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.

Email newsletter signup

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;