Telling it like it is
After a shaky start by the Bears offensive line, Mike Tice not pulling punches
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Everyone could use a little Mike Tice in their lives.
You think those pants make you look fat? Ask Tice.
"You look like 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound sack. Take those off."
Not sure about that best man speech? Listen to Tice.
"Don't lead with that Tijuana anecdote. You sound like a moron. What's wrong with you? Your grandma is here."
Unsure if there's an open competition at left tackle for the team you cover? Tice will set you straight.
"I know it rained. Did you not go to the game? You went to the game right? OK, you saw the same thing I saw. I have trouble sleeping at night until I know that our quarterback is protected."
The first two quotes are made up. The third one is all too real.
Tice is Joe Biden with a Long Island accent, a giant-sized Joan Rivers with the practice field his red carpet. You might remember him as the permissive Minnesota Vikings coach who scalped his Super Bowl tickets and always had a pencil behind his ear, but he could be a godsend to a Chicago Bears team unable to find a consistent offensive identity, even with Jay Cutler under center.
For the Bears' offensive players, Tice is a refreshing change, in several ways, from the man he replaced at the offensive coordinator position, Mike Martz. For reporters, Tice is the Last Honest Man in a business in which obfuscation with the media is the standard.
With the additions of Brandon Marshall rookie Alshon Jeffery and running back Michael Bush, and the return of Cutler and Matt Forte, the Bears' offense should be much improved from the Jekyll & Hyde tenure of the Martz era, in which the OC seemed removed from the reality of the team's limitations. Expectations are essentially Super Bowl or bust, if everyone remains healthy. That makes Tice, who will still coach the offensive line as well as oversee the offense, a very important person at Halas Hall. He knows what this team can and can't do, and it's his job to make it work. Good thing his deep voice comes in loud and clear.
The new Straight Talk Express rolled into the media pack on a rainy Monday at Bears training camp and delivered some truly memorable sound bites, which for the Bears beat, is a rare occurrence. Tice didn't wait for questions, speaking extemporaneously for three minutes about last week's preseason-opening loss to Denver. Coordinators only speak once a week, which is a shame, but it looks like Tice's chats will be appointment listening, a 180 from Martz's nonsense.
Tice didn't disappoint when talking about the left tackle slap fight, I mean battle, between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams. Webb played into the fourth quarter of Thursday's game, which is almost unheard of for a so-called starter. Williams has been working as a starter in practice. Both will get work with the first team this Saturday in the team's second preseason game against the Washington Redskins.
"The left tackle position, I know some people have said I'm sending a message to J'Marcus," Tice said. "You have to understand how I work. There's no message being sent.
"Anything that goes on with the players, they know up front in the meeting. They know how much they're going to play. They're told why there's competition at certain positions. They're told, each day, where we need to see them improve in what areas. There's no secrets. I don't operate like that. Message? Subliminal message? There's none of that going on."
No subliminal messages, eh?
"Chris [Williams] is over there on the left side," Tice said. "I felt Chris had a solid game. I didn't feel like the other player was up to par, as far as the standards we're trying to set to protect our quarterbacks."
"The Other Player." Might be a better nickname for the embattled Webb than his Twitter nom de guerre, "JWebb Nation."
When Tice was informed by a reporter Webb has a kind of "swagger" off the field, Tice cracked, "I wonder why."
"I can't worry about Webb Nation and all the other things he does socially," Tice said. "That's not for me. He's a grown man. I just want him to play better football for us."
Webb is surely used to this kind of talk considering it's Tice's third year coaching the offensive line.
"I think it's a little shocking for some positions, but we're used to him on the O-line," right tackle Gabe Carimi said of Tice. "He always tries to give it you straight. He doesn't like to bounce around what he's thinking. You usually have more than enough information. Sometimes that hurts."
Carimi said he can't do a Tice impression (nearly every reporter has a good one), but he does like one Tice-ism.
"He tells us to work your trade every day," Carimi said. "Every day that's the first thing he puts on the board, 'Work your trade.'"
Tice's trade has been difficult the past few years as he's been given a motley crew of linemen. He mentioned Carimi and guard Lance Louis in a positive light Monday, but as for the rest, Tice admitted he has to "play the hand you're dealt." Not exactly encouraging words, but Tice's stark honesty is buttressed by his love of coaching and making players better.
"What's great about him [is] he's one of those guys who will get after you," tight end Matt Spaeth said. "He'll get excited and he'll yell at you and whatever. But at the same time, he'll take you aside and high-five you when you do a good job, and [if you do a bad job], explain it to you and make sure that doesn't happen again."
Receiver Devin Hester likes Tice so far, because the coach is funny, approachable and has made it clear he's looking to highlight playmakers like, say, Hester.
"[Tice] is pretty much straight-forward. You're going to know whether or not you're doing good or bad," Hester said. "He's not going to sugar-coat anything. He'll let you know. He's not afraid to put you out in front of everybody."
The work-in-progress offense, which looked abysmal doing simple execution in its first public showing sans Cutler and Forte, will be similarly direct, Hester said.
"Less thinking, more simple," Hester said. "Kind of like any offense, try to utilize your players. Try to find a way to get key guys the ball in their hands and get into the open field in one-on-one match-ups."
Tice has an open-door policy and is more of a player's coach than Martz, whom Hester described as "an older-type guy." This is by design.
"In my career I was mostly a backup," Tice said. "I didn't really enjoy playing for the coaches that told me what I wanted to hear. I'd rather be told, 'You can't run. You're going to be in there when we're blocking' or whatever. As opposed to some guy telling me some crap that I knew was B.S.
"So it's very important, I think, that there's an honesty and a communication line so the players know exactly where they stand. Not B.S. where they stand, but really where they stand. That's why I said the things about the mind games. There are no mind games. Ask the guys. I tell them everything. It's keep it real and here it is, and this is what I'm seeing. And if you don't like it, fix it."
Tice got his biggest laughs Monday when he delivered the staple joke of any stand-up set: The nagging wife bit.
"We always love our wives because they keep us grounded," he said. "She said to me yesterday, 'Gosh I see you guys score a lot of touchdowns in the red zone [in practice].' I said, 'Yeah we have some weapons.' She said, 'Why don't you try getting down there a little bit more.' Gotta love your wife, right? We went to high school together, so she's allowed to say that. My daughter's tougher. She's 25. She's a lot tougher."
I guess even Mike Tice needs a little Tice in his life. When does his wife address the media next? Because we need more Tice too. Honesty, after all, is always the best possibility.