After parting ways with former head coach Dennis Green, Vikings owner Red McCombs concluded that the program in place was basically good, but the working relationship between the influential parties was not.
That conclusion directed his decision on the head coach. It led to a choice that gave more credence to continuity than change. For that reason, Mike Tice was the one, only and perfectly logical choice for the head coach position.
"What the Vikings are about is building the best NFL franchise that we can possibly build," McCombs said. "Having said that, always in my mind that revolves around players, fans and sponsors. All of the rest of us are role players. One of the primary roles in seeing that we take care of our players, our fans, and our sponsors is that of the head coach.
"I didn't feel that the timing was that I really should consider bringing someone from the outside as it were. There were numerous inquiries. I really didn't discuss it with anyone else. I never really interviewed or discussed the job with anyone else, and I really came to the firm conclusion that we have our best opportunity to satisfy the things that I think we need in this franchise with Mike Tice."
Some might question whether or not Tice is ready for head-coaching duty, especially in light of the fact that he's never been a head coach or even an offensive coordinator in high school, college or the NFL. It's a valid point that can't be refuted.
However, Green Bay's Mike Sherman, Philadelphia's Andy Reid and the Jets' Herman Edwards had never been coordinators before becoming head coaches, either. Yet all three are in the playoffs this year and all three took over non-playoff teams and quickly took them to the playoffs.
Being a coordinator tends to be more about Xs and Os. Being a head coach is more about being a leader and a communicator, where the coach's personality sets the tone and tempo for the entire team. Tice certainly appears to be the type who will successfully make the transition.
Tice was the easiest one to hire. He was already on board as assistant head coach/offensive line and had been on Green's staff since 1996. He knows the players. He knows the team's strengths and weaknesses. He knows the political climate in the front office. There is comfort and familiarity with him throughout the entire organization.
"I think it is very important that we maintain some type of continuity with our program because it is a very good program," Tice said. "Change sometimes is good. Too much change sometimes is not very good, so we will maintain some point of continuity by maintaining many of the assistants that have been on our staff. But I think it's really important to understand that we do have a very good nucleus of players on our football team, a very good nucleus of coaches. … We need to know that we can move forward and be successful with this program with some changes."
He also knows the NFC Central Division, to be called the NFC North in 2002 and beyond, extremely well, having played or coached in it nine of the past 10 seasons. Becoming acclimated to the Bears, Packers and Lions is already a done deal.
McCombs had no problem giving the reins to Tice, a coach McCombs has admired since he bought the team in 1998. McCombs has raved about Tice to friends and had told some that Tice would make a solid head coach long before the opportunity arose.
Getting Frank Gilliam, Paul Wiggin and Scott Studwell back into the football operation full-time was at the core of Green's departure. McCombs wanted it; Green did not. Tice has good rapport with all three personnel men and is willing to work with, instead of around, the best football people in the organization. Combining the efforts of those three, McCombs believes, provides an experienced safety net around Tice, who is 42 years old.
"I think it's great," Tice said of the organizational changes. "I think there needs to be communication between each department. When you have a staff meeting and you look in the room and you see all of the talented people that are in there, you wonder why this person hasn't chipped in before. So we're excited about the opportunity to have everybody in our organization feel like they can think freely and that their thoughts will be listened to and they will be able to have a say in making our organization better."
Rapport with the players
Rapport with the front office and rapport with the players, Tice brings both to the coaching table.
His experience as a player gives him credibility with players on a personal level. Players have changed some, but Tice played with some colorful characters in his day, including the likes of Brian Bosworth and Dexter Manley. So Randy Moss isn't the first challenge Tice has seen.
On the other side of the coin, Tice also played with some consummate professionals in Steve Largent, Art Monk, Darrell Green, Ken Easley, Jacob Green, Cortez Kennedy, Curt Warner, John L. Williams, Jim Zorn, Russ Grimm and Charles Mann.
"I think Mike Tice [will] be a great head coach," center Matt Birk said. "Just working closely with him the last four years, I've seen how hard he works. I think he [will] be a great head coach."
"I love him," linebacker Kailee Wong said. "He brings a lot of fire and a lot of passion. He's a very hands-on coach. He's a very up-front coach and I think he would fit this team well. I definitely would love to play for him."
"Mike Tice is a good football coach," safety Orlando Thomas said. "He's a good football coach. A lot of guys like him, and I'm one of them."
"He understands the game very well," guard Corbin Lacina said. "He understands the needs of the players. He understands what it's going to take to win ballgames. He's going to tell you how it is. He's right up front with you. We want it for him."
The Moss factor
Despite his immaturity, Randy Moss is the centerpiece of the offense. Handling him is top priority. Moss respects Tice because he is a former NFL player with a straightforward, no-nonsense approach.
