Tice settling in as top dog
Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 7, 2003
MANKATO, Minn. (AP) &045; Red McCombs and Mike Tice talk to each other a lot.
Last season, the red-haired owner would say this of the rookie head coach: &uot;I told him all last year, ‘Mike, I like you a lot. I’d really like to see you be a head coach in this league.&uot;
McCombs recounted that with a smile a couple weeks ago, on the day their Minnesota Vikings reported to training camp. It was a telling statement &045; one that showed the faith McCombs has in his coach and at the same time revealed that the Vikings’ boss didn’t think Tice was ready for the job in 2002.
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This year, he better be. And it appears, so far, that he is.
&uot;This year, he’s a seasoned veteran,&uot; McCombs said with a Lone Star laugh.
Though Tice spent six seasons as a respected assistant after a 14-year career as a tight end, he had never before been a coordinator or a head coach. He quickly learned how difficult on-the-job training can be. The Vikes started 0-4, Randy Moss got arrested, the defense was terrible and Daunte Culpepper couldn’t hang onto the ball.
It wasn’t a very welcoming way to learn about leading a pro football team.
Two of Tice’s assistants, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and offensive line coach Steve Loney, came straight from college last year, so the entire staff will benefit from a season &045; no matter how rough it might have been &045; under its belt.
&uot;The three of us have all got the rookie-ness out of us,&uot; Tice said. &uot;Being their first time in the NFL, me being a first-time head coach, I think that’s all behind us now.&uot;
Tice, while climbing out of his office chair to move to the next task on a typically busy day the week before camp began, was asked what he needed to do to get that &uot;rookie-ness&uot; out of his system this year.
&uot;Quit worrying about pleasing everybody,&uot; Tice said. &uot;Nobody liked me before I got the job, so nobody was going to like me after I got the job.&uot;
McCombs liked him, even though he admitted that Tice was in over his head last year &045; a tough thing for someone who’s 6-foot-8.
&uot;The only thing he ever head-coached was his little league football team,&uot; McCombs said. &uot;Mike had a learning curve that any coach has to go through.
&uot;If he can make it past two or three years, he has a good shot at a long career. Because that’s kind of the way major league sports work. But if you get knocked off in the first year or the second year, then you have a hard time getting back in the saddle. So I’m pulling for him.&uot;
So does the owner think he’s there yet?
&uot;Well, he’s getting closer,&uot; McCombs said. &uot;Mike, like a lot of people in new leadership jobs, was very democratic last year, listening to everyone’s opinions. I reminded Mike on a number of occasions that it’s going to be all on his shoulders. He’s got to make the decisions. I told him when we hired him. &uot;This is not an X’s and O’s job. This is a decision-making job. I think Mike’s come around. I think he’s well on his way to being one of the better coaches in this league.&uot;
What’s it going to take for Tice to secure his future? A division title either this year or the next? McCombs, as direct as he was in discussing this whole matter, was vague on that question.
&uot;Everyone in this business is under the hammer,&uot; McCombs said. &uot;That’s what makes the game so great. I’m just looking for us to be a lot better. To me, the mark of a coach is a guy that keeps his guys getting better. I really don’t know where to go with wins and losses. I’ve got to watch and see how these guys come together and play off each other.&uot;