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Tice deserves one more year

Vikings' coach will be back for one more year

Now Mike Tice knows how Eddie Johnson felt a couple of weeks ago.

Johnson, the Vikings punter, fumbled the snap in three consecutive games late in the season. As a result, Leo Araguz was signed to be the team's punter. Johnson, who figured he would be out of a job, was kept on the roster and will be able to try to reclaim his job next season.

Tice is glad Vikings owner Red McCombs showed him the same mercy.

Tice, who just finished his second season, was hoping to be around next season to complete the third year of his contract. But he knew nothing was guaranteed. Not in the NFL. Not when you work for McCombs.

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McCombs, a used car salesman who is more spontaneous than a teen-ager, has a history of making less-than-calculated decisions. With McCombs, emotion has as much chance of fueling a decision as logic does. That's why Tice was walking and talking softly around Winter Park on Monday.

Those weren't eggshells on the floor, but every time Tice returned to his office, he peeked through the doorway hoping a pink slip wasn't perched on his desk.

After Sunday's last-second loss to Arizona that kept the Vikings out of the playoffs for the third straight season, McCombs was asked about Tice's job security. McCombs said he would talk about it Monday. He didn't. Instead, McCombs issued a statement.

"Although the loss was a heartbreaker, the Vikings played their hearts out," he said. "We'll be back at the drawing board getting ready for next year."

Huh?

No crazy cowboy quotes from the Lone Star State? No remarks about never squatting with your spurs on? What gives, Red?

Truth is, nobody knows what's in store today for ol' Red, let alone next season. His short history as Vikings owner showed he could have fired Tice today or he could have given him a two-year contract extension. Red's ownership decisions are about as predictable as his team's performance.

Neither scenario would have been surprising.

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But if Red was thinking clearly, and most of the emotion from Sunday's loss had worn off, he should have done neither. And he didn't.

What Red rightfully did was give Ticeone more year, the final one on his contract.

Before he was hired as head coach, Tice and his brain wizards pitched a three-year plan to Red. The first year was for cleaning house, reclaiming the team's salary cap, ridding the team of dead-weight veterans and organizing a youth movement. Wins weren't important in 2002. In the second season, which was just completed, the Vikings would continue to build through the draft, make prudent decisions in free agency, and with a little luck, make a playoff game or two. The third season, next year, was the year the Vikings could compete for a Super Bowl.

Red bought Tice's sales pitch and hired him without interviewing any other coaching candidates. Remember, we're talking about Red, a guy who supersizes his value meal right at the drive-through window, without any premeditation.

Tice deserves one more year because he has followed his three-year plan. The Vikings are in better shape, hardly resembling the train wreck left by Dennis Green in 2001. Had the Vikings won at Arizona, they would have beaten Seattle at the Dome on Sunday, then traveled to Philly or St. Louis and probably lost. Bottom line: They would have come within a game of the NFC Championship.

Tice is hardly without flaws. Occasionally, he stubbornly sticks to conservative game-plans when reality dictates otherwise (See Chicago Dec. 14, Arizona Sunday). Like his boss, he can make decisions based on emotion rather than reason (See going for it on fourth down at the goal line in the first quarter Sunday).

But Tice has done more good than bad with the Vikings. Way more.

Red gave Tice one more year, but he should issue one stipulation.

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The Vikings' goal next season shouldn't be to make the playoffs. Enough pieces are in place for the Vikings to contend for the NFC Championship.

Tice deserves the shot to take them there.

Troy Young is a sports writer for the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached at tyoung@postbulletin.com

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