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Transcript: Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on race relations, COVID offseason, and more

On Thursday, Buffalo Bills assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier spoke to members of the media via Zoom. A broad range of topics were discussed including the unrest and protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Jake Fromm’s racist comments, racism in general, the COVID-19 effects on the offseason, team leadership, and a lot more.

Below is the full, unedited transcript of the call.

Q: I guess, for, for starters, your reaction to George Floyd’s murder, to the video coming out, to just what our country’s been going through over the past week?

A: Yeah, it’s very traumatic. That was tough, tough to watch and seeing the results and what its created across our country. But I appreciate the outpouring of love you see from people and the passion as well. But it seems like it could very well be a watershed moment for our country, definitely gotten a lot of people’s attention like never before. Very, very hard to watch for sure.

Q: And especially as a black man in a position of power, what kind of role do you think you have? What do you think you can be for so many of your players who, like Sean [McDermott] said the other day, that this is hitting so close to home for?

A: You know, when I talk with our players, I just express to them the importance of finding out what can I do to make things better. It’s so easy to point to what the problem is. What can I, as an individual, do to make things better? What responsibility can I take? Hopefully this will galvanize our players and other players within our communities. Whether Buffalo or wherever you from, to down to the grassroots level and use your platform to make a difference. Obviously there’s some injustice that has gone on. But there’s an opportunity that we have as pro athletes, as coaches, that we can make a tremendous impact because of this pedestal that we have. We have to make our voices heard, get involved, not sit back and wait on others to initiate a change. We need to be involved. Just talking about really, what was a comment that Mahatma Gandhi made; be the change that you want to see in this world. That can be us. Because of the platform that we have as athletes. Hopefully our guys will get involved and we will stick together as a group and make a difference in this time.

Q: Before I get to a more serious question, are you on the IR? You were on the Bills Embedded series with a sling on your left arm. Are you going on the IR?

A: No IR. Got a little cleanup work done on my shoulder but I’m good, all good.

Q: You talked about your team coming together. And I know what you said about the team and the players and coaches and people in leadership using platforms. But after seeing what’s happened also in the locker room in New Orleans after Drew Brees yesterday, even today with Jake [Fromm] having released a statement because of the text message that was released. How do you go about making sure that everybody in the locker room, no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like, that they can go forward together, and this does not become divisive? How do you take those steps, especially an African American man in a position of leadership?

A: Yeah, we kind of addressed that as well with our guys today. And it’s so important that we all educate ourselves on the things that are going on in our world and our culture today. And then the other part of it is the communication, making sure that we’re communicating across racial lines and we think that’s extremely important. That’s something we wanted to make sure that we hammered home. We don’t want to be a team that becomes fractured over what’s going on in the world today and it could easily happen, where your locker room is split because of comments or things that are happening around the world so we really emphasize educating ourselves, whether you’re in the majority or the minority, as well as making sure those lines of communication are open. And if someone has a concern, bring it up, let’s talk about it. We’re supposed to be in this as one. And if we can’t talk about issues without feeling like ‘I feel uncomfortable doing it,’ well, let’s take that out of it. Let’s do what we think is the right thing to do to help us be a team and be unified, because this is something that we need to be unified around. We may have some difference of opinion in some areas, but this is one area where we need to be unified as a group, and make sure that we’re all fighting the same fight. And I think our guys get that message and time will tell.

Q: I’m going along the lines of being unified and having that communication with your players, kind of a two part question. One, how do you see the conversations amongst the team going right now? Are guys receptive to listening? Do you see any kind of divide? Then also, specifically, what actions do you think as a team, you guys can do to help the cause and to help end racial injustice?

