View Full Version : Vikings getting by with less

11-15-2004, 01:11 PM
Iteresting perspective From GB on how Red's management is affecting the team.

Vikings getting by with less
Tight-money policy might cost Vikings
Posted: Nov. 13, 2004
On the Packers

Bob McGinn

Green Bay - Winning and losing in the National Football League still comes down to people, and since their birth in 1961 the Minnesota Vikings almost always have had good people in the important positions.

It is why the Vikings have a regular-season record of 359-286-9 during their existence, a notch better than their opponent this afternoon, the Green Bay Packers, who are 350-291-13 during that same span of 43 1/2 years.

But it is also true that as the rivalry has grown more heated in the last decade — largely because of the relatively new-found competitiveness of the Packers — the changing financial fortunes and management philosophies of the two organizations have made it harder and harder for the Vikings to keep up.

Not too many years ago, staffers who worked out of the NFL office in New York and who were on the telephone frequently with Vikings’ officials affectionately referred to Minnesota as “the team that does more with less.”

Certainly that held true until the last season (2001) of the Dennis Green era. However, his successor, Mike Tice, hasn’t won nearly as often as Green, and the Vikings’ playoff drought of three seasons is their longest since a four-year lull in the mid-1980s.

This is a watershed game for Tice and the Vikings. The misinformed might be writing off the Vikings because Randy Moss won’t play. Maybe that would be the case against some other team, but the Vikings have proven again and again over the last 10 years through their unbelievable intensity in the series that defeating the Packers means everything to them.

“There was a feeling that no matter how good Green Bay was we could beat them,” one member of Green’s coaching staff in Minnesota said last week. “We didn’t give a (expletive) about Chicago or Detroit.”

The Vikings pulled a choke job for the ages a year ago, handing the NFC North to their hated rival, and now they’ve lost two straight games in a swoon that is becoming eerily reminiscent of 2003.

If the Vikings can win today, it will be difficult for the Packers to repeat as division champions. If they lose, the Vikings’ season could spiral out of control as some of the internal forces that make for a slim margin for error anyway begin to have a deleterious effect.

The Packers are feeling almost too good about themselves for their .500 record. Some of their players were talking Super Bowl last week, which isn’t a far-fetched goal for either team given the lack of a dominant club in the NFC.

Just five weeks ago, the sky was falling when the Packers were 1-4. Packers President Bob Harlan conceded improvement was needed but pledged support of the staff and players.

In jarring contrast was what happened last year after the Vikings, off to a 6-0 start, were upset by the New York Giants at the Metrodome. Harlan’s counterpart in Minnesota, owner Red McCombs, marched into the post-game locker room and upbraided Tice and his players for bringing “humiliation” upon the organization.

It could be argued that the ’03 Vikings never recovered from the lame-brained actions of the man who signs their checks.

Now McCombs, who made his money selling cars in San Antonio, has sent out mixed messages regarding Tice’s future. Already the lowest paid head coach in the league with a salary between $750,000 and $850,000, Tice has an option for 2005 at $1 million.

Tice was a masterful offensive line coach and is a motivator supreme, but the Vikings make more mistakes in game and team management in a month than the Packers probably make in a season. He appears almost out of control at times during games and his teams sometimes reflect that.

At the same time, Tice and his assistants undoubtedly have little regard or respect for McCombs. Their division rival, Mike Sherman, is paid between $3 million and $3.5 million per year, about four times what Tice earns. Both coordinators in Dallas and Philadelphia earn $1 million or more, for heaven’s sake. Scott Linehan, the gifted offensive coordinator for the Vikings, makes about $250,000.

McCombs squeezes Tice and his budget for assistant coaches, a terrible place to be cutting corners. Gary Zauner, one of the NFL’s top special-teams coaches, worked under Green from 1994-2001. When the Vikings offered him a contract for less money in ’02 to remain under Tice, he left for Baltimore. The Vikings hired Jay Hayes on the cheap and their special teams were so horrible he had to be fired after one season.

In all, the Vikings list 13 assistant coaches and two strength coaches. By comparison, the Packers have 16 assistants and three strength guys.

The Packers shelled out somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 this year to create a job for Vince Tobin so he could offer custom advice to Sherman. Tice is the one who could use it, but the Vikings wouldn’t have done that in a million years.

But trying to get by on the cheap has become a way of life in Minnesota. One Vikings employee refers to the headquarters building as “Minnesota functional,” but with each passing year the little things that the Vikings don’t have begin to add up and conspire against them.

