Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Tough-guy Tice just what Falcons need

By Vaughn McClure

If the Atlanta Falcons wanted to bring a little toughness to the offensive line, Mike Tice was the right guy.

A source confirmed to ESPN.com that Tice agreed to a two-year deal to become the team's offensive line coach. The one-time Minnesota Vikings head coach took a year off this season, trying to enjoy a relaxing life in the Seattle suburbs with his wife, Diane, after being let go by the Chicago Bears. But even as he watched the 2013 season from afar, the 54-year-old Tice maintained a burning desire to be on the field working hands-on with the guys up front.

No, Tice's first stint as an offensive coordinator in 2012 didn't pan out, and he learned some valuable lessons from the experience. However, there was no doubt what type of impact Tice had while coaching the Bears' offensive line for two seasons prior to being promoted to coordinator. He got the most he could out of marginal talent.

Mike Tice
Mike Tice will be the Falcons' next offensive line coach after agreeing to a two-year deal.
One former member of the Bears staff told me Tuesday night that Tice was one of the best assistant coaches the team had under Lovie Smith, partially because Tice "didn't take any crap.'' Tice refused to put up with Jay Cutler's stubborn behavior, although Cutler won out in terms of remaining with the team.

But Tice's latest endeavor isn't about a coordinator's relationship with his quarterback. It's about a position coach motivating a group of five to play tough while remaining in unison.

I'll never forget what Tice told me in November of 2011 when he discussed harping on his offensive linemen about keeping their hands high, maintaining good balance, not crossing over, not bringing the feet together, and keeping the helmet out.

"They get sick of hearing about it,'' he said. "They have to do those five things in sequence so when we're slowing down the tape, they look like, 'The Rockettes.' ''

The Falcons line has looked more like the "Three Stooges'' as of late, with a comedy of errors. It contributed to quarterback Matt Ryan being sacked a career-high 44 times this season. And the line's inability to consistently block was the main reason the Falcons finished dead last in the league in rushing at just 77.9 yards per game.

The organization obviously was tired of the line being the laughing stock, which is why offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn were let go at season's end. Team owner Arthur Blank even agreed the Falcons needed to get tougher up front.

Tice, a long-time NFL tight end who actually played quarterback in college at Maryland, developed a knack for offensive line play over the years. He learned under great offensive line instructors such as Joe Bugel, Howard Mudd, Jim Hanifan and Chuck Knox. Tice translated that wealth of knowledge into tutoring the likes of Pro Bowl linemen such as Matt Birk, Korey Stringer, and Todd Steussie with the Vikings.

Now, Tice inherits a line lacking Pro Bowl-caliber players. No one is expecting him to perform miracles, and the Falcons obviously need to add more talented linemen for Tice to work with moving forward. But no matter which players are in his group come the start of the season, he won't be afraid to get it any of their faces.

Yes, it's the kind of toughness the Falcons sorely need.