A: Yeah. Good questions. Our players, throughout this week have gotten away from the X’s and O’s to let them talk in their small group meetings, talk about growing, and that sometimes may be a growth moment because guys get a chance to share default equipment movements as well, like that, to make sure that we’re all communicating. Let guys voice their frustrations and also talk about ways that we can make things better. And one of the ways that we can make better, and this is something we talked about earlier today, in our communities. Now we go and all spread out to all the different places right now. We can volunteer, we can donate funds. There’s a lot of things that we can do to make a difference and I’ll point it out to our guys. If a Jordan Poyer or Tre’Davious White came to my middle school, my elementary school, and just showed up and just said hello, or came to my playground, that would have taken me to a whole other level because those are my heroes, you know. So, for our guys to get involved in their communities, and the same thing here in Buffalo, we talk to them about when they come back to Buffalo, making sure that we get intertwined in the community, and we have a social justice committee on our team. Harrison [Phillips] talked to guys about that today on the call. And just invited other guys to get involved, but you don’t want to just be a person who’s spewing negatives. There are some solutions as well. If you want to see change, you have to get involved. You don’t want to just stand around and just talk about what the problem is. That’s we tried to stress to our guys - don’t be one of those people, we got enough of those. Let’s get involved. Let’s affect change. We have the platform to be able to do it

Q: First question, and I have a follow up, but the first question to you is, how much of your own experiences, life experiences, you were a player, you’ve been a coach in this league for a long time. All of those together, have you utilized, if at all in your discussions with some of the younger players who have if anything are trying to find answers, and some guidance, perhaps, and just sharing what your personal experiences have been with going through a long stretch of life? With the sadly these issues occurring. So how much of that has come up in conversations either in these meetings or separate meetings?

A: Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot of calls throughout the week from colleagues in the league, some Caucasian, just asking me, “hey just talk to me about this and some of the things you’ve experienced.” It’s been an eye opener. In that video, of George Floyd, like no other. Even today with our team, with the guys on defense I just shared a moment where as a player I’m in a shopping center near where my home is in the suburbs of Chicago at the time, and police comes up to me, asked for my ID. You know, I’m just walking in the mall, in my mind not doing anything wrong. I show him my ID. He asked me why am I in the mall? Why am I walking around in the mall? Moments like those some of our players have experienced. But I wanted to share with them. A moment means they can understand some of the things that you’re facing, some of the things they’re saying. We’ve experienced it as well. But there’s a way to handle it. We can become better. Just can’t live the rest of your life that way, being bitter, angry. Anyone that doesn’t look like you, you can say, what can I do to make the situation better? Naturally, that’s what we try and do with our players today. Just trying to evoke thought and ask them, what can I do to this situation better? There’s some other situations I could share but that was one that I wanted to share with our players. The policeman recognized who I was after seeing my ID and seeing my name. The conversation completely changed. He’s a Bears fan and to think that if I had just been Leslie Frazier, citizen A, who knows where that conversation would have gone. But that’s the platform athletics gives you. It kind of insulates you from some of the stuff that goes on. I wanted our guys to understand they have a golden opportunity at this moment, to use the pedestal, the platform that they have to get involved, to make a difference in their own way. And they can do it. They can do it. But this is the time, if there’s ever a time, to step up and get involved.

Q: So my follow up, was the conversation about coaching. The conversation about whether there is fairness equity efforts to try to make itself. And, as you well know the league, or if it’s been discussed at least about some level of reward or incentive, I guess is a better word, to hire minority candidates for these jobs, coaches, front office. What is your perspective on that conversation that’s going on and any thoughts as to how it can be improved?

A: Yeah, prior to the pandemic, we were all at the combine. I had a chance, at the invitation of the league, to speak to the Workplace Diversity Committee about minority hiring practices. And it was a strong conversation amongst other owners and some of the people that were involved and thankfully I had the chance to speak with the committee when it comes to minority hiring in our league. To see some of the changes that they’re talking about, and maybe implement where it will go, but at least they’re having the conversations. And there are some changes. I think the one about coordinators or position coaches being able to interview without being blocked. And I think that’s a great thing for a lot of young coaches who aspire to advance in the profession. And I think the Commissioner, along with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, along with many others in the league. They are trying to do what’s necessary. To what degree, I don’t know. I don’t know what the endgame is going to be. But the fact that they’re having a conversation, they recognize that something is wrong with the current system. And they want to make corrections. We’ll see where it leads.

