Leslie Frazier NFL Coaching Profile: A Case Study in Second Chances

Leslie Frazier, a veteran NFL coach, will be amongst the numerous names talked about in the 2023 head coaching cycle.

Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier leads one of the best defenses in the NFL, which is now ready for a playoff run while paired with one of the top offenses in the NFL. In the past six years, Frazier has coordinated three defenses that ranked either first or second in points allowed.

After a failed stint as a head coach with the Minnesota Vikings from 2011 to 2013, it’s about time Frazier had a second chance.

Leslie Frazier Could Follow in the Footsteps of Other Second-Chance Head Coaches

There has been some talk of Frazier as a potential head coach candidate, but it’s largely been quiet. In an era where it seems like the coaches who make the most noise are the newest and youngest options available, it’s easy to forget how impactful second-chance coaches like Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, and Andy Reid have been.

While it would be a stretch to compare Frazier’s first chance to that of Reid or his mentor Tony Dungy, it’s also not far from the truth to point out that Carroll went 6-10 with the New York Jets or that Belichick generated a 36-44 record with the Browns.

There are other Super Bowl second-chancers on the list, too. Mike Shanahan (8-12 with the Raiders) and John Fox (73-71 with the Panthers) are good examples, and other good coaches include Marv Levy (31-42 with the Chiefs) and Sid Gillman (28-31-1 with the Rams).

Frazier has shared frustrations he’s had getting calls for a head coaching job, and given the success he’s had with the Bills, it’s easy to understand why.

Leslie Frazier Could Be a Culture Builder

Throughout his career, Frazier has been lauded for his unflappability and character. Considered one of the greatest players in Alcorn State’s history, Frazier made multiple all-SWAC teams and set defensive records for Alcorn State – and still holds interception records there. He did this while also captaining the baseball team at Alcorn State, something he had to lobby the football coach for permission to do. The coach made an exception for Frazier because of his trust in Frazier’s character.

During his senior season, Frazier suffered a hamstring injury that prevented him from working out at the combine. Before signing with the Chicago Bears, he was asked to run a 40-yard dash in a private workout, something he refused to do to mitigate the risk of re-injury.

Only after his college coach lobbied for him did he sign with the Bears as an undrafted free agent, making the team his rookie year as a special teamer that specialized in returns.

He made the starting roster next year in 1982, a strike year, and remained a starter – featuring as a key player of the 1985 Chicago Bears defense that dominated the NFL. In his final three years as a starter, he intercepted 18 passes, the second-most of any cornerback in that same time span – despite missing five games.

Early in his career, he once again challenged his head coach, Buddy Ryan. Ryan acquiesced and trusted Frazier to make his own in-game adjustments, a rarity.

He suffered a career-ending injury in Super Bowl XX that resulted in multiple surgeries and retired as a player in 1987 after attempting to become ready for the 1986 season. Shortly thereafter, he became the first head coach of the NAIA football program at Trinity International University, then called Trinity College.

Trinity International was more well-known for the other kind of football at the time, but Frazier took on the job. Building the program from the ground up at just 27 years old, he took a team that went 3-4-1 against JV and club teams in 1988 to one that went 8-2 in 1993 before joining the Mid-States Football Association as a founding member.

Trinity International immediately won their conference in consecutive years in 1994 and 1995, and Frazier took Trinity International University to its first postseason appearance in 1994.

Leslie Frazier at the NFL Scouting Combine

He then became the defensive backs coach for the University of Illinois for two years before joining Andy Reid in Philadelphia as their defensive backs coach, where he coached Brian Dawkins and Troy Vincent to their first Pro Bowl seasons in 1999.

Dawkins, who had been in the NFL for three years prior without postseason honors, would end up making eight more Pro Bowls after cracking the roster in 1999. Vincent, who entered the NFL in 1992, led the NFL in interceptions in 1999 and would make four more Pro Bowls after that, including every year Frazier coached him.

Marvin Lewis then tapped Frazier to be his defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, where he improved their defense from rock bottom to 21st in points allowed and 3rd in takeaways in 2005. Afterward, he joined the Indianapolis Colts as the assistant head coach to Tony Dungy as well as the defensive backs coach. There, he won a Super Bowl.

He reunited with Brad Childress, who had worked with him in Philadelphia, in 2007 in Minnesota as their defensive coordinator after Mike Tomlin left to become the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He took over the Vikings as their interim head coach after a tumultuous 2010 season and then earned the job permanently in 2011, where he coached the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012.

