Despite numerous injuries that would have knocked the common team down a notch, the Minnesota Vikings are showing signs of being far from the common NFL team. Much of the toughness and attitude displayed within this Minnesota team can be significantly attributed to head coach Mike Tice.
During the Tice tenure, the Vikings have once again become a competitive force in the NFC North Division. Heading into the 2004 season, Minnesota was considered a favorite to make its first playoff appearance since a 41-0 thrashing at the hands of the New York Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship Game.
Though somewhat unorthodox in his approach, the at-times rough and raw Tice can rub a player the wrong way. Call it tough love or just a highly motivated coach pushing to get his message across. In Tice, the Vikings organization may not fully realize how good of a coach they have grown accustomed to question.
"Beyond a doubt, Mike is a throwback style of coach in many ways. He was that type of player and he has carried that to the coaching level," a team source said. "The stuff that goes on behind the scenes in the game today is much different from that of other eras. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, a coach would not hesitate to get in your face and lay it on a player. Even the star players got an ass-chewing when they screwed up.
"How much the game has changed, but Tice will tear a player a new one when he needs to."
Obviously, Tice has reinforced a brand of commitment and discipline to his Vikings. There are some similarities on the field between this Minnesota team and Dennis Green's teams before Tice's head appointment. But that is where the comparisons should end.
"Under Dennis Green, we had some exciting football teams and we always were in the hunt. I'd say we were better than competitive at most times, and at other times we were the team to beat. For some reason, those teams lost focus at the most critical times," the team source continued. "It is easy to say that we had the same situation last season here, but I strongly disagree. Sure, we did get out of the gate quickly, but we were playing extremely well, much better than we envisioned.
"There was a great disappointment in the way the season concluded, but we knew it would be a building process and as far as we were concerned this team and organization was ahead of schedule. The primary expectation was to become a consistently competitive team in 2003 and add more players to take the next step in 2004."
Being competitive is not enough in the Twin Cities these days.
Dealing with a state legislature that has been less than willing to extend the team a new stadium deal, fans that haven't yet forgotten the late 2003 collapse or the fact that the team owner may sell the team. In an era where NFL team owners have a tendency to place the burden on the community for stadium finances, the Vikings have waded in these waters for the past couple seasons.
Ironically, Red McCombs is holding most of the cards in the high-stakes poker-game regarding the future of not only the Minnesota Vikings but Mike Tice. In the last season of a contract that makes Tice the lowest paid head coach in the league, McCombs has shown no urgency to extend Tice's deal.
The coaching carousel in the NFL always brings retread coaches back to the forefront. Not often does a coach that has had a significant role in molding a team into one of championship caliber meet the open market.
If McCombs doesn't get on the ball, Tice will take his game elsewhere, which wouldn't sit well with those he has helped rebuild the once-mighty Vikings with.
"It has been a grave neglect by this owner not to extend Tice's deal prior to the season. There are many issues within this organization, from the dead-stadium situation to rumors of the team potentially being on the market or moved. It is tough dealing with McCombs at times." the source said. "The funny thing is that McCombs understands the economics of the game. When this team wins as we expect, getting a deal done with Mike will be costly.
"Tice will never say it openly, as he appreciates the opportunity provided, but he has been slighted to say the least by this owner."
Tice is a keeper, as well are the Vikings to the Twin Cities community. Now, the onus is on Red McCombs to reward the community and his head coach.
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