Q: Your overall reaction to the reaction around the league coming out of Drew Brees’ comments? And I know Jake came to the surface today, but when you see that the number of players tweet, react to it. Does that speak to the opportunity that you referenced prior in this conversation?

A: Yeah, I think so. I mean this is obviously a subject that has galvanized our country in so many ways. But as I mentioned earlier, I think is a great opportunity for our players, for anybody in our country, to get on the right side of this and really begin to effect change in a positive way. I saw where Drew made the apology remarks and, hopefully, for their team, they can come together and stick together, rally around Drew as a teammate, hopefully that’ll be the case.

Q: In your first comment, you said you think this could be a watershed moment. What convinces you that this is different from unfortunately so many other similar examples in the past?

A: Just seeing the reaction throughout our country. I got an email today from a former GM in our league, who just really poured his heart out. His reactivity with recognizing what some of the issues were and videotape of George Floyd’s death really brought it home to him. And he was very apologetic for the fact that he has not been as involved as he should have been in the past, over the course of his life. He said, I want to apologize to all my friends and make you aware that I’m going to do better. I’m going to do better. I’m going to be more involved and I’m going to use the influence that I have much more so than I ever have before and make a difference. You hear comments like that and there have been many others. You get the feeling that maybe this is the time in our country where we’re going to take some necessary steps to make things better as a whole, but only time will tell.

Q: Yeah, so the feedback you’re getting kind of leads you to believe that maybe now more than ever, the white community is really realizing how much they’ve failed the black community? Is that kind of what you’re getting?

A: What you sense is, more so than any other time, that our country as a whole will recognize social injustice, much more so than we have in the past, as it just seems that way. There seems to be more people recognizing what has been going historically in our country, just by some of the comments and actions of our citizens.

Q: I want to talk about the virtual offseason a little bit. Quite a few new players on this defense and the defensive line. How have you seen these new players reach out to some of the players who are on the roster from last year or are the veterans in the room reaching out to the new players? To meet people for the first time virtually, how have you seen that take place? What have you thought of the defense?

A: One of the things that Sean did in one of our very first group meetings with everybody after the draft was make sure that the veterans had some of the rookies phone numbers and vice versa some of the rookies had veterans phone numbers at their position. And guys have crossed over. They’re communicating with the young guys, the young guys are talking to the veterans, and they’re developing that bond that we would ordinarily be developing at Orchard Park. Developing that chemistry that’s necessary to bring your team together but they’ve taken it upon themselves to reach out to each other, communicate, talk, and that’s the way we have to do it now because we can’t be around one another but they’re doing it. They’re communicating, they’re getting to know each other. Virtually and through phone calls.

Q: What specifically did Jake Fromm have to say to the team today? And what was your reaction, both to what he said and then your reaction to what I’m assuming was his apology?

A: Yeah, that’s exactly what it was, was an apology. But up until the apology, I had no idea anything happened. I didn’t know anything about it and I still don’t know all the details other than what he shared with us in our team meeting. So I’m still learning more about it but that’s what it was, it was an apology by him.

Q: And what was the reaction amongst the team and yourself to that?

A: On Zoom, it’s hard sometimes to sense what people’s reactions are, as you guys probably know from doing these calls. But I think we have a mature enough team that our leaders are going to reach out to him and encourage him and they recognize how sincere he was in his apology. And I think we will definitely be able to move on from that.

Q: Losing Lorenzo [Alexander] and losing Kyle [Williams] in back to back years, that’s a lot of leadership walking out of the room. Who have you seen step up to start to replace some of that leadership that you’ve lost?

