Mike Tice thankful for chance with Falcons, but ready to move on

It could have been a messy divorce based on the circumstances. Instead, Mike Tice made sure it was an amicable parting of ways with the organization that got him back in the game.

Tice, formerly the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line coach, was first told he would be blocked from pursuing other coaching opportunities this offseason. After a follow-up conversation with general manger Thomas Dimitroff, Tice was allowed out of his contract with one year remaining. Then, he signed the standard, two-year deal to hold the same position under close friend Jack Del Rio, the new coach of the Oakland Raiders.

"It was just an exciting opportunity for my wife, Diane, and I to be able to work for somebody that we knew, understood and know how he’s going to approach things," Tice said of working for Del Rio. "It was a comfort thing.

"It was also an opportunity to get back on the West Coast. We haven’t been back on the West Coast since I left the Seahawks. I have a home in Seattle, and it’s a two-hour flight up the coast. My daughter lives in the Carson City area of Nevada, so she’s not far away. And I have a tremendous amount of friends in California."

It wasn’t so easy for Tice to leave Atlanta behind, though. In just one season with the Falcons, he earned the respect of many by orchestrating the unexpected improvement of a makeshift offensive line while losing five linemen to season-ending injuries. Tice made the most out of undrafted players James Stone and Ryan Schraeder, two regular starters at season’s end, along with veterans Jon Asamoah and Justin Blalock, and rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews.

"I was proud that through all of the adversity and through all of the line changes that these guys -- except for the last game -- improved every week and became a unit," Tice said. 'Once they started pushing as a unit, they were able to keep Matt (Ryan) clean, for the most part.

"Going into the last game, we had goal to be in the Top 10 in the least amount of sacks allowed in the league, and going into the last game, we were ranked sixth. I thought that was a great accomplishment. Unfortunately, we screwed it up in the last game and didn’t finish in the Top 10."

Maybe Tice fell short of his stated goal, but his accomplishments were why the Falcons didn’t want him to leave in the first place. He brought toughness to a unit that lacked it.

Now, he’ll be asked to take on a new challenge with the Raiders.

"I have an initial feeling on the guys," Tice said. "I think there is some talent here that we can work with. But I need to go and grade the whole season before giving a valid assessment of the group. No. 71 (Menelik Watson) and No. 66 (Gabe Jackson) look like they have the potential to be good players. The left tackle (Donald) Penn, from what I’ve seen to this point on film, played solid."

Tice is not even a week into the job, but appreciated how Del Rio allowed him to be a part of the process of interviewing other coaches. When Del Rio was the head coach in Jacksonville, Tice was the assistant head coach.

"First and foremost, Jack and I are friends and have been for a very, very long time," Tice said. 'Just to watch him operate and how he’s grown as a head coach with such professionalism, I’m very proud of him."

There appeared to be an outside chance Tice would reunite with fired Falcons coach Mike Smith in Oakland, but reports of Smith interviewing to be the Raiders defensive coordinator were not accurate. Smith is expected to take the year off from coaching.

"Mike Smith gave me an opportunity to come and work with some guys that I know and trust and respect," Tice said. "I was trying to get back in the league, and he opened doors for me that allowed me to get back. He’s a tremendously organized and passionate coach who treats everybody around with the utmost respect. And I really enjoyed working for Smitty.

"As far as the Falcons' organization, I was treated with the utmost respect and made a tremendous amount of friends in that building. My son is still in the building in the personnel department. They were very good to my family and I, and at the top of the list was allowing me to pursue this new opportunity."