If Mike Tice went home last Sunday night looking for consolation after a game-winning two-minute drive saved the day for his sleep-inducing offense in a victory over the Panthers, he didn't find it from his wife.
"Like Diane said, 'What did you do in those other 58 minutes?' '' the Bears offensive coordinator said.
Tough crowd. Wonder what happens when Tice forgets to take out the garbage.
Tice's revelation naturally led to a follow-up question: Can your wife coach?
"Yeah,'' Tice said. "She can tell me I have to put the toilet seat down.''
Laughter ensued. Nobody at Halas Hall dazzles an audience like Tice, the man in the organization most on the spot as the Bears hit midseason. For the Bears to continue to be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the substance of Tice's disappointing offense must match his personal style beginning Sunday against the NFL's softest defense. So far, substance trails style by a mile.
We like Mike in Chicago. Tice's promotion from offensive line coach has afforded him a larger stage with wider reach. On it, Tice has stretched, and his open, relaxed approach strikes many as refreshing. To say Tice is the most entertaining assistant coach ever under Lovie Smith is like calling Khloe the shyest Kardashian. Everything's relative. But the 53-year-old native New Yorker's natural, self-deprecating charisma stands out in a building that needs more personality. The only thing Tice seems to fear when talking is running out of material.
Not many of Tice's peers would have poked fun at himself and the infamous Dallas sideline incident the way Tice did when joking that he sat down to quarterback Jay Cutler in the cafeteria — and Cutler didn't get up and walk away. Tice demonstrates blocking techniques and makes funny Kevin Garnett references. He clearly enjoys communicating. Week after week in front of microphones, Tice effortlessly upstages Smith, mixing enough humor with insight that you half-expect him to ask everyone to tip the wait staff.
Watching Tice regularly cast such a presence makes it easy to envision the consummate big-picture guy as an NFL head coach again as early as next season. A lot of men make better assistants than head coaches. Is the opposite true for Tice?
Before any NFL general manager considers testing that theory, Tice must prove he can get the job done as Bears offensive coordinator.
That has yet to happen.
In terms of yardage, the Bears rank 26th. Take away six defensive touchdowns and the Bears offense would rank 21st in scoring at 20.1 points per game — worse than the 2011 team that didn't have Brandon Marshall.
A team with a playmaking trio of Cutler, Marshall and Matt Forte cannot use lack of talent as an excuse. The offensive line remains the team's weakest position, but coaching has yet to compensate for mismatches. Please don't insult anybody's intelligence by overstating the absence of rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Positives of Tice's impact fall mostly under the category of intangibles. The freedom to call audibles under Tice has given Cutler more flexibility. Tice's tough love helped left tackle J'Marcus Webb overcome a rough start. He delivered a message of accountability when Chilo Rachal replaced struggling left guard Chris Spencer. And nobody ever will know how delicately Tice has had to handle Cutler behind the scenes.
But in a results business, the Bears still are waiting — inconsistency reflected in Cutler's lackluster projection.
"We could be playing this type of ball in December,'' Cutler said. "I can't tell the future.''
In the preseason, many of us thought we could. The new-and-improved offense expected to carry the defense has taken its usual spot in the passenger's seat. The scheming that was supposed to offset shaky pass protection has been sporadic. The quick and clever offensive coordinator we see cracking wise on Wednesdays turns into a predictable, conservative play-caller on Sundays.
Where's the imagination? How hard is it to get Forte the ball more? How about more screen passes?
"We have to freaking make first downs to give people touches,'' Tice said.
First down has been worst, with the Bears averaging a league-low 4.19 yards. So far, Tice is on pace to call a higher percentage of pass plays than Mike Martz did last year. That might sound contrary to who the Bears want to be — if they had an offensive identity.
In typically amusing manner, Tice always talks about asking offensive linemen to avoid being "the guy'' who ruins plays. Similarly, if the Bears' talented offense can't reach its potential in a season when their defense makes winning the NFC realistic, Tice likely will be "the guy'' held most responsible.
And nobody in Chicago will be laughing.