As we learned this week, Mike Tice was named the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears. Initially, I wasn't sure how I felt about the hiring - his lack of play-calling experience concerns me, although I recognize that in order for a coordinator to get such experience, it has to start somewhere, but also the whole "passing coordinator" thing. But, I'm usually level-headed enough to take a look at the facts before I form an opinion, so follow me below the fold and let's take a look at some of the numbers behind the Bears' new offensive coordinator.
The Mike Tice coaching resume spans since 1996, the year after his playing tenure ended with the Vikings. He's covered everything from coming is as a tight ends coach in 1996 to offensive line in 1997, then assuming the head coaching mantle of the Minnesota Vikings in 2001, taking over from ifyouwannacrownem-- I mean, Dennis Green after a miserable 5-10 start. After being let go in 2005, he took over the offensive line in Jacksonville in 2006 under the Assistant Head Coach title, then shifted to tight ends against for three years before coming to Chicago to work with the offensive line.
Since we don't exactly have any kind of easy-to-track record of improvement like we did with Mike Martz (Hey, remember when we thought we'd see passing numbers skyrocket?!), let's take a look at the change in the team as Tice's role changed. Tice took over a team in 2001 that was 24th in scoring, 12th in offensive yards, and 25th in rushing. 2002 saw the Vikings jump to second in overall yards and leading the league in rushing with the 8th most attempts. Where no Minnesota running back broke 700 yards in 2001, Michael Bennett charged into the Pro Bowl with 1296 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns, Moe Williams added another 11 touchdowns and even Daunte Culpepper broke into the end zone ten times.
2003 saw the Vikings again lead the league in total offense as Bennett only played eight games, but similar to 2001, no running back broke 750 yards (Moe Williams had 745) - Having Randy Moss that year just might have had something to do with it, as he had what can only be considered an insane year. 2004, same story - the running game fell through again, and Daunte Culpepper had a fantastic season throwing the ball. And in 2005, Randy Moss had left the team... and the offense returned to its 2001 levels - 25th in yardage, 19th in points.
But that's what happened when given the head-coaching reins, Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss, and Scott Linehan in 2002 as offensive coordinator. How about when he shifted from tight ends coach in 1996 to offensive line in 1997? Running back Robert Smith played for the Vikings for eight seasons as a first round pick in 1993. When Tice took over the offensive line in 1997, Smith eclipsed his career high in yards-per-attempt and only missed two games after not playing in fifteen in his first four seasons, making the Pro Bowl twice and posting thousand-yard seasons each of Tice's four as offensive line coach.
So what about Jacksonville? In 2005, the team was 12th in points scored and 15th in total yardage. After arriving in 2006 and adding Maurice Jones-Drew, the team jumped from 10th in rushing to 3rd, then 2nd, then 18th as Tice was shifted back over to tight ends.
So what are we learning through this little exercise? Admittedly, not much, but we can point out some parallels between his teams in the past and the team he takes over in 2012, and some trends to point out his influence.
1) He's always had talented running backs to work with.
In fact, this is his first stop where he hasn't had a first-round-drafted running back to work with. Smith, Bennett, Fred Taylor, Jones-Drew, all first-round picks. Matt Forte is a second-rounder, and he's still pretty damn good.
2) Culpepper and Moss were really really good.
Well duh. But while the Vikings leaned on Bennett in 2002, the Vikings offense got a lot out of using Moe Williams in the red zone package and utilizing Culpepper's mobility in that area. The Bears have Jay Cutler, obviously, and he's got enough mobility to be that unpredictable weapon in the red zone as long as he's utilized that way - maybe not double-digit touchdowns, but enough to be a threat. There's no receiver on the roster that will be confused for Randy Moss any time soon unless they start pantomiming mooning the Green Bay crowd, but there's a whole offseason to add that weapon - or at least a decent receiver capable of leading a corps on day one.
3) Offenses he's been involved in have been largely ground-based, with good-to-decent TD:INT passing ratios.
Granted, with some exceptions - i.e., 2008 Jacksonville, 2003 Minnesota - but what this tells me is something we already knew - he likes his linemen big and nasty and very good at run-blocking.
4) Mobile quarterbacks can be effective.
He had Culpepper and David Garrard. Here, he has Jay Cutler. 'Nuff said.
So what do we know about how Mike Tice will coordinate the offense?
1) There will be uniformity between offensive philosophy and roster-building.
Tice likes run-blockers and running backs. Martz liked All-Pro pass-protectors and multiple-receiver sets. When there's that kind of dissonance between two offensive coaches... Remind me how in green-and-gold hell the Bears executed anything on offense? Max protection is nice, but it can't be the basis of an offense for sixteen games.
2) Tight ends will get more use.
Jim Kleinsasser in Minnesota and Marcedes Lewis in Jacksonville were generally good for about 40 receptions and 400-500 yards per season - well, in Sasser's case, until he got hurt and subsequently phased out. I'm not putting Kellen Davis on even a Marcedes Lewis level yet, but I'll expect a significant uptick in his numbers. His yards-per-reception are in line with Lewis', with far fewer receptions, and you know Cutler looks for him in the red zone given his five touchdowns. If Davis (or another tight end) gets more use in the middle, it might open up more things on the outside for other receivers.
3) Generally, the ball will still be spread around to everyone.
Randy Moss is the best receiver Tice has had on his team, and would be in that situation on a lot of NFL teams. But apart from him, other targets were about as evenly spread as it gets. In 2002, Moss had 106 catches and D'Wayne Bates had 50, but Kleinsasser had 37, Bennett had 37, and second tight end Byron Chamberlain had 34. In 2003, Moss had 111 catches, but Moe Williams had 65 and Kleinsasser had 46. In 2004, Moss had 49, Jermaine Wiggens (TE) had 71, Nate Burleson had 68 and Marcus Robinson had 47. In 2006, Reggie Williams had 52 receptions, Maurice Jones-Drew had 46, WCG Idol Matt Jones had 41 and TE George Wrighster had 39. Apart from Moss for a couple years, he's never had a dominant #1 target, and the tight end and running back have gotten just as much use as any receiver on the roster.
Will the Bears still add a top-flight receiver? They could. In fact, I'd be surprised if they didn't try to. But how does this work with the team's current roster?
Kellen Davis has shown to be a decent red zone target, so he has a little ability, and we know how good Matt Forte is when he's in the open field. So things might not change much for Forte, but as I said above, Davis getting more work in the middle might open up more things on the outside and deep middle, if the tight end has to be respected in the short-middle to intermediate-middle of the field. Tice's former teams included a pair of mobile quarterbacks who did their best work moving around, and we know Cutler does that well - if Tice doesn't do what he's seen work first-hand, I will be surprised.
Obviously, there's a lot of problems - first being we don't know for sure what's attributable to the offensive coordinator and what's attributable to the head coach, assistant coach, et cetera. But looking at how his teams have performed offensively and with respect to the areas he's been in charge of, I'm a little more optimistic than I was before. I'm a little concerned he needs a "passing game coordinator," but as long as he displays an awareness of the game as it's being played and carries over some of what he's historically worked with (mobile quarterback, check; good running game, check), he should at least do a serviceable job. And if the first play is a flop, we'll all just start complaining for his job anyway, right?