Bears had better think Tice about next O-coordinator

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Chicago Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice talks to his team during NFL football training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

As he searches for a new offensive coordinator, Bears coach Lovie Smith shouldn’t have to file a single expense report or travel too far.

He can walk into the office of offensive line coach Mike Tice.

Last offseason, after the Tennessee Titans requested an interview with Tice for their offensive coordinator vacancy, the Bears declined and handed Tice a contract extension.

This season, after overseeing a unit that lost two opening-game starters, Tice still contributed toward the Bears somehow gaining 2,015 rushing yards.

Now, after two seasons with Mike Martz, the Bears should promote Tice to coordinator.

During an interview Tuesday, Martz spoke fondly of Tice. Asked how Tice would do as his replacement, he said, “I think Mike would so a terrific job. But that’s not my business.”

The biggest knock against Tice is that despite his extensive NFL career as a player, assistant and even head coach, he never has called plays.

But that’s a fallacy.

My tenure covering the Minnesota Vikings included Tice’s four seasons as the head coach. Twice, he empowered a college coach by making him the offensive coordinator, and he helped in the transition by assisting in play calls. The first appointee, Scott Linehan, starred in that role, later accepting a lucrative contract to serve in the same capacity with the Miami Dolphins. He’s now in the same position with the Detroit Lions.

The second, Steve Loney, struggled in 2005 after then-owner Red McCombs financially handcuffed Tice in his search for a replacement for Linehan. Without receiver Randy Moss, who had been traded to the Oakland Raiders, or any notable offensive threat, the Vikings struggled, but Tice did handle the play-calling duties before ceding the responsibility to Loney.

After a 2-5 start, the Vikings won six consecutive games and finished the year 9-7. Their leading receiver was tight end Jermaine Wiggins. In the season finale, a 34-10 win against the Bears, the offense racked up nearly 400 yards.

Since he has been with the Bears the last two seasons, Tice understands the personnel as well as the playbook. Although he was a quarterback at Maryland, he has played and coached in multiple systems, and he likely wouldn’t overhaul the scheme, which would benefit quarterback Jay Cutler.

In Minnesota, Tice always emphasized a running game balanced with a deep passing attack. That suits Cutler.

In 2002 and 2003, respectively, the Vikings’ run offense was ranked first and fourth in yards. Overall, as an offense, the Vikings were in the top four in total yardage in three of Tice’s five seasons. And they were eighth or higher in points scored in three of those five seasons.

As for innovation, Tice spearheaded the infamous “Randy Ratio” – a formula designed to frequently get the ball to Moss – as well as the ‘‘Duh Offense,” predicated on how the defense lined up to defend his team.

The Bears don’t necessarily need anything like that. But what they do need is continuity, especially for the sake of their franchise quarterback.

Todd Haley, who coached Kurt Warner in Arizona, would appear to be a strong candidate, along with Clyde Christensen, who served on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coaching staff with Smith. Jeremy Bates, who coached Cutler in Denver, may also be an option.

Ultimately, though, Smith shouldn’t have to venture too far to get his man.

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