Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Putting the Dead Horse to Rest

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.

Up Next: Packer Preview.


Anonymous said...

I hate Atlanta so very very much, mostly because I think they praise Vick and leave Daunte out in the cold too often.

Anyhow, do you think its possible that fan pressure would be enough to cost Tice his job if/when the Vikings suffer a humiliating loss in playoffs? Or would Red even give a shit?

Ringmeister said...

The only fan pressure that would result in showing Tice the door would be the indirect pressure of decreased season ticket sales. This (cash flow)is THE ONLY motivator for owners of any business, Red McCombs being THE consummate business owner. Indeed, a contiual cycle of underachievement, would result in the same decreased ticket sales, and hence a Tice departure.
I agree whole-heartedly on the assessment of the Falcons by VG, and the above referral to the NFL's constant overstating of Mr. Vick. He runs like Gale Sayers and throws like Joe Kapp. The end result is rarely worth the hype. brief aside: Please, Please, Please, Vikes! Play the Pack as if it meant something!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

As thin as the ice is underneath Mike Tice's feet, within a few short weeks he could become the toast of the town.

First, he has to beat the Packers. It's possible. The defense was worse than usual against the Lions because of the absence of Antoine Winfield. He might play Friday. It was also worse because of Terence Shaw's illness. That prevented Shaw from playing as much, requiring Brian Williams to shoulder a heavier load. By the fourth, Williams was gassed. Factor in a healthy Shaw and the Vikings immediately improve.

Second, Minnesota secures a home playoff game, perhaps by beat the Redskins. This will be needed to win the first round playoff game and complete step three.

Third, go to Atlanta, and BEAT THE FALCONS!!!!

Even if the Vikes blow the subsequent NFC Championship game, a good defeat of the Falcons would affirm Tice as head coach and guarantee him a few more years at the helm.

Now let's have a little wishful thinking.

1. Vikes beat Pack.

2. Vikes beat Skins. (reversing the outcome of the 88 NFC Championship game)

3. Vikes beat NY Giants in playoff game (reversing the outcome of the 2000 NFC Championship game)

4. Vikes beat Atlanta in playoffs (reversing the outcome of the 98 NFC Championship game)

5. The Wild Card, defense-heavy Cowboys meet the Vikings in the NFC Championship game. The Vikes win (reversing the outcome of the 75 NFC Divisional playoff game of Drew Pearson "Hail Mary" fame)

6. The Vikes beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl (reversing the outcome of the Super Bowl XI)

No, I'm not bitter.

Vikes Geek said...

I wouldn't say bitter, but other words come to mind. I like your revenge motif, but it won't work. Dallas and NYG cannot both make the playoffs. Four teams are already guaranteed better records than either of those two teams and a fifth team--no matter how much we protest--must come out of the NFC West. That leaves only one spot. Dallas or NY might win that spot, but it would take collapses by several other teams. Plus, NY and Dallas still play each other so one team is guaranteed a loss.

I agree that the Vikings can make a run through what there is in the NFC and maybe the AFC team will get team food poisoning the night before the big game (of course, that might just make them play like Harrington when faced with Minny's defense). But the most likely scenario is a first round loss (if on the road in round one) or a second round loss (which is guaranteed to be on the road) this season. It's tough to always have to outscore the bounty that your D gives the opponent.

But that likely will suffice to keep Tice here through 2005. After that, Tice probably will be gone, barring a SB run in 2005. And Red won't be the one making the call. . . .