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If Mike Tice leaves for Raiders, Bears are in trouble

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice is expected interview for Raiders’ head-coaching job Tuesday. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice is expected to interview for the Raiders’ head-coaching job Tuesday. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 21, 2012 8:32AM

A day after the Bears’ 8-8 season ended, coach Lovie Smith was optimistic that his assistants would be in demand.

“Hopefully, we’ll have guys on our staff that get an opportunity to move up,” Smith said. “I would like to see where some guys on our staff would get the opportunity to be head coaches in the NFL, too.”

After interviewing for the Miami Dolphins’ head-coaching position, Dave Toub signed a two-year contract extension on Tuesday.

But any comfort was fleeting for Smith.

Newly promoted offensive coordinator Mike Tice is preparing for an interview for the Oakland Raiders’ head-coaching opening, which is expected to be Tuesday in Mobile, Ala., and his possible departure would be difficult to overcome.

With the parting of Mike Martz seemingly a foregone conclusion during the Bears’ December swoon, Tice represented the most obvious bridge to provide continuity as well as subtle — albeit important — change.

The Bears’ offensive line coach the last two seasons, Tice understands the team’s personnel, especially quarterback Jay Cutler, and the play calls. Sensitive to giving Cutler his third offensive coordinator in Chicago, Smith wanted to make the transition for his franchise quarterback as seamless as possible.

If Tice lands the Raiders job, then Smith is back to square one — with a shrunken pool of candidates.

In explaining why he returned to the Bears instead of shopping his services elsewhere, Toub highlighted Smith.

“We’re going to win,” Toub said. “We have enough guys. We just need to keep as much continuity as we can. This is just one part of it. It’s a small part of it. I believe in Lovie Smith and what he’s trying to get done here.”

Bears president Ted Phillips has made it clear that Jerry Angelo’s replacement as general manager must keep Smith for the 2012 season.

But that would not be overly appealing to potential assistant coaches. It could be the deciding factor in choosing between the Bears and another opportunity under a coach with a longer contract (Smith is signed through 2013).

So how likely is it that Tice gets the Oakland job?

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, a former linebacker with the team, built his reputation as a scout with the Green Bay Packers and worked under Ron Wolf, who distinguished himself with the Raiders and Packers. McKenzie has interviewed a broad range of candidates after firing Hue Jackson.

Tice would appear to be someone who could appeal to him.

The two have a lot in common.

Both had long, solid NFL careers.

Both slowly worked their way up the coaching and scouting ranks.

And both hold fiercely to old-school fundamentals.

Although he played tight end in the NFL, Tice has the mind of a quarterback, a position he thrived at during his college career at Maryland.

Tice’s 33-34 record as the Minnesota Vikings’ coach isn’t overwhelming, but McKenzie — better than most — recognizes how handcuffed Tice was under former owner Red McCombs.

Prominent players and coaches would get lured away, and McCombs expected Tice to develop new stars who were making the league minimum.

McKenzie also would know better than most how resourceful Tice can be.

After all, the Vikings upset the division champion Packers 31-17 at Lambeau Field in a Jan. 9, 2005, wild-card game.

Besides, Tice’s offensive approach and personality would appear to be ideal for the Raiders.

He likes to hand the ball off to running backs but keep teams honest with a healthy dose of downfield passes.

“He’s got an excellent football mind,” NFL Network analyst Brian Billick told the Sun-Times last week.

Despite what he said immediately after the season, Smith probably wouldn’t be too shattered if the rumors that have Packers assistant Winston Moss as the favorite to land the Raiders job are true.

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