NFL Nation: Onterrio Smith

Tice arrives in the 'tough-guy town'

January, 16, 2010
1/16/10
12:16
AM ET
Here’s a Mike Tice story that will tell Chicago fans all they need to know, for better and worse, about their new offensive line coach.


Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images Mike Tice is back in the NFC North as Bears' offensive line coach.
In the final month of the 2003 season, Tice’s second as Minnesota’s head coach, the Vikings were in the midst of a 3-7 collapse that would ultimately keep them out of the playoffs. Searching for a way to stabilize his team for a Soldier Field matchup with the Bears at Soldier Field, Tice decided to rely on the emerging skills of rookie tailback Onterrio Smith.

His message to players that week emphasized the need to toughen up and push through their struggles by getting back to the fundamentals of football. That’s what they needed, Tice said, to win a game in Chicago. Tice repeated that message in every media interview he did, famously calling Chicago a “tough-guy town” that needed to be met strength-on-strength. He made no secret of his intention to run the ball down the throat of the Bears’ defense.

Tice is 6-foot-8, has a deep voice and once told me that his “size-14 foot” would play a big role in player discipline. He always advocated the power running game, but it wasn’t clear if his gameplan was based on a schematic philosophy or the otherwise irrelevant history of the city his team was scheduled to play in. Smith ran for 148 yards in the game, but the Bears still won, 13-10 -- in part because the approach shortened the game for the Vikings’ mistake-prone offense, leaving them fewer possessions to score.

Tice soon realized the irrational nature of his game plan, however, and admitted it through a self-deprecating set of appearances on the Vikings’ radio flagship. He recorded himself saying the names of most cities in Minnesota, and the station edited those names in front of his “tough-guy” quote. Throughout the offseason and the following summer, you could hear Tice saying:

“Minneapolis? Tough-guy town.”

Or:

“St. Cloud? Tough-guy town.”

Or:

“Stillwater? Tough-guy town.”

To be clear, Tice was an emotional, tough-nosed advocate of power running who was always willing to admit and laugh at his mistakes. But make no mistake about this: He is a perfect offensive line coach for the Bears under Lovie Smith.

Before he was the Vikings’ head coach, Tice was their excellent offensive line coach. He played a big role in the Pro Bowl status of center Matt Birk and right tackle Korey Stringer. Have you ever seen a center wave one of his hands to make a last-second line call? Tice developed that approach, and it’s now copied around the league.

I have no doubt he’ll continue Chris Williams’ development and that he’ll find a position and approach that will make Frank Omiyale a serviceable player. Although the Bears still don’t have an offensive coordinator, they got better Friday by adding Tice.

The tough-guy coach finally landed in the tough-guy town. Just don’t tell him that.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Early Wednesday, I started making a list of all the bizarre, you-only-see-this-once bits of drama I covered during nine seasons on the Minnesota Vikings beat.

 
 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
 Former Vikings WR Randy Moss caught some heat for "mooning" the Lambeau Field crowd.

There was Randy Moss nudging a traffic cop with his car, which was later found to have marijuana in the ash tray.

Onterrio Smith and the Whizzinator.

Dennis Green agreeing to a contract buyout, running practice, and then announcing his departure during his daily media briefing in 2001.

Koren Robinson driving 110 miles per hour down a state highway to make training camp curfew.

Moss "mooning" Lambeau Field during a 2005 playoff game.

Moss declaring a few days later that he would pay the resulting fine with "straight cash," and suggesting that next time he would shake a different body part in front of the crowd.

The Vikings missing their turn in the first round of the 2003 draft.

Personnel director Fran Foley getting fired in 2006 after three months on the job; he had exaggerated his resume and threatened staffers with a "bloodbath" after the draft.

The more time I spent with the list, the more I realized how historically insignificant the suspensions of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams actually were in Vikings off-field lore. It seemed to be standard stuff relative to this franchise.

Until, of course, a Minnesota judge took the unprecedented action Wednesday night of temporarily lifting their suspensions pending further hearings on the topic.

The NFL plans an immediate appeal, and it's conceivable both players will be "re-suspended" as early as Thursday. But as we sit here Wednesday night, about 85 hours before the Vikings' game Sunday at Detroit, no one has any idea what will happen next. Will the NFL's steroid policy be voided? Will the move ultimately force the players to miss a playoff game? Who knows?

This is the type of chaotic sideshow we've never seen in these parts.

Oh, wait. There was the time Mike Tice found out that his contract was set to expire during the 2004 season because of a clerical error. The mistake forced then-owner Red McCombs to pick up his option for 2005 amid rumors he wanted to fire Tice and hire a new coach.

It's rare that a team in the playoff chase must deal with such off-field distractions. Except for the time in 2004 the time Moss walked off Washington's FedEx Field prior to the end of a one-score game. Center Matt Birk went after him in the locker room afterwards. Later that day, the Vikings earned a wild-card bid.

You couldn't come up with a story like this if you tried. Two All-Pro players going to court to take down the NFL's steroid abuse policy? Come on. It's almost like a bunch of players deciding to, I don't know, rent some boats on Lake Minnetonka, fly in some out-of-state strippers and have a party.

Oh wait, that's what happened on the Love Boat in 2005.

Birk, a St. Paul native, complained a few days later that the out-of-state invite list was an "insult to Minnesota strippers." For that smart-aleck remark, Birk went nose-to-nose with quarterback Daunte Culpepper and linebacker Keith Newman in what turned out to be heated locker room confrontation.

Ah, we don't mean to make light of the situation. The reputation of two players, not to mention about $1.5 million in salary, is at stake here. Nothing evil happened, right? Just two players trying to make weight. It's not like they were caught in a compromising situation with a naked woman in a downtown stairwell or something.

That was safety Dwight Smith. August, 2006. Remember?

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