As soon as the news broke about the Falcons hiring Mike Tice as their new offensive line coach, I received this tweet from my friend Ted Glover, who writes for the Daily Norseman.
@jeannathomas You're going to love Mike Tice as your o-line coach. Widely regarded as one of the best in the biz when he had same job at MN— Ted Glover (@purplebuckeye) January 8, 2014
That's encouraging! Ted was kind enough to elaborate about Tice, and shared an overview of why he believes the Falcons made the right choice to fill the need for a quality offensive line coach.
I really like the guy. He was the offensive line coach for the Vikings from 1997-2001, and the Vikings had, without question, one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. They had 2 All Pro's in 1997, three in '98, 2 in 1999, and one in 2000. He coached a Hall of Famer in Randall McDaniel, and helped turn Jeff Christy, an undrafted free agent, into an All Pro center. When the Vikings drafted C Matt Birk in the 6th round in '98, he helped develop Birk who into a perennial All Pro in 2000, his first year as a starter, replacing Christy. I don't know that he'll get in, but Birk's career is worthy of a Hall of Fame conversation. He also was developing Korey Stringer into one the NFL's best RT's before...well...RIP, big man. We're always going to miss you.
When Tice was the offensive line coach, the Vikings had one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, and the '98 team (Oh, quick note here--I will NEVER EVER EVER get over that NFC Championship game loss to you guys EVER EVER EVER EVER...sorry, better now) set an NFL record for points. He also had a 1,000 yard rusher in every season except 2001, which was a lost season before it began. Stringer died in training camp, Denny Green got fired, and then owner Red McCombs (you know Red, the guy that just threw new Texas coach Charlie Strong under the bus less than 24 hours after he got hired) hired Tice on the cheap to finish out the '01 season, and then made him the permanent, and lowest compensated, coach in the NFL in '02.
Tice was not ready to be a head coach, and the Vikings struggled in 2002. But I'll tell you something, Tice never got a fair shake from McCombs, in terms of budget. McCombs was trying to sell the team, and went on the cheap for everything. Tice had the smallest staff, and when assistants left, he was forced to have coaches pull double duty. For example, when OC Scott Linehan left to take the Rams head coaching job, he was forced to make Steve Loney pull double duty as OC and o-line coach. Tice also spent $1 million of his own money to fix the central air system at the team's headquarters, because McCombs wouldn't. Seriously, that happened.
With the worst facilities in the NFL, he somehow convinced high profile free agents like Antoine Wifield, Pat Williams, and Fred Smoot to sign with the Vikings. And for those that aren't familiar with the Vikes' situation back then, McCombs was doing his damndest to either move the team or strip it down to the bones so he could get a max profit when he did sell it. Because of McCombs' penny pinching ways, Tice was still involved in coaching the o-line, and although the entire line went through a massive personnel turnover, he helped turn guys like Corbin Lacina and Chris Liwienski into serviceable NFL players, and they, in turn, made Michael Bennett (now a federal convict, true story) a 1,300 yard rusher.
Now, at times Tice was his own worst enemy. His ridiculous 'Randy Ratio' and Super Bowl ticket scalping scandal brought him a lot of bad press, and the Love Boat scandal sunk (boat, sink, get it?) his ability to get an extension from new owner Zygi Wilf in 2005.
For some odd reason, I always thought he seemed in over his head as an offensive coordinator in Chicago, for whatever reason. I don't know why, and I won't fathom to take a guess, but remember--you hired Tice to be an offensive line coach, not an offensive coordinator or head coach. And in that, I think you have one of the best in the business.
There's a lot of background there that I didn't know. Tice didn't seem like a great head coach, but having a more complete understanding of what was going on behind the scenes during his tenure certainly helps to explain it. Ted makes a good point, also, in that the Falcons haven't hired Tice to fill the head coach or offensive coordinator role--roles that seemed more challenging for him. He has seemed to be comfortable with and well suited for an offensive line coaching role, and it seems like he could be a great fit in Atlanta.
Many thanks to Ted for sharing his perspective, including the part about how he will never get over the loss to the Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship Game (sorry, Ted!), and a warm Atlanta welcome to Mike Tice.