EDEN PRAIRIE -- Mike Tice made it clear that things will change with the Minnesota Vikings under his watch.
On his first day as head coach, Tice dismissed a fifth assistant, challenged his starting quarterback to get better and promised that none of his players would loaf. He was even reportedly planning to add disgraced coach George O'Leary to his staff.
Tice took a firm grasp of the team, but also made it clear that everyone's input would matter -- something that wasn't always the case in Dennis Green's tenure. Green was ousted last Friday, days before the Vikings' 5-11 season ended. Tice coached the team in their final game Monday night, a 19-3 loss to Baltimore.
"I think there needs to be more communication between each department," Tice said. "We are excited about the opportunity to have everyone in the organization feel like they can think freely and their thoughts will be listened to."
Green's tenure in Minnesota ended last week because he had apparently lost control of some of his players, but the absolute power Green had as coach and vice president of football operations often left some out of important decisions.
So Tice and owner McCombs are out to make sure that changes. But that doesn't mean Tice won't be shaking things up. That includes the plan to hire O'Leary as defensive line coach, which the St. Paul Pioneer Press first reported on its Web site Thursday.
O'Leary, who quit five days after being hired as Notre Dame coach when he was found to have lied on his resume, declined Thursday to confirm the report in an interview with The Associated Press.
Pressed on whether he was discussing a job with Tice, O'Leary said: "I've spoken to Michael, but I have not done anything at all with Minnesota."
He said he expected to talk to Tice again.
"I'm going to listen to some people," O'Leary said. "Mike's one of the ones I want to talk to."
Tice spoke sternly, confidently and candidly about his vision for the team in a manner rarely shown by his predecessor.
"This season was no fun for me," Tice said. "I want to have fun."
Tice, whose tough but fair demeanor has drawn the respect of the Vikings in his five seasons as offensive line coach, made it clear that no one will be loafing. Randy Moss was criticized this year for saying he only plays hard when he wants to.
"I love to work hard," Tice said. "I don't think there are many people who are going to outwork me, and I'm going to demand the same of my staff and players."
The staff will have a decidedly different look in 2002. Four assistants, including offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis and defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, learned Tuesday they won't be returning, and outside linebackers coach Trent Walters left for a job at Notre Dame.
Special teams coach Gary Zauner was let go Thursday. Tice offered the defensive coordinator position to defensive backs coach Willie Shaw, who is expected to accept it.
Tice couldn't discuss his choices for an offensive coordinator, because most of them are with teams in the playoffs. Whoever it is will have to get Moss more involved. He had 10 touchdowns and 1,233 yards this year -- both career lows.
"We have to increase the ratio of touches that Randy Moss has," Tice said. "That ratio has to improve. It is not good enough."
Tice also said he'll move fullback Jim Kleinsasser to his natural tight end position and challenged quarterback Daunte Culpepper to become a better student.
"The No. 1 film watcher on your team should be the quarterback," Tice said. "Daunte needs to do a better job of preparing himself so that he knows the game plan as well as the coach does."
With Moss and Culpepper, Tice was confident the Vikings still had enough talent to return to the playoffs.
"You're only one or two players away, as Chicago has proven this year, from changing things," said Tice, referring to the NFC Central champion Bears, who went from 5-11 in 2000 to 13-3 this year.
Tice was loose and wry at a news conference, joking freely with McCombs, who participated by speakerphone from San Antonio. And he was playfully chided by his son for being tough on his seventh-grade team.
"He yells a lot," said 12-year-old Nate Tice.
Players are happy with the choice. Tice has received much of the credit for turning center Matt Birk from a sixth-round draft pick from Harvard into a two-time Pro Bowl player.
"Working under him for the last four years, seeing how hard he works and how hard he prepares," Birk said. "He's been like the one coach on the staff that any player felt like they could go talk to. He told the truth, and he won't sugarcoat it for everyone."
Running back Michael Bennett, who sobbed in the locker room last week after learning Green was gone, showed up at Tice's news conference.
"A couple of days ago, I was upset," Bennett said. "But this kind of relieves a lot of the tension for me. I think he epitomizes what our program is all about."
Naming a new coach wasn't the only change Minnesota made this week, reorganizing the front office into a government-style, three-branch operation.
The new regime will emphasize communication between the business and finance, personnel and football departments.
The biggest change comes in the personnel department, where Frank Gilliam essentially moves into the general manager's role. He'll have help from director of college scouting Scott Studwell and director of pro scouting Paul Wiggin.
"The nice part about this is that everybody that's here doesn't have an agenda," Studwell said. "I don't care who gets the credit, because it's shared. I also think that when there's blame involved, that's shared as well."
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