Vikings owner Zygi Wilf Monday defended his decision to not renew Mike Tice’s contract as head coach, and Wilf defended the manner in which he and his brother Mark informed head coach Mike Tice Sunday evening.
Tice was told he wasn’t being brought back when he entered the locker room immediately after his postgame press conference. Within an hour of the conclusion of the Vikings’ 34-10 win over the Chicago Bears in the season finale, the team was without a head coach. Some media and players felt the franchise should have waited until Monday to inform Tice so he could be the first to tell his assistant coaches and players.
“It was tough. We understand it’s a business, but we expected them to have a meeting today and for us to find out … but they must have had their minds made up because I heard they were handing out fliers in the locker room,” cornerback Antoine Winfield said.
Wilf said the decision was made after the Vikings were eliminated from playoff contention.
A few players that were left in the locker room were informed by media members who were given a short news release. Most of the players found out from news media either on their way home or once they returned home.
“First, there is no easy way or good time to let someone know that their contract will not be renewed. We have great respect for Mike, and once a final decision was made, we didn’t want him to twist in the wind another night, but the bottom line is it was a tough decision and a difficult thing to do. We informed Mike as soon as we could, which was also something he requested,” Wilf said.
Several times last week, Tice had requested that a decision be made “sooner than later,” and Wilf met that request Sunday evening. Still, many players felt Monday would have been better timing.
“He was just coming off a big win – at least let him enjoy it a little bit. But I understand why they made the decision they made. They wanted to get it over with as quick as possible, which they did,” linebacker Keith Newman said.
“There is no good way to do it,” tackle Mike Rosenthal said. “Obviously, we didn’t do enough on the field this year to win and get into the playoffs, and that’s what we’re judged upon.”
“I was kind of pissed because I thought it was going to happen (differently),” said rookie defensive end Erasmus James, who found out by watching television Sunday night. “I thought the way ownership went about it – they told him right away and didn’t really give him a chance to say, ‘You know what? We won this game today, why don’t I go home and get some sleep, just kind of refresh my mind because this win is important?’ They didn’t do that. They told him right after. I think the last 24 hours we’ve been having is kind of messed up.”
“We could have learned about it (Monday) instead of yesterday on (TV), but us as players have nothing to do with that.”
Wilf said he met with the players, coaches and staff Monday morning to explain that the owners and some of the executives felt the time was right to make a coaching change.
“He’s a great teacher of young men, and under Mike’s leadership the Vikings have led the league in player appearances in the community and this is something that will continue into the future,” Wilf said.
Tice also met with players in a regularly scheduled team meeting Monday morning and by all accounts was professional and sometimes emotional.
“He just gave us a lot of encouraging words, told us he loved us. He’s just really emotional right now, as well as everybody is,” running back Michael Bennett said. “This is my second time (going through a coaching change in the NFL). Being a rookie, you really don’t understand, but being here five years you kind of know and understand the business and it was definitely a business decision.”
“Mike’s a strong guy, he’s been through a lot and he’ll bounce back. He’ll land on his feet,” tight end Jermaine Wiggins said.
Wiggins admitted that the players have to take some of the responsibility, but he said coaches and quarterbacks are always going to be given most of the credit and most of the blame. Other players, he said, just have to go out and do what they can to support those leaders.
“We didn’t play well at times and other times we did. I think the biggest thing is consistency,” Wiggins said.
Tice admitted that he had been perplexed by the “streakiness” of the team over the last three years. In 2002, Tice’s first full season, the Vikings started 0-4 and ended with a 3-0 run to finish out the season at 6-10. In 2003, they won their first six games, then went on a four-game losing streak before ending 9-7. Last season, they started 5-1 before finished 8-8 and going 1-1 in the playoffs. This season, a 2-5 start and 9-7 record wasn’t good enough to make it to the playoffs.
“I was very proud of how the players responded to Mike,” Wilf said of the team’s response after a 2-5 start. “It showed me the respect that our players gave to our coach at a time when everyone was pointing fingers at us and we were down, literally in the dumps.”
Wilf said the team will commit a quick search for a top personnel executive and a coach within the NFL guidelines, which means the Vikings will interview at least one minority candidate.
“The Wilf family and our entire ownership group are committed to doing whatever it takes to bring championships to Minnesota,” Wilf said.