A: Well the first guy that comes to mind is just seeing Tremaine [Edmunds’] development in this offseason. This virtual offseason. Just the way he has been kind of bringing players together and talking with them, calling them, reaching out to them, going past his own position, the linebackers position. And the same thing with Jordan Poyer, the same thing with Jerry Hughes, reaching out to teammates to try to develop that unity that we’re missing right now because we’re not around one another. Those guys really come to mind, guys that are reaching out across their position lines, trying to help the young guys as well as the veterans to stay connected.

Q: I wanted to follow on Jay’s question about the Jake Fromm thing, and I know you’re a little bit in the dark about it but you do have a strong culture in that locker room, but is that exactly the kind of thing that, you need to get past that? I mean, he came out and apologized for which is great, but he still said it at some point. Is this the kind of thing that we have to eradicate if we’re ever going to move forward?

A: Jake seemed very sincere in his apology. And I think our team, you mentioned it, we have a strong culture on our team. Those guys are going to be able to sift through what’s real and what’s not real. We haven’t been around Jake, we haven’t much time with him because of the virtual all season that we’re in, but he’s a teammate with those guys. I think over time, they’ll gain trust. All of us make mistakes, and he acknowledged that he made a mistake. There are a number of us that say the same thing. At some point or another, especially in our youth, made some mistakes. And you move on from it and you grow from it and that’s we’re going to try to do, I’m sure as a team, grow from it. I know Jake wants to grow from it as well.

Q: How excited are you about the depth you have on the defensive line? It seems like you’ve got guys that can really move around and you go probably one through eight right now up front. How excited are you about that segment of the defense?

A: I’m excited on paper, I can’t wait till we get on the field and get a chance to see the guys move around and execute some of the things we’re talking about in these zoom meetings, and feel good about it on paper. I think Brandon [Beane] did a good job in helping us. Now we need to get on the field and try to come together as a unit. We have a new D-Line coach in Eric Washington and his assistant, Jacques Cesaire. Eric is an outstanding coach. He’s going to do a great job for us. I’m very happy that he’s going to be leading that group. But we need to be able to get on the field to bring it all together.

Q: There’s a report out there that the coaches can now get back to the facility. Is that the plan for you and Sean’s staff for tomorrow? Can you update us on that and how, and if so, how big might that be finally?

A: Yeah, I’m sure at some point Sean will reach out to us as a staff and we’ve been talking about a bunch of different scenarios and now that that news has become public Sean will get with us and give us some direction on how we want to handle it. We have some contingencies in place and, you know, we’ll come together and we’ll talk about it.

Q: No one knows when training camp or when you can get back on the field will be, how much do you reflect back to the lockout in 2011? And how important is it to have a group of defensive players who are either entering the third year or second year in this defensive system, or are newcomers who are very familiar with how it works and familiar with a guy like Eric Washington.

A: It’s the same in some ways as 2011 but it’s far different in a lot of other ways. The fact that we can communicate with the players whereas in 2011 you were slapped on the wrist if you tried to communicate with a player. So if there is a better, this is better than it was back in 2011, especially if you are a new staff. Fortunately for us, as you mentioned, we’ve been together as a staff now for the last three years going into our fourth season, and having an additional like a veteran guy like Eric is a plus for us on defense. The majority of our defensive players are coming back. So you feel like you’re a little bit ahead of the curve but when we come out of this virtual period, it’ll be a matter of you organize and take advantage of every single data we have, because we’ve got so much ground to cover on the field. Until you get on the field, you really don’t know what you have and you start competing. So, I think we’ve done a great job with the offseason program under the current circumstance, but we need to get on the field. But there’s no question, the fact that we’ve been together for the last three years, is a plus for us as we go forward.

Q: Sean McDermott has talked over and over again about how much he appreciates having you as a sounding board. How have you been able to help Sean navigate these waters? Because we all see this through a different lens and your lens is probably as important as anybody’s.

