The NFL can be a cruel business. This is the case by costing their coaches precious opportunities because they’re having too much success. This is often what happens for assistants on playoff teams. By advancing into later rounds, they increase their hopes of winning a championship. At the same time, that commitment comes at a cost. Other teams hunting for new head coaches aren’t prone to waiting things out. They want new regimes in place. Thus candidates who deserve those opportunities are left out in the cold because they didn’t have the time to focus on pursuing those jobs. It sounds like this is what happened to Leslie Frazier.
Few NFL assistants had a better year than the Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator. His defense was #1 in both points allowed and total yards. By far the best unit in the league. It was vindication for a man that endured a lot of criticism after his difficult exit from Minnesota back in 2014. This year, many felt he’d be a prominent option on the head coaching circuit. Sure enough, as the playoffs were getting ready to begin, a prominent rumor emerged via ESPN connecting Frazier to the Chicago Bears job.
It turns out this wasn’t a coincidence.
People speculated this was just Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler playing connect the dots. Frazier had been a prominent member of the Bears defense in the 1980s. He helped them win a championship in ’85. Hometown heroes is an easy story to sell. As it turns out, there was more to the story. It appears much of the buzz around that connection was coming from Frazier’s camp. According to Peter King of NBC Sports, the belief is the veteran coach had his heart set on Chicago.
“The Bears and Giants wanted to interview defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier of the Bills. Frazier’s unit was the NFL’s best defense in 2021, by a lot. Buffalo allowed 272 yards per game, 30 yards fewer than any other team in the league. Frazier really wanted the Bears’ job; he played on Chicago’s Super Bowl XX championship team. So after finishing his prep plans for the playoff game Friday, Frazier did a Zoom interview with the Bears. Such interviews usually entail deep questions about plans for a staff, philosophy, and a coach basically selling himself through a detailed plan.”
Things didn’t go as he’d hoped.
Frazier didn’t earn a second interview from the Bears, who hired Matt Eberflus as the new head coach a few days later. Part of the problem from his perspective was he never got the chance to devote his full attention to that interview. Keep in mind his meeting took place on January 21st. Two days later, the Bills were set to play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead in the divisional round. It isn’t easy to sell yourself when your mind has to be in two different places as King echoed.
“It has always been absurd. The process is unfair to the Bills; before their biggest game of the year, the defensive coordinator is distracted by perhaps six hours of job interviews, and even if he physically has the time, he’s going to enter this huge game not nearly as fresh as he’d want to be. The process is unfair to Frazier, who finds his attention divided before a huge game. The process is unfair to the teams doing the pursuing; they’re not getting the best version of Leslie Frazier in making major decisions for their futures.”
Eberflus took advantage of the success Leslie Frazier had
The former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator saw his season come to an abrupt end when the Jacksonville Jaguars stunned them in the finale. That loss knocked them from playoff contention. While a brutal turn of events for the team, it proved to be a blessing in disguise for Eberflus. This allowed him to focus all of his attention and efforts on preparing for interviews. As a result, he became a finalist for both the Bears and Jaguars jobs. Now he is running the show in Chicago.
Maybe things would’ve been different if the shoe had been on the other foot. If the Bills had failed to make the playoffs, Leslie Frazier might be the new Bears head coach since he’d have had time to prepare. That is the sad reality of the process. It is flawed. Due to the structure of the offseason and general team impatience, coaches often suffer from their own success by winning too much. He isn’t the first to experience this and won’t be the last.