A: You look at our division this year, and the time that Cutler missed, the time that Rodgers had missed, and those guys had lost some games but somehow survived and Chicago and Green Bay played for the division title. I think that every team is always going to be looking for that franchise quarterback until you actually get one and you are going to continually grind away at that until hopefully you finally hit on one.

Q: If the midst of the uncertainty at quarterback, the organization brought in Josh Freeman who played six days later in New York, and did not play again; was that Leslie Frazier’s decision or was that a cooperative effort?

A: I talked to a lot of you at mid-season about that decision and my philosophy is that those coaches have to make those final decisions on who is starting. Now we had a lot of consulting, we talked through a lot of the situations, but ultimately that decision has to be on the coaches. I would never want to say you have to play that guy or you have to play this guy. That’s not my role. Just like I would not want a coach to tell me you have to take this guy. We are going to work through this and the responsibility is on me to make sure that I make the best possible pick. So I think it goes both ways but as a General Manager, whether I am right or wrong, I don’t believe that you dictate to a coach who needs and who doesn’t need to play.

Q: How did Freeman develop and how did his signing affect the quarterback position?

A: Well Freeman did a lot of good things through practice, I think that when Matt Cassel got in there, and Christian played well in that stretch where he came back, and then went back to his inconsistencies a little bit. Matt Cassel took over and he played very well. At that time who gave you the best chance to win ballgames? I think that everyone felt that Matt Cassel gave you the best chance to win those ballgames at that time, and that is a credit to Matt to the way he stepped up and played.

Q: Adrian Peterson was very vocal about wanting to keep Leslie Frazier and wanted to speak with management this morning about keeping him; did you speak with him this morning?

A: I talked to him this morning. That is why my voice is a little raspy right now. I have been talking since 7:30 this morning. I talked to the team, I talked to the coaches, and then I met with numerous players, including Adrian, and I tried to talk with every unrestricted free agent that we had, every one of the players that were on the leadership council that was in place, and eventually get through all of the players, especially all of the veterans. I wanted to hear their opinions and Mark and Zygi sat in there with me when we talked to the players as well. I understand how difficult change is for some people and how difficult change is because it is the unknown. But I also know that sometimes when you make that change it can bring a spark as well.

Q: Your ability to get quarterbacks here and in Miami has been in question; how can you be trusted to fix the quarterback situation?

A: I have not got in right yet. We have worked as hard as we can to get that right and I try to use as many outside sources as I can. I am not afraid to look at experts in that particular area. I am going to rely heavily on our head coach and whoever our offensive coordinator is and whoever our quarterbacks coach is and they are going to be heavily involved in this process. A lot of it has to do with making sure that the quarterback fits in the system that you are trying to run. Like I said, I wish that you could make getting a quarterback easy, and it’s not, that is maybe the most difficult position to fill but we are going to do everything and use every resource that we can to try and get that corrected.

Q: How important will it be for the next head coach to have head coaching experience either in the NFL or in college?

A: We’re not going to box anything in. We’re going to look at candidates with head coaching experience at either level. We’re going to look at coaches without head coaching experience that have done great jobs as coordinatiors that may be potential up-and-comers. I can sit here and tell you – I’m not going to tell you the names that we’re going to talk to – but I can also tell you that we’re not going to be boxed into a specific “he has to be this with this”. It has to be the guy that we think is the right fit.

Q: There are a half-dozen teams that are looking for a head coach and there could be more. With the quarterback situation and moving outdoors what are you selling?

A: I think this is a very attractive job. I think when you talk to people on the outside that the young talent that we do have on this roster, with all of the new stadium and potential facilities online coming in, I don’t think we’re in a total rebuilding mode. It’s a coach that’s going to come in that I look at as a partner to work hand-and-hand with. We have great ownership that is willing to put whatever it takes to put the best product on the field. We’re going to be in a great cap situation. It’s a situation where a head coach comes in that I feel can be a quick turnaround.

Q: What was Leslie Frazier’s direct reaction to this?

A: Very disappointed, just as anybody would be. I know he spoke specifically to Mark and Zygi today. But it’s hard, it’s extremely hard. It’s not only hard to get the news but it’s hard to give the news as well.

