EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The storm began to brew Tuesday, catching the entire organization off guard. On Wednesday, before Minnesota Vikings executives could sip their first cup of coffee, before players could don their workout gear, it erupted.
Word leaked out that suddenly disgruntled receiver Percy Harvin requested a trade, sending reporters and team employees scurrying. What initially appeared to be a blip on the radar quickly became a carnival.
No one had answers, and any educated guesses came with caution. Harvin had used the media as his megaphone -- "I'm not happy" -- and it was reverberating. For an organization that has, for the past two seasons, appeared rudderless, it seemed destined for a crash to send them wallowing into the summer.
Instead, in a move both symbolic and effective, Rick Spielman stepped to the forefront. The Vikings general manager, newly promoted as the face of the organization in January, walked toward a waiting throng of media members holding microphones, cameras and piercing questions. Into the fray went Spielman, and after more than five minutes of putting a calm, calculated, confident face on the hubbub started by the team's most electric weapon, one truth was evident:
The Vikings have a boss.
For the first time since Mike Lynn in the 1980s, a real boss. After going a bottom-feeding 9-23 over the past two seasons, the team clarified its power structure, and Spielman emerged. As Wednesday showed, the entire organization is better for it.
It's not a three-card monte of power like they had six years ago. It's not an emotional head coach as was the case with a flailing Brad Childress. And it's not a still-green head coach like it was with Leslie Frazier last year.
It is Spielman -- the analytical, 22-year veteran who spent the previous five years as the Vikings' Vice President of Player Personnel -- handling his first controversy.
With full personnel and roster control, Spielman stood up and became the organization's voice, offering the declarative response to Harvin's "Trade me" narrative.
"The Minnesota Vikings have no interest at all in trading Percy Harvin," Spielman said. "We drafted Percy Harvin here. He's a key part of our organization, he's a key part of our football team. And any issues that are out there or reported -- we always handle those internally. We'll continue to handle those internally."
Spielman offered little of substance. He didn't detail Harvin's gripes, didn't offer a timeline of events and didn't allow the public into the organization's mind. It was controlled, tight-lipped and savvy. Offering him up to the media to stand tall, rather than hide behind closed doors, was a public relations win for the organization.
Early on, Spielman appeared clunky in public remarks. Not this time. He offered a joke when it was appropriate and maintained his cool amid the same questions asked a variety of ways. He was poised without providing information that he believed could compromise the situation. He seemed in control, and thus, so did the team.
This has to be exactly what owner Zygi Wilf envisioned when he promoted Spielman and said, "This establishes the organizational structure that will lead to long-term success for the Vikings."
The clincher came in the form of an echo. Hours later, after Harvin skipped the afternoon minicamp practice, it was Coach Frazier's turn. He solidified Spielman's standing.
"I know Rick had a chance to meet with you guys and talk to you [about] how we feel in regards to Percy," Frazier said. "I'll just kind of leave it at that. What he said is the right way to approach it."
Spielman handles personnel, Frazier coaches. The division of labor frees up Frazier to develop relationships with players without having to put those to the test for business reasons later.
Sorry guys, Rick handles the business, Frazier might say.
Understand that for some franchises, the GM being the GM isn't big news. It shouldn't be, anyway. But the Vikings haven't always handled things like most teams. For years, Childress was the gamut through which all personnel decisions ran. It was Childress, after all, who allowed his emotions to win out when he cut Randy Moss in 2010 without even telling management of his plan. During his first full season as head coach, it was Frazier who pushed for veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb in a move that might have delayed first-round quarterback Christian Ponder's development.
In fact, the Vikings haven't had a true general manager since Lynn. It was telling that Frazier recently claimed he wanted to know the lines of demarcation. Now they are clear: Frazier directs players on the field, Spielman runs the show off it. Instead of a coach making shortsighted decisions aimed at helping his immediate win-loss record, the GM can build for the future, as Spielman believes he's doing. He can carry out his plan.
The team is preparing for bumps in the road, especially with a young quarterback and a green group of skill players. Spielman has engineered it that way so they can grow. And all Frazier has to worry about is coaching the team, because the man in charge won't judge him solely by the team's record. Spielman gets the context.
It's the perfect separation of powers. Frazier hinted at that Wednesday when he dodged further questions about Harvin.
"I'd really rather concentrate on the guys that are here, the guys that are doing a good job," Frazier said.
As he should. Frazier has built up a strong relationship with Harvin, and the two seem to be communicating. As they should.
Meanwhile, Spielman has been handling business, talking with Harvin's agent, Joel Segal, and offering the detached, emotionless, forward-thinking view.
The Vikings aren't perfect. Far from it. Their best player, Adrian Peterson, is recovering from a torn ACL. Their other electric offensive weapon, Harvin, is grumpy. Frazier is unproven, and so is Ponder. They are so young that veteran defensive back Antoine Winfield said he only knows 25 players.
Sure, they have a new stadium coming and sack master Jared Allen. But that is not enough. Belief in future success comes from faith, not facts.
But on Wednesday, for the first time in a long time, the Vikings looked like they had it together. Amid craziness, they had a leader.
That, in itself, is progress.
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