Esiason's Quandary: Friendships vs. The Job

Former NFL quarterback and current national broadcaster Boomer Esiason knows Vikings head coach Mike Tice well. That puts Esiason in a tough position when criticizing Randy Moss and the Vikings, but it is a situation he has handled well.

Randy Moss' off-the-field troubles and on-the-field struggles — not to mention the Vikings' slow start — have provided the NFL pregame shows with plenty of fodder this season.

For most of the analysts, it's simply a case of providing an opinion and moving on to the next topic. It's not that easy for Boomer Esiason.

In his first season on CBS' NFL studio team, Esiason has been plenty critical of the Vikings and Moss. But as a longtime friend of Vikings coach Mike Tice that does not mean it has been easy.

"It's really hard to do because I know what Mike is dealing with," said Esiason, who also serves as the radio analyst for Westwood One's "Monday Night Football" broadcasts. "I know how tough it is for Mike. I probably know better than most."

Esiason and Tice are both from Long Island, N.Y. They first crossed paths in the late 1970s when the two played on opposing teams in a high school basketball game.

Their friendship developed a few years later when Esiason joined Tice on the University of Maryland football team. Esiason eventually succeeded Tice as the Terrapins quarterback. Esiason also is friends with Mike's brother, John. "I became more friendly with John because he is closer to my age and Mike was a pain in the ass back then," Esiason said with a chuckle.

Although Esiason and Mike Tice keep in contact, Esiason said he does try to distance himself a bit during the season.

"I try not to talk too consistently with people who are friends of mine," said Esiason, who played quarterback for the Bengals and Jets during a 14-year NFL career. "I think that anytime I give my point of view about something I'm afraid that people are going to think I'm full of it. I always want to be credible with my thoughts and the things that I say.

"I don't want to ever use or abuse a friendship and use that as my in. There is a credibility (line) that I will not cross. I've always been that way as a broadcaster. I've always felt that while it's important to get to the bottom of a story, it's not that important that you would ask a friend to give you information that is not right to give out.

"I'm sure I could call Mike and say, ‘What about this guy, what about that guy?' I'm sure he would tell me. When I call guys around the league, because I pretty much have a (former) coach on every staff, they will call me back and I'll talk to them broadcaster to coach. I will never go off the record with anybody, simply because I don't ever want to be misconstrued in any way."

Esiason said he did talk to Tice before the Vikings' loss to Carolina in Week 3.

"It was before any of the Randy Moss stuff had hit and what I was trying to do was get the pulse of this team," Esiason said. "To be quite honest with you, the three or four times I spoke with Mike Tice everything he said about Randy Moss was ‘He's doing unbelievable, he's great, he's everything that I would have hoped for.' I think that if he weren't he would have told me.

"But up to right before that Carolina game he was singing Randy's praises. I sensed that it was real and sincere."

Esiason has long been critical of Moss, dating to his days as the analyst on ABC's "Monday Night Football."

"Mike and John have both made fun of me for being so hard on Randy," Esiason said. "My response to them was, ‘Hey guys, am I supposed to enable him, too? Didn't they give him all this money and wasn't he a first-round draft pick and all that stuff? You guys can wet nurse him all you want. I don't have to deal with him.' I give my point of view, and my point of view comes from a credible standpoint because I dealt with guys like this and personally I'm tired of it."

Patience is key
Although the Vikings' situation might have been far from ideal, Esiason is not surprised Tice jumped at the chance to coach this team.

In fact, when Esiason served as the analyst on ABC's MNF coverage he said during a telecast that Tice should be a head coach at some point. "He had that kind of ability, that kind of credibility, and he has that type of presence to be a head coach," Esiason said. "I just don't know necessarily whether it's going to be successful in Minnesota simply because of the situation that he is in."

Elaborating on that point, Esiason said: "I think given the finances of it, the stadium situation and the decision to give Randy Moss all that money and to deplete the defense and then try to rebuild it, it's not a place where you think you are going to have immediate success.

"But it's really hard to turn down an opportunity to be a head coach and the challenge of being a head coach and the challenge of turning the franchise around. I know Mike, and I know Mike's ego. I'm sure that's a big part of why he took that job.

"Not everybody would have wanted that job. … It's only going to get worse before it gets better. The question is how much leeway and how much patience is (Vikings owner) Red McCombs going to have in this situation? Personally, knowing Mike and knowing how organized he is and knowing what a grinder he is, I can't help but think he's going to be successful."

Good hire
After Tice became the Vikings head coach there was speculation he might ask Esiason to be on his staff. So did he?

"No," Esiason said. "Even if he did, I wouldn't even think about it. He never talked to me about it. I will tell you this: The best thing I thought he did was hire George O'Leary. Just purely from the standpoint of a human being sticking by another human being and supporting a guy who helped him get to where he is today. I thought it was a remarkable show of loyalty and friendship."

O'Leary, who was Tice's high school coach, lost the Notre Dame head coaching job last winter only days after being hired because of inaccuracies discovered in his résumé.

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