EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Leslie Frazier is widely considered one of the nicest men in the NFL, a high-integrity, high-class type of head coach.
That doesn't mean he's a pushover. Frazier has proven he has a no-nonsense side to him in his first year in charge of the Minnesota Vikings, and the latest and largest of his difficult decisions came this week.
Bernard Berrian, a veteran in an already-thin group of wide receivers, was waived. Chris Cook, the team's best cornerback in pass coverage for what has been a leaky secondary, was suspended without pay following a felony charge for domestic assault by strangulation.
The week before, quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched in favor of rookie Christian Ponder.
The distractions this season have been fewer than last, when Brett Favre, Randy Moss and Brad Childress were in the middle of all kinds of controversies, but this is one of those weeks when the Vikings can't escape or ignore the extracurricular activity.
"It resembles our record," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "We're a 1-6 team, and we want to try to eliminate those things. We want to try to get rid of any distractions that might come about playing in this league and playing in the NFL and playing for the Vikings. We just want to go out and play games and win them without all the side stuff going on. It's unfortunate it had to happen that way, but that's the way it is. You just try to eliminate it and keep moving forward."
Cook is the fourth player arrested this year, but his charge is by far the most serious. Frazier said Wednesday he and the rest of the organization are "disappointed" and "disturbed" by the allegation that he twice tried to strangle his girlfriend at his home over the weekend after becoming angry she had contact with an ex-boyfriend. The woman was found by police with hemorrhaging in her eye and a bloody nose and upper lip.
"The fact that he will be suspended from our team really lets you know how concerned we are about what happened," Frazier said, declining to provide more information about his Tuesday conversation with Cook or when, if ever, Cook can rejoin the team. He's on the reserve/suspended list and can be replaced on the active roster by another player immediately.
Frazier said he was "in shock" Saturday after learning Cook was in jail.
As for Berrian's situation, that was simmering for weeks.
"Just a matter of what was going to be best for our team," Frazier said. "One of the things I explained to our football team: Every decision that's made is based on what's best for our team. It has nothing to do with it being personal or anything like that. It's what best for our team."
Frazier was careful not to overtly criticize Berrian, who had a total of only 343 yards receiving, no touchdowns and no receptions longer than 30 yards since the start of last season while getting paid like a No. 1 receiver. He didn't directly answer a question about whether Berrian's attitude and effort were satisfactory.
"Bernard expressed to me he really wanted to be a part of our team and help our team to be successful, but for what we're trying to do and where we are, it's just so important that every guy tries to adhere to the way we want to get it done," Frazier said. "It's one thing to say what I'm going to do. It's another thing to do those things. And for us, we're trying to build something for the long term, not the short term, so you've got to make decisions based on the bigger picture."
Berrian, according to one report, missed two team meetings and was put on the inactive list for the Oct. 9 game against Arizona. He had his most productive game of the season Oct. 16 at Chicago, but last week against Green Bay he was a healthy scratch again. Berrian told Frazier he wanted to stay in a meeting Monday, but he was waived Tuesday.
"One of the things we looked at was performance for sure. You'd like to get more from the position," Frazier said.Comment on this story
Frazier, clearly, has been trying to create a culture of accountability since he took over, and he has shown he's not afraid to sacrifice short-term stability for the sake of what he believes is right. Despite being one of the most durable players in the league at a critical position where the Vikings had no proven replacement, left tackle Bryant McKinnie was let go during training camp after arriving overweight.
"There are going to be situations. It's going to happen. And how you handle those determines a lot of what type of success you'll have long term. Handling adversity is big deal in our league, in sports and life in general," Frazier said.
Ponder said he "didn't have much of a reaction" to Berrian's departure.
"Coach Frazier's done a really good job of keeping distractions away from us and kind of staying the course. Coach Frazier handled that deal, and I think he handled it well," Ponder said.