Sunday, November 06, 2005

Time Heals All Wounds

[photo caption] Former Vikings head coach Mike Tice is enjoying a rebirth as a volunteer high school football coach in Long Island, NY.

September 12, 2010
Blaine, Minn--

In the four years following his firing as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Tice has been both reflective and accountable.

"We made mistakes," Tice admits with a slight tinge of lament in his voice. "Some were more significant than others. But I can't hide that we made mistakes."

And those "mistakes" were numerous and well-chronicled. There were poor drafts, the Moss years, ticket scalping by the head coach, terrible free agent signings, the infamous "Love Boat" incident, and the utter collapse of his team's performance during Tice's final season, to name a few.

In only his second return to the state of Minnesota since he was released from his contract in January 2006, Tice was in town Sunday as a part of the Minnesota Vikings' Fiftieth Season celebration. Tice, along with former Vikings' coaches Bud Grant and Dennis Green, participated in a pre-game ceremony in which the Vikings unveiled their "All-Fiftieth Team" prior to a nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Saints (former coaches Jerry Burns and Les Steckel were not in attendance; Burns passed away in 2006, while Steckel was not invited).

"Obviously, my legacy with the Vikings is not what I'd hoped it'd be, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons, and I've moved on," Tice declared. The Vikings recorded records of 6-10, 9-7, 8-8, and 5-11 in Tice's four full seasons.

Tice, however, has put his Vikings experience in the past. "I'm coaching, I'm happy, and I'm home."

By home, Tice is referring to Long Island, New York. Tice was born and raised in Long Island before attending the University of Maryland (where he played quarterback) and later completing a fourteen-year career in the NFL as a tight end with the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, and finally the Vikings. After his 2006 Vikings' dismissal, Tice was the offensive line coach with the Baltimore Ravens in 2006, and, after Ravens head coach Brian Billick and his entire staff were let go in January 2007, Tice went into a self-imposed football exile.

"I got out. I was fed up with the business of football. I was tired of being a football coach, so I stopped being a football coach." Tice moved back to Washington state, something of a second home, but it didn't last long. "It wasn't the same, living there and not being a part of football." So Tice and his family left Washington after only a year.

Tice returned to his true home, Long Island, in 2008. "I was looking for roots. For my roots. Listen, I was at a crossroads in my life, trying to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. So I went home," Tice said softly, defying his physical stature.

An enormous man, Tice stands 6'8" tall. His playing weight of 260 pounds is now lost somewhere inside of his current 300+ pound frame, but his natural athleticism is still present. So too is the competitive spirit that still inhabits his fiery eyes. It's these eyes which betray Tice's casual demeanor, especially when discussing his recent return to coaching.

"My wife (Diane) was getting sick of me," Tice remarks in half-seriousness. "She wanted me off of the couch and out of the house. I wanted that too, so I found something to do." This is Tice's second season as a volunteer assistant for Central Islip (NY) high school, the alma mater of both Tice and his son, Nathan ('08). "It's been a blast," Tice exuded. "The kids are real intense, real fired up about playing football, and it's rubbed off on me. I'm happy being around football again."
[photo caption] Tice experienced seemingly unending frustration during his tenure as the Vikings' head coach.

As for regrets? Tice has a few. "Of course there's some things I regret," Tice admitted. "But I take responsibility for my failures. I take responsibility for all of it. I'm a big boy."

When prodded for examples, Tice is quick on the trigger. "I regret bringing in a lot of the players that we did. The biggest lesson I learned -- and I tell this to young coaches all the time -- is that you can't win with bad people. You just can't. Because ultimately bad people are weak people. They're people who quit on themselves, their coaches, and their teammates," Tice vented, the tone of his voice resonating as if the events he spoke of had happened only yesterday.

Tice continued, "I regret some of the staffing decisions I made. I hired [former defensive coordinator] Ted Cottrell. That was my fault. Don't get me wrong: Teddy's a great guy, but I should have looked around and said, 'Hey, this guy's been fired by both Buffalo and the [New York] Jets. Is he damaged goods?' But I didn't, and that's my fault."

Tice, however, is quick to point out that he may have been the victim of circumstance. "Look, the guy who hired me [former owner Red McCombs] hired me as the lowest paid coach in the league. We couldn't keep Scotty [Linehan, former offensive coordinator, due to financial constraints]. That sends a negative message to players. They're not stupid. They knew the situation. Then, when Mr. Wilf came in, we had a series of problems on and off of the field, and that's all she wrote," Tice posits. "But there's no one to blame except for me. If I was Mr. Wilf, I would've done the same thing."

But does Tice take any credit for the Vikings' resurgence in the '09 season, sparked largely by some Tice-era holdovers, most notably defensive line standouts Kevin Williams, Erasmus James, and Kenechi Udeze? "All the credit goes to Coach Carroll. These are his players now, his team, and he deserves the credit."

The former coach began to chuckle to himself, then offered, "This is a 'tough guy' town, and Pete's shown himself to be a 'tough guy'," Tice states, resurrecting one of his most-repeated catchphrases. "I just wasn't tough enough, I guess," Tice says, laughing and lamenting at the same time.


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