A: Yeah, give Sean a lot of credit and we talk almost every day about our team and what’s going on in the world and how it affects our team and I just appreciate his heart, his willingness to listen and then we can have hard conversations and come to agreements and we don’t always agree, for sure, but we listen to one another and that I’m just very very thankful for him in that way because these moments, these are these are life changing moments that we’re experiencing. It’s hard to just say my way is the only way. You need to be able to listen sometimes. He does. And I think that has a lot to do with our culture being as strong as it is, his willingness to have an open heart and to listen. It’s important and I appreciate him and hopefully as we go forward and deal with all the different things that we’ll face that that dialogue will continue and I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t.

Q: Are there one or two players think you’ve seen since this is started to kind of unfold, step to the forefront, and really take on the reins of speaking on this?

A: Are you talking what’s going on this week are you talking about just the offseason program?

Q: Going on across the country this week with the country. Is there a guy like Lorenzo that you’ve been impressed with?

A: I don’t know if there’s a guy who will fill Lorenzo’s shoes, there’s no question in a moment like this, he would be out in front for sure. I don’t know if we have anyone who’s stepped up to that point yet but within their groups, we’ve got guys that are leading. I referenced what Jordan Poyer’s doing, what Tremaine is doing, what Jerry Hughes is doing. Lorenzo, he was affecting a whole team, not just one side of the ball so that’s a hard one to live up to, but we got some guys that are definitely leading us in the right direction within their groups.

Q: On the Jake Fromm incident, just looking at it online here, and some of his Georgia teammates. Two of the players mentioned that they couldn’t believe it and that they lost all respect for him and Drew Brees, and one gentleman even mentioned said it seems like this whole situation is allowing everyone’s true side to come out. I’m just wondering, in this situation where you don’t have the players in person, it seems like every day something is coming out and with the players and how do you guys as coaches, you, McDermott, the rest of the coaching staff are prepared to handle these situations as they continue to be espoused by various players throughout the league? And what was your impression when you first heard about Vic Fangio saying there’s no racism in the NFL?

A: With the first question and regarding Jake. As I mentioned earlier, we’re still getting to know Jake as a teammate, none of us have been in the locker room together but based on what he said to the team today, I know, I really believe our guys will give him the benefit of the doubt. They’re looking forward to communicating with him and encouraging him. And it definitely sounds like he’s learned from this mistake. One of the things we talked about, and I mentioned it earlier, was the fact that love has to overcome hate. It’s easy to just continue down that hate hate hate road, but that’s not where we want to be. If we want to change this, there has to be a reciprocal effort on both sides. And we have enough guys on our team that want to see change for the better. I know those guys are going to give Jake every chance to prove that those words that were echoed, I don’t know how long ago it was, that was a teachable moment for Jake, and that he’s learned from it and he’s drawn from that moment. So I know our players are going to reach out to him, in the next 24 to 48 hours as well. In regards to what Vic Fangio said, I think he apologized for those comments, no racism in the league. I’m glad that he apologized. That’s a good thing.

Q: Yes, he said he apologized today because his players brought it to his attention about the various issues of black coaches and front office positions. It seemed like the players let them know.

A: That goes back to, I think Sal pointed out when he asked me the question, what makes you think this could be a watershed moment? In moments like these, these are eye openers for us all. In the past, it may have been a segment of the population that was looking at this and seeing it for what it really was. Now it seems more people are really having the shields taken off of their eyes and seeing things for what they really are. And thankfully, coach listened to his players because this goes back to what we were talking about earlier. The communication within our business, so much of it is relation, and building relationships. And we try to value our players as more than just assets in Buffalo and we really do our best to see our guys become great men in the community, and develop them as people outside of football because at some point football is going to end. And you don’t want to just value people because they are an asset, but for who they are as people and that’s what we’re trying to do, build relationships with our players, and I think you see it in our culture and I think you see that in the way our players play as well and that’s a credit to our head coach also.