There’s not much question that the Vikings are green with envy when they see the license to print money that Lambeau Field has become since its $295 million renovation. It’s exactly the shot in the arm that the Vikings desperately need, but another Vikings employee grimly noted that taxpayers probably won’t pass a stadium subsidy for McCombs until he sells the team.

Sure, McCombs is in football for the jollies it provides, but as a shrewd businessman he’s in it for the money as well. He bought in for $250 million in 1998 from the Vikings’ group of 10 owners after Tom Clancy backed out and now wants to cash out for $600 million or so.

McCombs would move the Vikings to Los Angeles in a second, but the club is locked into an ironclad lease with the Metrodome through 2011. In effect, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has told McCombs to grin and bear it.

Meanwhile, McCombs and Vikings President Gary Woods, an employee of his for 25 years, live in San Antonio and run the organization via telephone conference calls with Tice and department heads at the club’s office-training complex in Eden Prairie.

Winter Park was state-of-the-art when it opened in 1981 but now ranks as one of the league’s worst facilities.

The three ex-Vikings on the Packers’ roster said the locker room is about one-third the size of the new one in Green Bay and lacks almost all of the amenities.

Vikings coaches and scouts watch tape on 27-inch TV screens compared to 42-inch plasma sets in Green Bay.

When the Vikings didn’t have a particularly costly rehabilitative machine in-house, they sent their players for therapy to a Twin Cities hospital. When faced with the same situation, the Packers went out and bought two of the machines.

According to people who have played, coached and worked in both cities, there are major differences in the weight rooms, digital libraries and salaries for staff. McCombs did replace the original carpeting on the second floor at Winter Park this spring.

The Packers list 150 employees in their staff directory (excluding 16 in security), whereas the Vikings list 103.

The Vikings have a bad lease at the Metrodome, no club seats and limited private boxes. McCombs has maximized every conceivable source of revenue, but it’s fairly safe to estimate that the Vikings rank among the bottom five teams in revenue. It isn’t as if McCombs needs the money, but he continues to skimp here and there, making the franchise attractive for prospective buyers while working to reduce his debt service.

Almost left in the lurch are the talented, loyal individuals who continue to work with few complaints and almost no job security given what the whims of new ownership might be.

Director of college scouting Scott Studwell, the Vikings’ blood-and-guts middle linebacker from 1977-’90, has run the last two highly productive drafts. Sources say he is notably underpaid by league standards.

Studwell is ably assisted by old standbys Frank Gilliam and Jerry Reichow, reduced to part-time roles now at age 70 but who have 79 Vikings seasons between them.

Heading the pro personnel department is the erudite Paul Wiggin, 69, who is in his 20th season in Minnesota.

Rob Brzezinski, who negotiates contracts and manages the salary cap as vice president of football operations, has a growing reputation for competence as well.

For years, the Vikings have done a superb job drafting and signing players. But largely because of poor ownership and financial conservatism, too many of them got out of town too soon.

“The working conditions were OK,” said Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis, who held the same job in Green Bay (1992-’99) and Minnesota (2000-’01). “It was nothing plush but it was fine. You had enough to win.”

Dennis Green used to coach with a chip on his shoulder, especially against Green Bay. Can you imagine what Green would think now with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune having assigned a reporter to cover the Packers in Green Bay on a daily basis and with his rivals on the Packers’ staff going to work each day in the lap of luxury with every conceivable benefit at their fingertips?

So the Vikings, with an absentee owner operating mostly out of greed, have adopted an us-against-them mentality, especially when playing the Packers. And their formula worked beautifully, at least until the millennium, when some of their organizational shortcomings caught up to them.

In the era of unfettered free agency, one would think that the team from the magnificent metropolitan area of Minneapolis-St. Paul would have it all over the team from little Green Bay. But until McCombs sells and the Metrodome is replaced, the advantage will be all Green Bay’s.

11-15-2004, 01:41 PM
Wow, that is true, Wow!!!

Where was this writer from?

11-15-2004, 02:13 PM
And as usual, the FANS are the ones that ultimately suffer!

11-15-2004, 03:20 PM
Good thing that cheap bastard Red bought new carpeting, it really shows he cares. :violent1:

11-15-2004, 04:04 PM
McGinn is a writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He covers the NFL for the paper.

11-15-2004, 04:23 PM
McCombs pocketed the extra cap money that he could have spent to shore up our defense the last two years.
Red needs to sell the team immediately after the season.

11-15-2004, 04:31 PM
Bob McGinn is a wonderful writer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentenal. He is brutally honest at times, usually against the Packers, saying the truth no matter how it hurts... if you want to read good sports... read him...

11-15-2004, 05:51 PM