Success is often a matter of circumstance for coaches. Give a talented coach a quality group of players and some latitude to mold them and you often wind up with a quality unit. Give them no talent and things are likely to be miserable.
This is Mike Tice's lot. Those who are inclined to dislike this move are going to focus in on those putrid Chicago Bears offensive lines during Tice's tenure, which is absolutely fair.
Let's start with with the less tangible measures. Tice has a great reputation around the NFL for being a molder of men, someone who can develop a line and get it to play cohesively. He's also known as a take-no-waste-matter coach who instills toughness in the units he coaches. All of this sounds promising. Here's Vaughn McClure at ESPN, who spent time reporting on the Chicago Bears while Tice was there:
I'll never forget what Tice told me in November of 2011 when he discussed harping on his offensive linemen about keeping their hands high, maintaining good balance, not crossing over, not bringing the feet together, and keeping the helmet out.
"They get sick of hearing about it,'' he said. "They have to do those five things in sequence so when we're slowing down the tape, they look like, 'The Rockettes.' ''
Now let's look at the on-the-field results.I'm using Football Outsiders and their Adjusted Line Yards stats to help show how productive these offenses were or were not thanks to the lines in front of them. It's worth noting up front that Tice three times had a bottom-ten pass blocking unit, judged by sacks, while he had a top ten unit in that arena only twice.
2010-2012 Offensive Line Coach
2010 Football Outsiders Ranking: 27th
2011 PFF Ranking: 27th
Oof. You're going to look at this and instantly hate the hire. I'll do my best to place this in a more pleasing context.
The talent on these Bears lines were horrendous. J'Marcus Webb was the team's starting left tackle, and Tice took him from arguably the worst tackle in the NFL in 2010 to just slightly below average in 2011, which is a damned impressive achievement in its own right. Lance Louis was putrid, Chris Spencer was middling and Roberto Garza was the team's best lineman. Tice actually coaxed some very good games out of this guys, but he's not a miracle worker.
You also have to give Tice some credit for the drastic improvement in 2012, as the unit rocketed all the way up to 18th in the NFL. It would be simplistic to say that a new line coach did that, but Tice built up the unit during his time there. It just still wasn't great.
Still, you can't help but come away and think this is a bit of a black mark, given that the talent Atlanta is currently fielding on the offensive line is better but not leaps and bounds better than Chicago's. His reputation for development also has to be hurt, given what he was and was not able to get out out of the line. What did Tice do in Minnesota?
1997-2001 Offensive Line Coach
1997 Football Outsiders Ranking: 7th
1998 FO Ranking: 7th
1999 FO Ranking: 4th
2000 FO Ranking: 2nd
2001 FO Ranking: 15th
That's more like it. Under Tice, the Vikings had one of the league's better offensive lines every year except 2001, when the right side of the line collapsed. Tice's tenure in Minnesota coincided with some of the best teams in Vikings history, and it's not a coincidence that he got a head coaching gig out of his work with that line.
The difference here was the talent. Tice had nothing to work with in Chicago, but with Minnesota he had Randall McDaniel (12 time Pro Bowler) and Matt Birk (6 time Pro Bowler). That'll give you a headstart every time, but Tice also was able to develop players like Korey Stringer and coach Pro Bowl-caliber performances out of guys like Todd Steussie (who went in '97 and '98, his only two berths in a 14 year career). There's no question these numbers are skewed a bit by having one of the premier tackles and one of the best centers in the NFL. There's also no question that Tice did superb work with the other players on the line during this time.
Ultimately, what you're getting from Tice is about what you would expect: A good coach who isn't going to miraculously turn Peter Konz's shaky confidence into All-Pro play or Lamar Holmes into a quick-footed tackle who blocks ends out of their shoes. He's a likely upgrade over Pat Hill and he should be able to turn a couple of the Falcons' young guys into better players, as well as preside over general improvement from the unit. If he can coax league average or better out of this line, he'll be an enormously successful hire.
You've had some time to digest this. How are you feeling about the Tice hire?
- Done Deal: Falcons Announce Hiring Of Mike Tice
- Report: Falcons Hire Mike Tice To Coach Offensive Line
- Falcons Sign Three to Futures Contracts
- 2015 NFL Playoffs: League Denies Intent To Add Wild Card Teams
- Which Former Falcon Would You Bring Back?