With two games remaining in the NFL regular season, the list of things about which we are certain regarding the Minnesota Vikings is much, much shorter than is the list of things about which we are otherwise. What we know at this point is that the Vikings are both capable of beating any team in the NFC and capable of losing to any team in the NFC. Thus ends the list of certainties.
What we do not know is: (1) whether the Vikings will win the NFC North; (2) whether the Vikings will earn a wild-card berth should they fail to secure the NFC North title; and (3) whether Vikings' fans truly want to watch the Vikings muddle their way through a playoff game, knowing that the Vikings are capable of winning, but cognizant of the fact that they likely will not.
Somewhere between the solitary item of certainty and the list of unknowns rests the status of Vikings' head coach Mike Tice. After the loss in Chicago, his status as Vikings' head coach appeared to be on life support. After the even more disappointing loss at home to the hapless 'Hawks, the end appeared certain. But after the victory in Detroit, coupled with Green Bay's home loss to the Jaguars, Tice once again seems in control of his own fate.
It now appears increasingly certain that, should the Vikings host a home playoff game (and make Red some extra cash), Red will retain Tice under the terms of Tice's current contract (Red has an option to renew for one season). But even if the Vikings merely make the playoffs, Tice may be in good shape, if what Tice wants is to remain the Vikings' head coach.
Given the continuing atrocious play of the Vikings' defense, particularly the secondary, it is conceivable that the Vikings will finish 8-8. That would probably be sufficient for a wild card road game, which would leave Red out of the home green. But Red would still get a cut of the gate in the first round, and a cut is better than no cut. Whether the cut from one road playoff game would suffice for Tice to retain his job is another issue.
But the fact that the Vikings may be on the road throughout the playoffs suddenly became less daunting this week. The Vikings already were capable of beating any team in the NFC, but the injury to Terrell Owens really opened the door in the NFC. Now, the most daunting prospect might be playing at Atlanta. And after witnessing Atlanta play two of the most horrific games ever played in the NFL and watching Atlanta accrue home field advantage on the back of one the softest schedules known to NFL schedule makers, I am not persuaded that Atlanta is any better than any other team in the NFC. With Philly and Atlanta appearing beatable, and the rest of the NFC looking disinterested, Minnesota arguably has as good a shot at getting whipped in the Super Bowl as any other NFC team.
Which brings me back to the issue of Tice's coaching status.
Last week, Red sounded like a man who had already decided to bring Tice back, absent on 0-3 finish. The worst Tice can do is 1-2 over the last three games, which means, assuming my read on Red is correct, that Tice will be head coach of the Vikings next season. And the further into the playoffs the Vikings can get, the more certain I am of that prediction, not because a deep run in the moribund NFC validates the Vikings, but because a deep run in the NFC playoffs means more money in Red's till. And that means more coin to pay Tice's 2005 salary. In the end, what matters to Red is whether Tice justified his salary. A deep NFC playoff run would certainly justify Tice's salary in Red's eyes.
Horse to Rest
All this makes speculation about a new head coach academic. I discussed in a previous post some of the possible replacements for Tice, most notably Jim Fassel, Dick Jauron, Lou Saban, and Kirk Ferentz. All have demonstrated an adroit ability to manage both sides of the ball, but all but Fassel come with restrictive buy-out clauses or performance issues in past head-coaching stints. That's why Fassel would be near the top of any list that I would offer for new head coaches. But, as I said, it is likely that nobody in the Vikings' organization will be looking at such a list prior to next season.
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