MORE: List of Current NFL Head Coaches

While Frazier’s ultimate record with the Vikings was negative, he did earn praise from the players for his confident humility and willingness to listen and adjust every week based on feedback while maintaining control over his overall defensive scheme. He also played pivotal roles in providing a stabilizing influence to both Adrian Peterson and Everson Griffen, who both credit him for helping them mature as people.

After coaching the Vikings, Frazier joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a defensive coordinator. It was an unsuccessful stint, and he was let go in 2016 when he then joined the Ravens as a secondary coach. After one year with the Ravens, Sean McDermott, who had coached with Frazier in Philadelphia, asked Frazier to join him in Buffalo.

Frazier has drawn on lessons from both Reid and Dungy and has earned a reputation for maintaining an even keel and keeping a consistent character. With the Ravens, he earned the nickname “Saint Les,” and he’s long held a reputation in Minnesota for what he calls “loving discipline.” Frazier has developed a rapport with players on the Bills’ defense as a stern coach and a strong disciplinarian who doesn’t lose his temper.

In Buffalo, he abandoned his favored Tampa-2 defense – one that earned him criticism in Minnesota – and became a much more flexible and adaptable defensive coordinator, calling plays from every coverage shell and has called blitz-heavy defenses like Buffalo’s 2020 squad, featuring a poor defensive line but good blitzing linebackers, to their current squad – stacked with an incredible front four that rarely blitzes.

Frazier could be a coach that could reinvigorate a team culture and rebuild a team that needs to be torn down from the studs. His newfound flexibility could also help teams adapt to a changing NFL environment that’s seeing a stale Fangio/Staley scheme take over the league.

Leslie Frazier Expected To Make $4 Million

Head coaches often make similar amounts of money when they’re considered unproven, regardless of how many teams are interested in them. It takes some sort of outside leverage, like a broadcasting deal or some other opportunity, for them to earn more. There’s no evidence that this should impact negotiations or change the figures of Frazier’s salary figure.

For most NFL head coaches, that “unproven” salary is about $4 million. That can change by half a million in either direction, but it’s not a wide range.

After proving their mettle, coaches can increase that salary substantially, often seeing opportunities to double or triple that yearly total after they see success.

Teams That Could Target Leslie Frazier

Frazier will not be as hot of a target as other coaches and will have to rely on the stellar reputation he’s built among players and coaches around the league more than media buzz.

Teams with culture issues or those looking to switch from a fiery personality to a calm one could be interested in Frazier, as could teams that are switching from an offensive head coach to a defensive one.

Indianapolis Colts

Frazier has earned the respect of Colts coaching legend Tony Dungy, someone who has a strong relationship with owner Jim Irsay. Those relationships are important to Irsay, as evidenced by his hiring of Jeff Saturday, someone they may choose to keep on as an interim coach but may see his first opportunity flitter away as the Colts lose more games.

The Colts’ defense hasn’t really recovered after losing former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to the Chicago Bears as a head coach, and they could use a rejuvenating presence. Frazier should be able to work with the young secondary and star linebacker Shaquille Leonard to bring them back into the spotlight.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos are in a troubled spot after letting go of former head coach Nathaniel Hackett. They not only need a culture shift and locker room buy-in, but they also need to demonstrate stability.

Appointing Jerry Rosburg, the game management coordinator hired partway through the season, was a curious move and one apparently motivated by the fact that defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, a head coach candidate himself, turned down the opportunity to be the interim head coach in Hackett’s absence.

Like the Colts, the Broncos have a strong secondary to work with and some young players that could use some mentorship on that side of the ball. Offensively, Frazier will need outside help but would be an invaluable asset in reuniting the locker room.

Arizona Cardinals

Moving on from a headline-grabbing college coach with a new-look offense to a defensive head coach best remembered for a stale defensive scheme in his last job as a team leader might be a hard shift.

But this would be best for the Cardinals not because of a needed tone shift but because the Cardinals require someone who has demonstrated flexibility and willingness to learn, something that has characterized Frazier’s career with the Bills.

Frazier can also provide some insight into how the athletic and talented Cardinal’s defense continues to underproduce despite heavy investment, while hiring an offensive mind that can get things going from week to week on a more consistent basis.

Houston Texans

Cal McNair is not shy about wanting a strong Christian presence in the building, and Frazier provides that. The basis for his coaching tenure at Trinity International and his strong relationships with many of the coaches and players around the league has been his faith, and that’s something McNair has been almost open about desiring.

On the field, however, Frazier can provide something important: stability for the least stable franchise in the league. The Texans have been gutted both in their front office and their roster, and there has been no indication that the team can respond to adversity or remain calm in the face of pressure – something Frazier is known for. If the Texans are looking for a culture-builder, Frazier is it.

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