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Relying on his Marine Corps training, Les Steckel tried...

By CARRIE MUSKAT

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Relying on his Marine Corps training, Les Steckel tried to whip the Minnesota Vikings into the few good men he needed to win in the NFL. Now, the Vikings are looking for a new man to lead the troops.

Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn Monday fired Steckel, who finished his first coaching season 3-13, the worst record in the team's history.

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Lynn said he had asked Steckel for his resignation. But Steckel, at 38 the youngest head coach in the NFL, refused and Lynn fired him and the entire Vikings coaching staff.

Steckel hadreplaced Bud Grant, who retired last January after compiling a 151-87-5 record in 17 seasons. Steckel had been an assistant on Grant's staff but had no previous head coaching experience.

'I think when you have an assistant coach that's never been a head coach before, it's difficult to determine whether it will turn out to be a bad marriage or a good marriage or divorce,' Lynn said.

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Lynn hoped to name a successor this week and said he would not rule out anyone as a candidate, including Grant, who is still a Vikings consultant.

Steckel, who had two years remaining on a three-year contract, said in a statement: 'My family and I want to express a very special thanks for the opportunity to work with a good group of people -- the players, coaches, employees and management of the Minnesota Vikings. ... I'll remain a Viking enthusiast.'

Steckel was only the third head coach in the Vikings history and he quickly tried to change the team's work habits, initiating a strenuous conditioning program on the first day of training camp. Some players complained about Steckel's attempt to force his rigid military and religious upbringing on them.

'I think Les wanted to be too involved with his players,' running back Darrin Nelson said. 'I think he should have let us go and concentrated on us as football players.'

Steckel didn't let up in practices, making players wear pads every day and encouraging fierce hitting.

'You could tell by the players' morale and the players' attitude,' defensive end Doug Martin said. 'It's been tough for the guys to get up for games, starting with the middle of the season. The morale just broke. The guys just got burned out.'

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Steckel also released several veteran players during the season, including defensive end Randy Holloway and running back Rickey Young.

Steckel reprimanded wide receiver Sammy White and running back Ted Brown in front of the team because they left the Washington game Nov. 29 at halftime. Both had been sidelined by injuries and watched from the press box.

But Lynn said the team's dismal season, in which the Vikings lost their last six games, including Sunday's 38-14 defeat to Green Bay, was not the main reason he fired Steckel. Lynn said he based his decision on three criteria -- 'image, control of the team and maintenance of the football team.'

The players had expected to meet with Steckel Monday morning but Lynn entered instead with the news.

'The players were sort of happy about the whole thing,' nose tackle Charlie Johnson said. 'Whatever happens now, it can't be worse than this year. If it is, then I guess they'll take each player out and shoot 'em.'

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