For the past two seasons, the Vikings have made it clear that the team is for sale. After spending lavishly in his first few seasons as owner--including giving unnecessary and highly questionable contract extensions to Todd Steussie and Randall Cunningham--Red has officially thrown in the towel on the past two seasons, spending just enough to reach the NFL's mandatory salary floor.
Three seasons ago, current Vikings' head coach Mike Tice was the recipient of Red's decision to put the Vikings' on the market. Having permitted Dennis Green to walk, Red considered his options. In Denny's final season, the Vikings were clearly running their course. Key veterans needed to be replaced, others soon would be similarly situated, young players were not able to fill their expected roles, and Denny had left the cupboard nearly bare on defense. Add to that the fact that the Vikings' market value had increased appreciably under Red, and every opportunity for Red to position the team for a sale was present.
Red put the sale process in motion by ushering Denny out the door. In Denny's place, Red brought in Tice for a paltry sum. Many believed that Red was making an astute business and football move by bringing in Tice to lead a purported three-year march to the Super Bowl. Those individuals saw in Tice an undervalued coaching prospect who would keep the order in the clubhouse--something Denny was roundly criticized for failing to have done.
Though Red's initial intent is fuzzy, one thing is now evident. No matter Red's intentions in hiring Tice, his sole reason for bringing Tice back this season was to make the team more attractive to a potential buyer without entirely alienating the Vikings' fan base by attempting to hire someone for even less than the $700,000 that Red will owe Tice this season (approximately $150,000 less than the Dolphins will pay their new offensive coordinator in 2005).
Last night, two potential suitors to be the new Vikings' owners took in a half of basketball at the Target Center, no doubt plotting their next move. The two men, Reggie Fowler and Denny Hecker, have long been rumored to be in the mix to purchase the Vikings. And the NFL, interested in increasing minority ownership, is said to be working with Fowler, who signed a 60-day exclusive negotiating deal with Red just recently. Hecker and Fowler are said to have a third well-healed partner.
No matter who buys the Vikings, if the sale goes through prior to the opening of summer camp Tice's job could be in grave jeopardy. A new owner will face only the buy-out clause in Tice's contract as an obstacle to releasing the coach and would gain immediate fan suppor by bringing in an experienced coach and making a commitment to that coach and his staff. But that Tice's job would be in near certain jeopardy should Fowler and Heckler purchase the Vikings there is little doubt.
Hecker, like Red, made his name in the used car business. And what do used car dealers do to promote sales? They make crap look good by putting on glossy finishes and ensuring that the product passes the sound test. Fowler has made his money making land investments look good--a natural fit with a used car dealer in a good cop bad cop ploy to win over fans.
And how would a used car dealer and land speculator approach the Vikings? The used car dealer would make a bunch of noise about a need for change and would promise to make whatever changes necessary to win a Super Bowl. The land speculator would try to convince everyone that the product was already good, but would relent on the used car dealers demands of cosmetic changes. And the most obvious cosmetic change that a team can make and claim that the team was "headed in the right direction?" Well, that would be a change in the head coach, of course.
Which should scare Tice more than does the prospect of facing a 3-12 on the road.
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