The Chicago Bears announced yesterday that Mike Tice, the team's offensive line coach since 2010, has been promoted to offensive coordinator, replacing the recently departed Mike Martz. Tice has held numerous posts since starting his career as a tight ends coach for the Minnesota Vikings in 1996, yet he's never before been an OC.
Our best bet at trying to decipher what type off offense Tice will install is by looking at his stretch as head coach of the Vikings from 2002-2005. We have four seasons where he played a strong hand in the overall offensive philosophy of the team. From analyzing those years we have a good idea of not only what to expect from an X-and-O standpoint, but where the team's potential is in terms of numbers.
When Tice took over for Dennis Green in 2002, he hired Scott Linehan as his offensive coordinator. Linehan had never coached in the NFL before – only at the collegiate and high school ranks. As such, Tice played a big part in the development of the offense, going so far as to assist in the play-calling duties that first season.
What the two of them created was one of the most-successful offenses in Minnesota history. It was a power running game that stretched the field using a downfield passing attack. The Vikings led the NFL in rushing in 2002, in total offense in 2003 and in 2004 set a franchise record for yardage (6,339). That season, QB Daunte Culpepper broke virtually every Minnesota passing record – among them were completion percentage (69.2), passing yards (4,717) and passing touchdowns (39) – and posted the fourth-best passer rating (110.9) in NFL history.
The Vikings twice ran for more than 2,000 yards during Tice's four seasons as head coach – something the Bears have done just two times the past 20 years. The offense leaned heavily on RB Michael Bennett (1,296 rushing yards) in 2002, yet converted to a multi-back system the following three years, with RB Mo Williams' 745 rushing yards the highest single-season total of any individual back during that stretch.
From this four-year sample size, we glean that Tice's offenses will run the ball down the opponents throats with multiple backs, while taking numerous shots down the field. It's similar to Martz's system, so the transition won't be drastic for Jay Cutler and the rest of the offensive players.
To get a better handle on what to expect, we solicited the knowledge of Tim Yotter, publisher of VikingUpdate.com, who covered Tice in Minnesota:
"He believes in a power running game, blocking tight ends and a vertical passing game. He does a good job setting things up and using screens, which should be good for Matt Forte. Tice wasn't given enough to work with here in coaching staff or free agents under the Red McCombs ownership. He was very streaky with his teams and struggled on the road too often. That said, he really knows his stuff."
Tice was most successful on offense when he had Randy Moss to stretch opposing defenses. After Moss' departure, the wheels started to fall off. Which means, if Tice's offense is going to work in Chicago, the Bears must acquire a top-tier wide receiver in free agency this season. A player like Vincent Jackson would provide the downfield threat that the Bears will need to succeed under Tice.
The wild card here is the team's new "passing coach", who has yet to be signed. Tice twice empowered a college coach to run his offense in Minnesota – Linehan in 2002 and Steve Loney in 2005 – meaning he could go the same route with the team's passing coach.
Yet most believe it will be an established coach, one that, ideally, has worked with Cutler in the past. Some names being thrown around are Jeremy Bates, Dowell Loggains and Jedd Fisch.
Bates' last position in the NFL was as offensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. In 2007 and 2008, he served as quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos, during Cutler's last two seasons with the organization. Fisch was wide receivers coach for Denver in 2008 and is currently OC at the University of Miami.
Jay Cutler & Mike Tice
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Loggains, currently the QB coach for the Tennessee Titans, is an interesting candidate. Two years ago, Cutler lobbied for Loggains as quarterbacks coach. Instead, Martz hired Shane Day, who never developed a good relationship with Cutler, thus his firing on Tuesday. Apparently, Cutler is again pushing hard for Loggains and the team is inquiring about his availability. Unfortunately for Cutler, Loggains is still under contract and it's unlikely the Titans will allow him to leave for a lateral move across the league.
Tice, who plans do the play-calling during games, reportedly wants Dirk Koetter, with whom he worked in Jacksonville. Koetter was the OC/quarterbacks coach with the Jaguars. With no head coach in Jacksonville, his status there is unresolved.
Despite who takes the position, one thing is certain: Cutler will have more freedom under Tice than he did under Martz. There isn't a bigger control freak in the NFL than Martz, who never allowed Cutler to even call audibles on the field. It's safe to say Cutler will take a bigger role in managing the offense on game day, possibly even going so far as calling his own plays.
Yet all that remains to be seen. Lovie Smith needs to find his new passing coach, as well as an offensive line coach to replace Tice – although Tice will remain hands on with the front five. Once those moves are made, and a GM is hired, and some free agents are signed, we'll know much more. But for now, we can safely assume the Bears will stick with their run-heavy approach and a simplified downfield passing attack with Cutler in charge – which doesn't sound all that bad to me.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.