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Tice Is Nice

January 7, 2012

By Ross Mitchell

The Chicago Bears promoted Mike Tice to Offensive Coordinator today, replacing the philosophically different Mike Martz as head of a misused, undermanned offensive unit. Immediate reaction has varied. Those in favor of this move can credit the positive impact Tice has had on the Bears offensive line, a unit that is flawed at best. Those against it cite Tice’s lack of play calling experience and Chicago’s intention to hire a “passing coordinator who will work with [the Bears] quarterbacks,” according to head coach Lovie Smith. Each stance is rational. Personally I’m in favor of the move. Allow me to explain why:

Mike Tice is a good coach with an impressive track record. Here is a list of the positions Tice has held in the NFL:

1996: Minnesota Vikings- Tight End Coach
1997-2001: Minnesota Vikings- Offensive Line Coach
2001: Minnesota Vikings- Interim Head Coach
2002-2005: Minnesota Vikings- Head Coach
2005: Jacksonville Jaguars- Assistant Head Coach
2006-2008: Jacksonville Jaguars- Assistant Head Coach and Tight Ends Coach

I find it telling after Denny Green’s firing during the 2001 season, the Vikings promoted Tice from Offensive Line Coach to Head Coach. He circumvented the coordinator position altogether. That doesn’t happen by mistake. It happens when a team GM and President are convinced by players and coaches alike that a coach, in this case Tice, has a deep understanding of football, knows how to implement this knowledge into schemes and game plans, and can motivate his players to develop, play hard, and exceed even their expectations.  Tice proved he fit the mold, accomplishing the rare feet of having the “Interim” tag removed from the head coaching title after the season had concluded.

(By the way, for anyone who says he doesn’t have experience designing and/or calling plays, he was the head coach of the Vikings for four full seasons! Don’t let Lovie Smith fool you, 97% of the NFL head coaches are actively involved with the play-calling on both sides of the ball)

Tice coached the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, a team that went 15-1 and was Gary Anderson field goal away from making the Super Bowl (Gary Anderson, who in 1998 didn’t miss a field goal or extra point attempt until the NFC Championship game). To this day I consider them to be one of the five  unstoppable offenses in league history.

Tice’s final season in Jacksonville, the Jaguars rushed for 2391 yards (2nd in the NFL, 1st in the AFC) and 18 touchdowns (4th in the NFL, 3rd in the AFC). They had at least 100 yards rushing in 13 games during the regular season and once in two playoff games (against the Steelers no less).

This season the Bears surpassed the 2,000 rush-yard mark for the first time since 1990.

Tice has acted as a vital cog in the preverbal wheel of a historically dominant pass-heavy system (Minnesota). He has filled that roll equally well in a conference leading run-oriented scheme (in terms of yardage). Tice even motivated Mike “What’s a dive?” Martz to run the football when Martz was insisted on seven-step drop backs and empty back sets that nearly landed Jay Cutler in the emergency room.

(It’s obvious Martz is convinced Cutler is a piñata and had candy inside of him)

Now is this hire perfect? Certainly not. I will disagree with the stance that Tice’s inexperience is detrimental because it is an unknown. It could an absolute disaster. Then again, it could be a refreshing change. As informed as we believe we are, no one can say for certain how this will play out.

Additionally, I invite everyone to remember every coordinator has to start somewhere. Before Mike Martz was the “mad scientist” of St. Louis, he had never run an offense on any level. Sean Payton’s only experience as an OC (before he held the position with the New York/New Jersey Giants) was seven years prior for the Miami Redhawks (under the great Randy Walker).

Tice is a smart guy, he is cognizant to what works and what doesn’t. He is honest in his assessment and perpetually looking to fix the flaws in which the opposing teams can expose. His perception of who should top the depth chart, the role of a position, say…tight end, and play calling are not veiled by ego, nor are they set in stone.

Finally, he works well with Cutler. They genuinely seem to like one another.  It doesn’t take an expert to realize your offensive coordinator and your franchise quarterback should operate in a conducive work environment. If they don’t, and NBC keeps their microphone open thirty second too long, the national audience might hear…we’ll call it mounting frustration.

(For the record, former Bears and current Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was heavily criticized early in his career for block deficiencies. One year with Tice and those struggles are seemingly gone)

As far as the quarterback coach/passing coordinator position goes, there are two qualifications the Bears should be looking for:

1. Cohesive working relationship with Jay Cutler.

1a. Cohesive working relationship with Mike Tice.

2. Has worked in a successful NFL passing system within the last 3-5 years.

This doesn’t mean a candidate must have worked alongside Cutler. It doesn’t mean he has to have experience under Tice. But they must be willing to work with them. Names like Jeremy Bates will arise again. Other possible candidates I feel should be considered are Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski and Brian Baboll, the offensive coordinator in Miami. Ron Turner and Josh McDaniels should not be on this list.

(The fundamental role of this position bothers me. If this “passing-coordinator” is granted play-calling privileges on game day, I think the hiring of Tice is impulsive and reactionary, even if they did have to promote him to keep him on staff. If this position is used to design passing plays based on the strengths the offensive personnel, doubles as quarterbacks coach, and helps Tice better plan for Sundays, I think the Bears may set the trend in the NFL for years to come)

Upon his own admission Tice will still be hands-on with the offensive line. Either they improve or they will be replaced, same mantra he’s had since day one. I trust he will find a suitable replacement to oversee their development. He has also expressed his desire for a receiver who can dominate one-on-one match-ups.

That last paragraph are the pleas Bears fans have had since the NFC Championship season of 2006. Tice gets it. More than Terry Shea, more than Ron Turner, more than Mike Martz, more than Jerry Angelo, perhaps more than Lovie Smith. It is too soon to determine anything, but the arrow points up.

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