EDEN PRAIRIE (AP) -- Mere hours into what promises to be another busy offseason for the Minnesota Vikings, owner Red McCombs told Mike Tice he's the leading candidate to replace Dennis Green as head coach.
Then four of Tice's fellow assistants from Green's staff found out they're not coming back.
Tice was interim coach in Minnesota's 19-3 loss to Baltimore Monday night, after Green last week ended 10 years as the Vikings' coach. The Vikings finished 5-11 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 1995.
McCombs said Tuesday that Tice, who was Green's offensive line coach, heads the list of possible successors. As acting head coach, Tice met with McCombs and his front office staff on Tuesday to discuss operational issues and a restructuring. Green had complete control of personnel as vice president of football operations.
After the meeting, Tice told offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis, defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, running backs coach Carl Hargrave and inside linebackers coach Richard Solomon they won't be returning. Hargrave was with the Vikings for seven seasons.
"I had to tell my friends that they were no longer with the organization," Tice said. "A little worse than cutting a player, but that's part of it."
The club decided not to renew the contracts of Lewis, Thomas and Hargrave. Solomon, a close friend of Green's and the team's director of pro personnel who was increasingly criticized, was fired.
Outside linebackers coach Trent Walters took a job as defensive backs coach at Notre Dame a day earlier, meaning the Vikings will have at least five new assistants next year. Tice indicated more moves could be made.
Following the 1999 season, six assistants either left or were fired, and Green got rid of two more after last year.
Saying he thought it went "pretty well," Tice was under the impression that the meeting Tuesday morning constituted an interview. But McCombs said the organization's familiarity with Tice wouldn't necessitate a formal one.
"Today was just continuing our work," McCombs said. "I interview Mike every day. So I don't see that there will be any official interview. I know Mike's views. I have know them since day one. He has been very helpful to me, and hopefully I have been somewhat helpful to him."
After addressing the media, McCombs left for his home in San Antonio, where a national convention of college football coaches is currently being held. But he said the team would probably talk with only a handful of coaches who have expressed interest in the job, rather than scour the country for possibilities.
"I have never had a list of names," McCombs said. "I felt fortunate ... that we had a very qualified person here who was taking the lead and moving with it."
Saying a decision would not be made "in the next few days," McCombs insisted he didn't have a timetable for naming a new coach. But he indicated there weren't any candidates involved in the playoffs for whom the Vikings would wait.
That would rule out Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy, a former assistant of Green's, who may have to win Saturday's wild-card game in Philadelphia to keep his job.
"I don't see anything out there that I would be waiting on," McCombs said. "There are enough people who have already expressed interest. ... There is always that side of the coin that a new look, whomever that might be, certainly brings a value to the table. On the other side of the coin is the continuance of a very good program. A program that has worked very well."
As players packed up their belongings Tuesday afternoon, the consensus around the locker room was that Tice would be the right choice for the job.
"He's a guy everyone respects," said tight end Byron Chamberlain. "Not just the offensive linemen, but everyone. The way he prepares himself and the preparation he puts in is incredible."
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