Q: Leslie talked about how he felt that all decisions regarding the quarterback were made in conjunction with you. How do you balance that with what you’ve said that he had the freedom to play who we wanted?

A: We talked on a daily basis about it. I’ve said this before, whatever you think is best for our football team and whoever gives us the best chance to win, we are going – whether right or wrong – we’re going to be 100 percent behind your decision. A head coach has to know that. To me, regardless of what his decision is, that as long as we’ve vetted it through and talked it out that we will support that decision.

Q: Are you making the decision on who the next head coach is?

A: I will be leading the charge and I will be working with Mark and Zygi who will ultimately, with myself, sit down and make the final decision.

Q: Will you make a recommendation to them? How does that process work?

A: We will work through that process and once we narrow it down to the two or three, our ownership will be involved, along with myself, through the interview process and we will work collectively to get that decision the right way.

Q: With so many organizations that are looking for a head coach, is there any apprehension that this process hastens and that you do get your guy?

A: We don’t have a guy. I think there’s a lot of potential candidates out there and I don’t think everybody needs to panic, “this team already hired a guy, this team already hired a guy, what are the Vikings going to do?” We are going to go through process, we are going to do our due diligence and I think there is enough potential candidates out there that we are going to be able to get the guy that we want.

Q: Are you leaning more towards an offensive-minded coach or a defensive-minded coach?

A: A head coach regardless. There is no specific offense, defense, college coach, high school coach, whatever. It’s a coach that we feel is the best fit for our organization.

Q: Thirteen categories? How many are you talking about interviewing?

A: We will interview extensively, a lot. 

Q: You’re going to do all of this over the next three or four days? 

A: Talking with the ownership we will be very busy. I just told them don’t plan on any stadium meetings for the next two weeks.

Q: What was the chain of command in terms of firing? Did you make a recommendation? 

A: That decision came down on ownership. The ownership hired Leslie. I was not the General Manager at the time. Again, we had a long, extensive talk last night through it but ultimately that comes down to our ownership.

Q: Would it be possible for you to fire the next coach if you are making this decision? 

A: We are worried right now about hiring the next head coach.

Q: There has been speculation about your position. How does that stand now? 

A: Well, I know that I am the General Manager and I know the owners put their trust in me to lead the search for our next head coach. My responsibility is to go out and do that and consult with them as we go along the way. All I’m worried about right now is putting the best team on the field but the most important thing is getting this coaching staff filled out.

Q: Do you think that a change is needed in defensive philosophy? 

A: We’ll look at all of that. It’ll be interesting when you talk to a lot of these coaches whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3, some teams run a 4-3 with a hybrid 3-4, there are so many different things going out there. I’m very excited about the process just to learn and to talk to a lot of different people just to see their philosophies. The question that comes up is now the college – it’s usually a trickle-down where the NFL systems have kind of went down to college but now it seems with  the type of athletes that are coming out in the draft that it’s trickling up to the NFL, like the Philadelphia Eagles, with a little bit of spread offense yet they had the leading rusher in the league. So it’ll be interesting as we go through this process because I’m looking forward to getting educated as well about a lot of different philosophies and how you approach this. 

Q: The offenses have now been trending up passing wise and Adrian Peterson is the focal point of this offense in the last couple of years. Do you have to pivot off that run-first philosophy? 

A: I think that will depend on what we hear from these head coaches as we interview. Like I said, we are going into this very open-minded. I also know what Adrian Peterson is as a running back. I know we’ve been very successful running the ball but I’m anxious to hear the philosophy on some of these coaches that are we are going to interview.

Q: In terms of quarterback are you looking to keep Matt Cassel around? Christian Ponder? And are you still thinking about drafting a quarterback? 

A: All of that will be yet to be determined. The one thing is, like I said, the coaching staff, and I’ve always done this, will be heavily involved in that decision process and I want to make sure that everybody gets on board that when we make that it’s a Minnesota Viking decision although I know I’m ultimately responsible for that decision. 

Q: What legacy do you think Leslie Frazier is leaving behind? 

A: I think Leslie was a great man, did a very good job when he was here. I know he was well-respected in this building and that’s what makes the decision so difficult.