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Wilf defends decision to fire Tice

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Vikings owner Zygi Wilf talked Monday about his decision to fire head coach Mike Tice. He said he wants to take the team in a different direction. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf says he fired head coach Mike Tice because he wants to take the team in another direction. Wilf says he didn't make the change because of the Viking's off-field problems, including the raucous lake cruise that resulted in criminal charges against four players. Instead, the new owner says his decision was based on the Vikings on-field performance. The team finished with a 9-7 record and failed to make the playoffs.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The firing of Mike Tice didn't come as a surprise to many players or fans. His contract was due to expire at the end of the month, and the Vikings play, on and off the field, this year had been less than stellar.

The word of Tice's termination went to the media before the players. That drew some criticism from players. One Viking says he saw the one-paragraph news release on the floor of the locker room, following the team's victory Sunday over the Chicago Bears.

But Wilf says he didn't want the coach to have one more night of uncertainty about his job. Wilf says the decision to fire Tice was difficult.

"I've very good things to say about Mike Tice. I got to know him as a friend. He taught me a lot about coaching," said Wilf Monday. "I felt, we all felt, that in evaluating where we wanted to go in the future, towards getting what we want -- consistency, championships -- we felt we need to take our team in our direction. And we felt we need to make a change."

Mike Tice played in the NFL for 14 years. He played tight end for the Vikings for three seasons, starting in 1992. Tice held several assistant coaching jobs for the team before being named the head coach in 2002.

Tice was somber and reflective as he spoke after Wilf to a throng of reporters at the team's headquarters in Eden Prairie.

"I'm sitting there with Diane last night, saying, 'God, we've been here since 1992. And it's such a long time that we've been a part of this organization.'"

Tice and his wife Diane have two children. Tice says he'll wait until his son graduates from high school later this year before making further career decisions. Tice didn't say where he thinks he'll end up, but he says he'd like to continue coaching.

"I think this year I proved that I worked hard for four years to earn my stripes. And hopefully there will be other organizations around the league that will see it that way," said Tice. "I love to teach."

Tice leaves with a career record of 33-34. But he may well be best known for being at the helm during some notable scandals. Last year, the league fined Tice $100,000 for scalping his Super Bowl tickets.

Starting running back Onterrio Smith was caught with a device designed to beat drug tests and was suspended by the league for the season. Finally, there was the wild lake cruise last October that produced misdemeanor charges against four players, including star quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

But Tice was held in high regard by many of the people he worked with. As a former player and a long-time member of the coaching staff, Tice had close relationships with many of the men he coached.

Defensive back Antoine Winfield says Tice was well-liked.

"He was really a good guy. A lot of respect for him. Just a guy you could talk to. A guy you could sit down with and he'd listen to you," said Winfield. "He's played the game before, so he could relate well with the players. It's going to be tough. I'll definitely miss him."

Offensive lineman Mike Rosenthal agreed the players will miss Tice. But he doesn't think the team's off-field problems had anything to do with the coach's dismissal.

"The bottom line is we're judged by wins and losses. And we didn't get enough wins," said Rosenthal. "We didn't get into the playoffs, we weren't one of the last 12 teams to be playing. So, that's what you're judged on."

Zygi Wilf will not say who's on his list of possible head coaches. But he does say he will consider coaches already with the Vikings organization. Some of the players say they'd like to see defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell on that list.

Wilf will have plenty of candidates to choose from. Since Tice was fired Sunday, the head coaches for the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans joined the ranks of the unemployed.

Zygi Wilf says he wants to select a new head coach by the end of the month.