1-24-03, 6:45 p.m.
How high and how low can you get in 24 hours? On Sunday night, Eagles secondary coach Leslie Frazier had to deal with the Buccaneers upset in Philadelphia in the NFC championship game. On Monday night, Marvin Lewis asked him to be the defensive coordinator for the Bengals. Frazier sat down with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com this week to talk about the new job.
GH:What's your philosophy of calling a game on defense?
LF:Don't be afraid to take risks. Keep the pressure on the offense, on the quarterback. You can't be afraid to go after it. Mano a mano You can't be an idiot about it. There are times you're going to have to play zone. But we're not going to sit there. We'll be aggressive.
GH:As a cornerback on Buddy Ryan's great Bears' defense in '85 and as a coach under Jim Johnson in Philadelphia, that sounds like the only philosophy you can have. Marvin likes to say he's a man to-man coach. Are you?
LF:I like man-to-man, but I think you have to have a mix. With the Bears, look at all the great players we had. Mike Singletary is in the Hall of Fame. Dan Hampton is in the Hall of Fame. Wilber Marshall will get talked about for the Hall of Fame. You could play man-to-man with those guys. You do what you do best.
GH:: How much power can Marvin Lewis' defensive coordinator have? It's just assumed Marvin is going to run the defense.
LF:That's not what Marvin told me. He told me he's going to be busy being the head coach. I'm sure we're going to do the things he did in Baltimore and Washington, but we're also probably going to do some things we did in Philly. It's going to be a mix. It sounds like he wants to devote his time to overseeing all three phases.
GH:You were a secondary coach in college at Illinois for two years and for four years in Philly. Before that, the head coach at NAIA Trinity in Illinois for nine years. Can you coordinate a defense?
LF:I think being a head coach is a lot harder than being a coordinator. Especially starting the program from scratch. It shows you're able to deal with people and understand their problems. Improve not only skills, but discipline and to manage people.
GH:Not many people walking around have a field named after them, which is what they did when you left Trinity (where he took the new program to two league titles) to go to Illinois.
LF:* Some of my friends told me I should be really honored because the only time you usually see something like that is in your obituary.*
GH:Why did you leave? It seemed like a nice niche.
LF:I was 39 and I thought if I didn't make the move that year, I would never get another chance. I love the school and the people, but I wanted a chance in the NFL and I felt it was then or never.
GH:You go from probably the low point of your NFL coaching career to the highest in 24 hours. From losing the NFC championship game to being a coordinator. How were your emotions?
LF:It was a whirlwind, it was all going so fast. Even on the airplane (to Cincinnati) I couldn't really concentrate on what was going to happen because I was still thinking about the game. I had expected to be on a plane Monday, but going to San Diego for the Super Bowl. Oh man, a loss at home in the championship game is about as bad as you can feel.
GH:It was reported that the Bengals first wanted to talk to (Falcons secondary coach) Emmitt Thomas about being defensive coordinator, but they couldn't get permission to talk to him. Does that have any affect on how you look at the job?
LF:Not to me. It's a great opportunity. I can't tell you how many times in my life how God did things that have blessed me. I only look at it as a great opportunity.
GH:You are the first African-American coordinator in Bengals' history. What does that mean to you?
LF:Given the history of our country and where we are right now with race, it's significant and I understand that. I don't think it should be at the forefront. We've come a long way in our country and I'm happy to be a part of it. But I think the important thing to think about is that the job has been earned on merit.
GH:What did you learn about playing for Buddy and that great Bears team?
LF:** Buddy's a great coach. Just the way he handled players. He handled everybody just a little bit differently. He was very easy to talk to when you had a suggestion He let players play.
He knew how to keep the pressure on. Mr. (Mike) Brown and I were talking about that when we met. The 46 defense was one of those things that no one had an answer for because it was so new and different. Eventually, (offenses) figured it out, but it took them longer than most.
We had a core of leaders there. Coaches can only do so much, you need players to stand up and lead. A guy like Singletary made you accountable. (Quarterback) Jim McMahon was a guy who isn't really known as a leader, but he was the kind of player who was great to his teammates. When the quarterback comes out in the press and compliments a guy who doesn't get much recognition, that goes a long way. That team had tremendous chemistry. **
GH:Johnson is obviously a mentor.
LF:Very much so. He's another guy easy to talk to and he's got no ego. That's a big thing, I think, for a coach.
GH:How does your playing career help your coaching career?
LF:** I think it gives you instant credibility with your players. The hard part is coaching guys who have already been playing four, five years and they're comfortable with how they do things. You have to get their trust.
I might say to a guy, "try putting your hand on him and jam him," and if he knows I had some success doing that, it's got to be helpful.
I think it's helped. (Cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor and free safety Brian Dawkins all made next week's Pro Bowl.) When I got there, none of those guys were Pro Bowlers and that's something I can take pride in knowing I helped. **
GH:Buddy said he saw you make the most amazing interception he's ever seen in the NFL.
LF:It was against Green Bay in, I think, the third quarter in a close game. They were at around our 10 or 15 after a turnover and it was on the first play. I went up over John Jefferson from behind, over his head, and I caught it coming down, kind of like in a dive. This was before instant replay, but they stopped the game and the refs met in a huddle for a few minutes before they gave it to me. I guess they couldn't figure out how I could I go over him and catch it like that without (interfering) with him.
GH:Your last game was Super Bowl XX, right, against the Pats?
LF:** I tore my ACL early. In the second quarter. It was on a fake punt reverse and I was running the ball. I planted my foot and tore it.
The thing I remember most about that was the people telling me about Buddy's reaction. I didn't see it, but they said after the play about four players had to pull him off the special teams coach he was so upset.
I tried to come back the next year, but the Bears failed me on the physical without getting on the field. Buddy gave me a shot in Philadelphia (in 1987), but after three (pre-season) games, that was it. **
GH:: Did you miss the celebration?
LF:** You always see the celebration in the locker room on TV with the champagne and the cigars. I was in the next room on a table getting my knee worked on and I could hear it coming through the wall. That was hard.
I really thought I was going to be able to get that celebration this year. Now we're going to have to do it here with the Bengals.