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Tice's toughest task: Become a bore

Vikings coach faces challenging offseason chores

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Mike Tice's burden just got even bigger.

His offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, left Minnesota for Miami because he was only guaranteed one more season to run one of the league's best offenses.

Tice's contract has one year left on it, and Red McCombs -- or a new owner -- might decide to dump the entire staff and start over if the Vikings again fail to establish themselves among the NFL's elite.

The rumble that a sale is forthcoming -- to a group led by Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler, or perhaps to Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor -- is growing louder. That uncertainty, and a coaching staff that's believed to be the lowest paid in the league, will make finding a viable replacement for Linehan difficult.

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Offensive line coach Steve Loney is a well-respected in-house candidate, but he would probably require more supervision. Linehan wants to take some other offensive assistants with him, and if Tice decides to grant permission it will further deplete his staff.

Players are ultimately responsible for a team's success, but coaching continuity is vital. Yes, the pass coverage in Minnesota has been mostly brutal since the century turned, but the fact that the Vikings have employed five defensive coordinators in the last six seasons certainly has something to do with it.

The talent on the other side of the ball is too immense for Minnesota to experience a significant dropoff, should the new offensive coordinator have trouble extracting as much production from Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and whoever winds up running the ball.

It's unlikely that Moss will be traded, but frustration over his late-season antics and potential concern about injuries popping up again could cause the Vikings to think harder about dealing him this spring than they did before.

Former teammate Cris Carter, speaking on Sirius NFL Radio, offered an interesting if out-of-the-loop comment this week.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Carter said. "As a matter of fact, I'm going to go on record and say that Randy Moss has played his last game in Minnesota. You'd be surprised when Randy Moss becomes available how people will ante up to get him."

Assuming Moss returns, however, it's fair to say that he can't be counted on for maturity, leadership or consistent use of his great skills. That -- and the adjustment to a new coordinator -- places more responsibility on the broad shoulders of Culpepper, who has offered no reason why he can't handle that.

Tice, as the head coach should, has the tallest order in front of him.

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With ownership and coaching issues hovering, the challenges of signing and re-signing the right free agents with a limited budget, ensuring another strong draft and continuing to devise ways to get his team to play with consistency and intelligence will occupy much of his offseason.

Perhaps the most important task for Tice, though, lies within.

He has done a remarkable job of noting where his predecessor, Dennis Green, failed and taking steps to avoid the same fate. Using his candid, humorous, gregarious personality and his 14-year career as a tough-guy tight end, Tice has helped forge quality camaraderie on the roster.

Where Tice must improve is in the maturity department. Take the emotion out of his in-game decisions. Stop being so sensitive to outside criticism.

"Every day and every year, I will try to get better," he said. "I know I want to do well for all the players and all their families and all the coaches and all their families, and I know I want to do well for the fans."

Dave Campbell can be reached at dcampbell@ap.org

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