Prior to the 2003 season, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice was a man that hadn't had the full support of his team owner. Tice was basically being evaluated for his head coaching survival, while attempting to clean up years of questionable player personnel moves that left the team shy on talent and confidence.
Following a 2002 season where the Minnesota Vikings were a 5-11 team but showed promise and growth late in the season, Red McCombs was skeptical Tice was the man for the job, according to team sources.
"(Red) McCombs, quite often last season and heading into this season, was questioning some of the methods Tice utilized in handling players and the media," the source said. "McCombs has issues with Tice openly speaking from the hip as he does. With Mike Tice, what you see is what you get. He is a straight-shooter."
"Part of McCombs' problem is that he pretty much expected the team to win and perform well, regardless of the issues that had been brought to his attention. I wouldn't necessarily say that he (McCombs) is a meddling owner, but at times he gets involved in areas that he does not have any experience in."
When talking about experience, Tice is watching his team evolve, and it is following his lead. Working closely with the player personnel department, Tice and the front office extensively evaluated the team roster early in the offseason. Targeting numerous players in free agency and the draft that could help improve the quality and depth of the roster, Tice and the front office were aggressive in their desire to improve the team.
The Minnesota Vikings were in tremendous salary-cap shape. Being in excess of $20 million under the league-imposed salary cap heading into the free-agent player-signing period, Tice had the rare opportunity to remake the look of his roster, without mortgaging the future of the team.
Organizational meetings were held with the belief the team would exhaust all avenues to improve and give the coaching staff the support necessary to bring the Vikings back to prominence.
"Being that far under the salary cap, we knew the opportunity was present to get some players in here that could immediately improve the areas we designated as immediate needs," the source said. "Once we targeted players, we started to have some issues with ownership as to the money the team would commit to compensate the players. While the owner (McCombs) is a competitive man, he is extremely frugal about player salaries. He did not make the task any easier on us getting players in here."
Despite watching player after player the team had an interest in go off the open market, the stern Tice maintained the plan he set forth when dealing with potential Minnesota Vikings players.
Tice placed the onus on the player when he met with them in visits with the team. He (Tice) did not want a player in Minnesota if they were not going to be committed to the program. With Tice, the thought is that a player must want to be a Minnesota Viking. He is not interested in a player that is willing to sign with the team based on contract alone.
After signing key free agents to improve a defense that was inconsistent and among the league's worst units, Tice and the personnel department were strangled by ownership when attempting to add additional players to the roster.
"The bottom line with the owner of the team does not correspond with the salary cap that is imposed by the league, to put it mildly," the source said. "I can honestly say there were two or three other players that we would have liked to brought in here, but the front office would not give us the green light to work a deal with them.
"The problem is we are talking about players that could have really helped us, but we have been fortunate that some of our younger players have grown and progressed."
And, what is the impression of the job Mike Tice has done with this team?
"Winning cures all. Tice is no different today than he was last year, he is just a little more experienced and the team is winning."
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