Mike Tice was named head coach of the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 10, 2002. After nearly three months at the helm, Tice has experienced the lows of losing players to free agency and the highs of gaining players that same way and putting together his own coaching staff. Below are his thoughts on many of those matters.
Q: What kind of a player is Corey Chavous? Is he a big, physical kind of a guy?
A: He is the kind of guy that is willing to admit that he has some areas he needs to improve in. He's very talented in his preparation. He's a professional, very bright and intelligent. We think he'll be a good, young leader back there. We like his work ethic; we like his character. He's the kind of guy we want to help build this program and he's the kind of guy we can certainly build our defense with, with Kenny Mixon, he and Crockett and Hovan, I think we're taking steps in the right direction. And he has some versatility. We're going to play him at left corner, but there have been some teams that have talked about him possibly playing free or strong safety. We're bringing him in to play left corner.
Q: What are you looking for yet in free agency on the defensive side of the ball?
A: Really what we're looking for is to continue to add depth on our defensive front. We're also looking to add a wide receiver … We have two different types of free agents we're look at right now. We're looking at young players that have an opportunity here to obviously come in and play, and we're looking at players that have been established. What we have room for left in our plan is for a quality edge receiver who has played in this league and proved he can play, i.e. a (Jerome) Pathon or Willie Jackson.
Q: Is pass-rushing defensive end where you still project Patrick Chukwurah or could he be a linebacker again?
A: No, he's a specialist. He's a third-down, second-and-long rush guy. We have three guys … Lance Johnstone, Talance Sawyer and Pat Chukwurah, and that's basically what we're going to the season with. We can't fix every position at the same time. So what we're going to do is figure out which ones we know we can fix, figure out which ones we know are deep in the draft where we know we'll be able to get a player — and safety is very deep in the draft, so we know we'll be able to pick up a good safety in the draft — and we'll try and figure our spots in free agency. Then we'll come back June 1 and go after it again, and that's how we're going to build our football team.
Q: Has it been tough for you in the first year to be as patient as you have been with the signings and financially as guarded as you have been?
A: We're not financially guarded. What we are is very smart in what we're doing. We're very well underneath the cap. We asked players to make hard decisions for us to get under the cap more. We explained our plan, what we wanted to do with those players we asked to come under the cap, i.e. the (Corbin) Lacinas, the (Everett) Lindsays and the (David) Dixons, the (Chris) Walshes of the world, if you will. They were all willing to work with us and give us more cap space.
And we knew what we wanted to go out and address. We wanted a left end to build our defense around, and we went out and got Kenny Mixon. We really wanted to try to keep Kailee Wong. It didn't work out. We weren't dancing that dance, so we moved along and got Henri Crockett. We didn't want to go into the season with a rookie middle linebacker, so we're not. We realized that you can't fix every hole at one time. We knew that we had a plan, and we wanted to stick with our plan. We brought in over 31 players.
As far as being patient, we're not guarded. What we're doing is being smart, because there are a lot of agents and a lot of players that did their homework and they know what teams are underneath the cap. I showed Corey Chavous the thickness of the list of players that are out on the street, and he was pretty amazed. I said, ‘Look, there are a lot of players out there. We've got money. They're going to find us.' We have players that came through for visits and they're still calling us trying to get on this football team. And we've got other players out on the streets trying to get on this football team. There is certain criteria that we're looking for, and we have certain amounts of money that we want to spend on certain positions. We know what the value of the players are worth, and we're going to try not to — try not to — overpay the players.
Q: Did you realize pretty early on that Griffith was not going to be an option with the money?
A: Talking to Foge (Fazio, now defensive coordinator in Cleveland), I knew they were going to make a good run at him. It was evident to me that they were going to make a run in an area financially that we weren't going to be able to compete with, so that's when you have to decide, what next?
Q: Have you gotten any offers to move around on draft day?
Q: What did you guys find out with the Michael Bennett studies (of his game tapes from Wisconsin) that you wanted to do?
A: That he has to learn to square his shoulders and head north-south, as they say. He was fortunate enough in college to try to use his speed and run laterally a lot and outrun people. Unfortunately, he got away with it a lot. At this level, if he learns that, I think he'll take another step toward being that excellent, explosive back that we hope he can be.
Q: In your time as head coach, what's been your biggest thrill and what's been your most disappointing moment?
A: Losing the players was obviously the most disappointing moment. You set a plan in place, and your plan starts with keeping the players you have on the roster (Byron Chamberlain, Dale Carter, Griffith and Wong). Then the reality sets in that you really can't keep the players because, if they're good players, other teams are going to try and get them. Unfortunately for us, they were all good players. Those other teams went out and, basically for us, broke the bank. They put us in a position where we couldn't compete and stay on track and fill up some of the other holes we have. That was the most disappointing thing.
The most satisfying thing was putting together the staff that we put together. We have so many good coaches, starting with Willie Shaw agreeing to stay as defensive coordinator, and then bringing in George O'Leary, Scott Linehan, Steve Loney, being able to see Dean Dalton groomed and moving up to running backs coach, Chuck Knox, Jr. being moved to defensive backfield coach, bringing in Jay Hayes, who I've known for quite a while and had a little bad luck in Pittsburgh but is still a helluva coach. Putting that staff together, to me, was the most satisfying thing. VU
Q&A: With Head Coach Mike Tice
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