"I think everybody that knows me knows that they always will know where I stand on everything," Tice said. "Randy and I do not have any secrets. He knows there are certain things that I am going to expect from him, and I believe in talking to him he is willing to support me and our coaching staff and our organization and our community. I think that is very important for him to understand that."
"Over the last four years, Randy has established a great relationship with Mike Tice," Moss' agent, Dante DiTrapano, said. "He respects him as a coach and as a person."
Tice is highly regarded beyond the walls of Winter Park and was considered head-coaching material by others even before getting his chance with the Vikings. His name had been mentioned in connection with several NFL and college head-coaching jobs in recent years.
"I saw Tice up close and personal the day after Pro Bowl tackle Korey Stringer died in training camp," Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune said earlier this season. "I saw him cry. I saw him stiffen. I saw him lead. He could be Rudy Giuliani with a headset."
Green was the new sheriff in 1992. Maybe Tice can be the new mayor in 2002.
Tice demonstrated firm leadership, without being an egotistical, beginning with his first press conference with the media. He makes decisions. He tells you why he made them. He looks you right in the eye.
"Tice doesn't need to watch game films to tell you who screwed up, and believe me, he'll tell you who screwed up," Rosenbloom added. "Tice commands respect, even from superstars like Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and Cris Carter. They [would] regularly seek him out. All-Pro players going to the offensive line coach for adjustments."
Tice himself expects his team to take on his personality.
"I believe that if you are a good coach that the players take on the personality of the coach," Tice said. "So just think of me and then that's what you'll think of the team. So there will be a lot of idiots on the team, a lot of tough guys, a lot of guys that aren't afraid to speak their mind, and I think we will have an exciting brand of football to offer to our great fans here in the Midwest.
"I love to work hard," he added. "I don't think there are many people that are going to outwork me, and I'm going to demand the same of my staff and players. That's very important to note. I think playing football has prepared me to be a coach, and I think being a position coach has prepared me to be a head coach."
Tice will help McCombs in a stadium push. Tice knows that McCombs' future ownership of the team is contingent upon getting a new stadium built in the Twin Cities. Green had become a liability here with statements in December that seemed to contradict the company line. But Tice will all but take his players door to door to rally public support.
Tice is good with the Minnesota media and is popular with the fan base. From the outset, he's making proactive efforts to build a positive relationship with the press. Green got off on the wrong foot there, and maybe his pride never allowed him to mend fences with people who buy their ink by the gallons.
Step one for Tice: "Learn each one of the media's names so we can all get along and have a great relationship," he said. "How is that?"
He recognizes the importance of the stadium issue. "We're going to get a new stadium," Tice added. "That's very important for our organization and our fans. We hope that all of the fans will jump in and help us do what is necessary to get a new stadium. That's a role of everybody in the organization."
Tice would also like to continue the strong community program that Green really established. "I think it is very important to maintain the tremendous community program that we have here," he said. "Our players are very involved in the community. I thought Denny did a great job in the community. I think it's important that I maintain that community presence. I think we are all in it together.
"I think the fans are very, very important to all of our success. I think the players are very important. They win the games. I don't win the games. The players win the games. I think all of the people that are spending money on the Vikings are very important. We need to be able to share things that are going on in our organization with those people and let them know where we're at, what we're doing to get better each day and smile a lot more. Everybody should smile a lot more."
The résumé of coaches for whom Tice has played or worked is very impressive. "I think because of the many outstanding coaches that I've played under, and because of my experience with this organization and Denny, that I am prepared," Tice said. "It's something that I've had as a goal to do since I got into the coaching profession."
As a tight end with the Seahawks in the 1980s, he played for long-time veteran head coach Chuck Knox, a playoff-caliber coach with three different organizations during his long career.
Knox also had a very experienced, stable coaching staff in Seattle. His defensive coordinator was Tom Catlin, a 36-year pro coach who was the first assistant coach ever named Sports Illustrated's NFL coach of the year in 1992.
When Tice played for the Redskins, Joe Gibbs, as successful a head coach as the league has ever seen, was there. Gibbs also had perhaps one of the finest overall coaching staffs ever assembled that included Richie Petitbon, Joe Bugel, Larry Peccatiello, Charley Taylor and others.
With the Vikings, Dennis Green took them to the playoffs in eight of 10 seasons here, including twice to the NFC Championship. Green's staff also produced some outstanding position coaches or coordinators who've had success as head coaches elsewhere, including Tony Dungy, Brian Billick and Tyrone Willingham.
In his 20-plus years in the NFL, Tice has had a lot of exposure to a lot of truly outstanding coaches, and he learned much. Having worked under Knox, Gibbs and Green, Tice has seen three distinctive programs that produced positive results over a long period of time. We're not talking about flash-in-the-pan success or the latest fad that's making the rounds. These guys won a lot more often than they lost.
Tice probably will too.
Tice's Successful Qualities
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