Column: Mike Tice is gone

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 5, 2006

Jon Laging, Sports Columnist

Doris Kearns Goodwin to my mind, is one of the premiere women of letter writing today. She has just published Team of Rivals about Lincoln and his cabinet.

Prior to that she wrote about Lyndon Johnson. The book detailed the attributes that enabled Johnson to control the U.S. Senate and accomplish what he felt was necessary and beneficial for the country. Goodwin then pointed out that the mind set and gifts that allowed Johnson to be master of the Senate were not suited to the presidency. While being coach of the Minnesota Vikings falls far short of Johnson’s responsibilities, there are some parallels.

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It was interesting to read the Minneapolis Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press reaction to Tice’s firing. The Pioneer Press did not evaluate the decision, but rather the manner in which it was done. The Press savaged Zygi Wilf, not for Tice’s firing, but for telling Tice immediately after the Chicago win instead of waiting for Monday. Wilf then further compounded the problem by handing out a press release instead of talking to the team in person.

In defense of Zygi, maybe he handled it badly, but as Tice himself said, there is not a good way to fire somebody.

The Tribune defended Tice and concentrated on what a good guy he was and what good copy he made. He was good copy. He stood up and was the face of the team in good times and in bad. During the love boat scandal, you did not see the vice president of the Vikings or any other officials. Mike Tice stood there and took the abuse along with Zygi Wilf.

Can you imagine the heat Wilf took from his colleagues in New Jersey? What kind of team did you buy, Zygi? How much did they cost?

Once the boat scandal came to light, Mike Tice was in trouble. Tice went to Wilf and asked that he be allowed to finish the season. Wilf said yes and it was a good decision for Tice and for the team. If he had fired Tice, with the team’s record at that time, Tice would have been almost an outcast in the NFL. He didn’t and Tice survived with his name intact. To Tice’s credit he brought the team back, but the die was cast and from that point on Tice was a lame duck or if not lame, certainly limping. But Wilf never intimated that and allowed Tice to finish well. The only way that Tice could have stayed was for the Vikes to make the playoffs, but they were just not that good. It was not only the boat scandal but the first five losses that did Tice in. If they had won a couple of those, the Vikings would be in the playoffs and Tice would still be coach.

The Tribune spoke to Tice’s candor. It’s true he was candid, but as Ms. Goodwin wrote about Lyndon Johnson, what worked well in some situations will not work well in others. What works as an offensive coordinator does not work well as head coach.

During Tice’s tenure he was his own man, spoke his mind and as Howard Cosell said, “told it like it was.” Zygi Wilf may have appreciated Tice’s humor and frankness, but it could be that Wilf wants his own man.

He may want a different image than the one Tice projects. What Tice gave him may not have been what works in a New Jersey business. Wilf has been very successful. I hope he has the same result with the Vikings.