New Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier never planned to be a coach. • Frazier, 54, was at the peak of his playing career in 1985, a cornerback for the Bears' Super Bowl championship team, with coach Mike Ditka calling him the most underrated player on his star-studded defense. Frazier led the Bears with six interceptions and even took part in the infamous Super Bowl Shuffle video. • But Frazier's fate took a cruel twist on a trick play. In the second quarter of Chicago's victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, Frazier sustained a career-ending left knee injury while trying to return a punt. After a failed comeback, Frazier considered working in insurance, but was talked into taking over a new NAIA program at Trinity College in suburban Chicago by then president Ken Meyer. • Like Trinity, Frazier was starting from scratch. But Ditka told Meyer his soft-spoken corner from Columbus, Miss., was the right man for the job.
"I played for Coach (George) Halas and I played for (Tom) Landry, two complete opposites in the sense of personalities," Ditka said. "And Leslie had a Tom Landry personality, he had the knowledge, he had the understanding of what it took to get the best out of people and he did it in a very quiet way. And I think that's good. Some people do it different. (Vince) Lombardi did it different. I did it different. But you have to be who you are, and he stayed true to who he is."
Frazier led Trinity, now Trinity International University, to two conference titles in nine seasons, and the school named its field after him. He left to be defensive backs coach at Illinois (1997-98) then took the same job on Andy Reid's Eagles staff (1999-2002). After a stint as defensive coordinator in Cincinnati (2003-04), Frazier was hired by good friend Tony Dungy, who credited the assistant head coach's role in the Colts' Super Bowl XLI win.
"Leslie is a good teacher, communicator and encourager," Dungy said. "Again, he knows how to win. He's been a player in the Super Bowl and knows what it looks like. He went on to Philadelphia with Andy Reid, he won the Super Bowl with us in Indianapolis. It's not just credibility, you know what it takes. It's the discipline and details. They'll get it from the head coach and defensive coordinator and the coaching staff and it filters down."
In Dungy, Frazier saw an example how a fellow Christian with a similarly mild-mannered personality could succeed as an NFL coach. And Frazier carried that style in Minnesota, as defensive coordinator (2007-10) and head coach (2010-13).
"He's got a calm demeanor … and he's very consistent," former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber said. "He's not one of those guys that's going to be up one day, down one day, where you don't know where you stand Monday. He's a genuinely good guy, an honest coach, and that's one thing players respect is he's honest with you. He's going to treat you like a man, not going to get in your face and yell and scream. But he expects a high level of play and does that in his own way of being calm and collected."
That's not to say Frazier, who will be introduced at a news conference today, lacks inner fire. Former Vikings Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper will never forget when he asked Frazier what his playing style was like. The coach replied: hit opponents so hard it'd make their eyes water. But Sharper says Frazier motivates "without the rah-rah stuff."
Leber said Frazier always had an open-door policy, with defensive end Brian Robison saying "he wants to have your best interest at heart." Robison said Frazier would often collaborate with players, asking what they saw on film. He'd let position coaches do their jobs, though the former Alcorn State corner was hands-on with the secondary.
"You can say what you want about his record and all that stuff as head coach," Leber said. "But when it comes to treating players like they're supposed to be treated, nobody was better."
Frazier was 21-32 as head coach. As Vikings coordinator, Frazier's defenses finished in the top 10 three times (sixth in 2008 and '09, eighth in '10). He emphasized a strong rush from the front four and stopping the run, which they did at 94.8 rushing yards allowed per game in his seven seasons, the NFL's second-lowest total in that span.
"Leslie is one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL and has a long track record of helping players reach their full potential," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "He transformed Minnesota's defense into one of the league's elite units."
However, Sharper said that Frazier, from the Cover 2 "family," must be flexible to get the most out of a"man-to-man" secondary with star cornerback Darrelle Revis and safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron.
"I don't know if you want to keep those guys stagnant and have them in Cover 2, you want to move them around," said Sharper, an NFL Network analyst. "He'll have to tinker with his system a little bit."
But Ditka and fellow former NFL coach Herm Edwards believe the Bucs have the right building blocks, especially in the front seven, with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David.
"I think it's a great hire, I really do," Ditka said. "I don't think you have to re-invent the wheel, just have to straighten out a few things and compete."
Ditka regrets allowing the gimmick play call that ended Frazier's playing career, using him on a reverse punt return while already ahead. "I should have said, 'No, don't do it,' " Ditka said.
But sparking Frazier's unlikely coaching career, there was nothing wrong with that. "It was fate," Ditka said. "And it worked out."
Times staff writer Rick Stroud and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]