Well, my Christmas wish came late this year, but Mike Tice and Mike Martz were finally fired from the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams, respectively. In different situations, each of them could have found success, I think, but the nature of their positions sealed their individual fates, regardless of the circumstances of this season.
Tice was saddled with players brought in under Red "Dumb Texas Redneck" McCombs' regime of cheapness. Red ran the Vikings the same way you would a used car dealership (what a coincidence, right?) by purchasing cheap junk and dressing it up like something the public might consider buying, all the while lining his pockets with cash. That's why the team is so full of low-quality individuals, Brad Johnson notwithstanding. In a way, Tice was a bargain-basement coach, too, almost an afterthought after Denny Green was shown the exit. Tice did the best he could with the talent pool he had—no defense for the previous two years—and actually redeemed himself by helping the Vikings at least look respectable toward the end of the season.
The NFL, however, is the antithesis of the Bush Administration: those who oversee incompetence and malfeasance are held responsible and kicked to the sidewalk when all is said and done, because sports today is like politics used to be—the buck stops at the top. I don't blame Zygi Wilf for what he did, even if the ESPN talking heads are clucking their tongues about the rapid timing.
I expect that Tice will catch on somewhere as an assistant coach; possibly an offensive coordinator, but I think he would serve himself and another team better doing what he knows best, and that's coaching the offensive line. Most of the O-lines in the NFC were cover-your-eyes gawd-awful this season (especially in St. Louis, where the starting QB's number is a bullseye instead of a numeral), so he could make a real difference in improving a team's offensive fortunes. Houston needs an improved line to block for Reggie Bush, too.
Martz is another story completely. I was calling for his head last year after another season of underachieving, poor defense and Hall of Shame caliber special teams play. But this season, there was at least the potential for a turnaround. But once again, he refused to run a balanced offensive attack, then Bulger got hurt (again), then Martz went on the shelf with a heart ailment. During his illness, we all found out that the Rams front office looked more like an off-Broadway revival of Julius Caesar. All the backroom infighting is going to make this job less attractive to a strong personality. I'd like to see Rams president John Shaw fire VP Jay Zygmunt and GM Charley Armey as well and start fresh with a whole new crew, but I doubt that's going to happen.
Where will Martz land? I've heard Oakland mentioned, and Martz is certainly an NFL outlaw, but he's also remarkably undisciplined as a head coach, and Oakland is a mess in dire need of strong direction. Martz would be more ideally suited to once again follow in the footsteps of Dick Vermeil and take over in Kansas City. He knows the system, the personnel, and much of the coaching staff. It makes perfect sense, which is why it won't happen. He's also been rumored to be a candidate in Minnesota, and to say I would have mixed feelings about that is a gross understatement. I think Martz will get another head coaching job (and like Tice, Houston might be a good fit for him—young QB, talented receivers, best running back draft prospect in the past 20 years about to come on board), but if I was Martz's agent, I would call Lovie Smith and ask him if Chicago would like to hire him as offensive coordinator. I don't think that's going to happen, but that's just my opinion, and it's free of charge.
Who are the teams going to go with? I've heard Jim Fassel or possibly the Giants current defensive coordinator in Minnesota, which makes sense because Zygi's a Jersey guy with strong ties to the Giants. I think a defensive minded coach is the right way to go, for obvious reasons, but he also needs to be a coach with strong moral character to help improve the Vikings' PR image. For the Rams, there's only one guy I want—and it's no surprise to Sandlot readers—and that's Jeff Fisher from the Titans. I guess there has been some speculation as to whether the Titans are going to keep him after a poor 4-12 season, but even if they do, maybe he'd be willing to listen to an offer from the Rams. After that, I think Lovie Smith's defensive coordinator Ron Rivera might be the best man for the job. Whoever gets the job in either city has a lot of work ahead of him, but there's also a lot of potential there. After all, this is the NFL, where teams are always just 4-5 players away from going from worst to first.