Q: I have a two part question, if I may. I’m struck by the watershed moment, you’ve gone back to a couple times and also the shopping center. And I’m just wondering, as you relayed that, especially the specifics of the shopping mall to your players, did you sense them exhaling at all and then maybe opening themselves up to share some things? Because I think when we can identify with other people, we just feel more our true selves and sharing ourselves so that’s the context in which I asked that. And I know it’s only June, but I also wonder if you think very much this fall, the teams that… I don’t want to say wins and losses success necessarily, but it strikes me that perhaps the teams that are most successful, may be the ones that best understand how to incorporate the times we’re in right now into true teamwork, brotherhood and everyone in it together. So I’m sorry if those two were kind of long winded, I just wanted to use those specific examples.

A: Yeah, I do agree that sometimes when you share real life moments with people and show them that you’re human and maybe you’ve experienced some of the same things they’ve experienced or will experience, it does bring it to another level, when it comes to understanding and empathizing with that person. So, hopefully, that was the case with our players and that’s what I wanted them to understand. I know some of our players have experienced something similar, I’ve heard some of them talk about it. I want them to know we’re standing with them. And I totally agree that some teams will handle this better than others. Just like some teams will handle this virtual offseason better than others. And it’s going to be an indicator of what will happen in the 2020 season. None of us knows what direction that will go, but we’re going to do all we can in Buffalo to make sure that we keep the lines of communication open with our players, because we think that that dialogue is important. And we don’t want to fracture our team behind some of the things that are going on in our country today. And the only way you can do that is what we talked about earlier, being able to educate ourselves, make sure we’re doing a good job of communicating, as a coaching staff with our players and vice versa. Putting some action behind our talk, you know, get out and get involved and not just standing back and pointing out all the problems that there are. We have a responsibility to get involved. I hope I answered the question.

Q: Do you ever have to remind yourself, football and now real life stuff, that Tremaine Edmunds is as young as he is? To me, he’s just so impressive in so many ways.

A: I totally agree. When you look at the fact that he’s just going to third season and just turning 22, so young, so much promise ahead of him, and he’s achieved so much already. I mean, to already be recognized as one of our leaders on our team and on our defense. We’re very very fortunate to have him. He’s the epitome of what you would want to one of your star players to be, one of your leaders to be. A guy you don’t have to worry about late at night. You know he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be, you know he’s going to do what he’s supposed to do when it comes to football. We’re just very very fortunate to have him as a star player for the Buffalo Bills for sure.

Q: I wanted to ask you about Tre’Davious White. Each season he’s been in the NFL, he continues to take his game to the next level. We saw that last year ending tied with the most interceptions in the league. What are your expectations for Tre as he continues to take his game to another level each year?

A: Yeah, well, one of the expectations is that he leads the league this time in interceptions (joking). All those balls drills we do with him. But no, just to see his growth. The people on this call know how much we rely on Tre’Davious to help our defense play well. When you are a rookie, when he was a few years ago and we’re matching you up as a rookie, that shows you the kind of confidence that we have, but it also shows the type of person and athlete that he is and his toughness, as a rookie to be able to go out and do what he did and continue to grow and stack good years on top of another good year…I take my hat off to him. There’s nobody works harder than he does, he puts the time in in the classroom, he busts his tail in the meeting rooms, then he goes on the field and practices like it’s a game so I’m not surprised that he’s grown as a player the way he has, and looking forward to 2020 as he continues to mature and grow as a player and expect him to just be even better in 2020.

Q: Sean was talking to us yesterday about how he thinks the team itself can be an example of many different people all working together, so many different backgrounds being represented, and I wanted to know how you thought the Bills can be a picture of leading and just fitting into the framework in the context of what’s going on in the country?

A: Yeah, we have so many character guys on our team that you’d like to believe that we can be in the forefront of showing the rest of the league, even our country and I know Sean has referenced this with our team. This is what it looks like when you work together to see change happen and still win football games. You can believe that and say that because of the type of people we have on our team. We have talented guys, a lot of talented guys, that are really good people as well. Now it’s a matter of rolling up our sleeves and going out and getting involved and putting some action behind the things that we believe. I think that’ll be the case, but there’s no questions in our minds that we can be one of those teams that people look to and say, that group of guys, they helped turn things around in the community and for sure in our particular city.