Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC South [Print without images]

Thursday, December 8, 2011
One man could fix the Buccaneers

By Pat Yasinskas

Tony Dungy
A return by Tony Dungy would reinvigorate a flagging Buccaneers fan base.
There is one man on the planet who could solve everything that is wrong with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

One man who, with the simple nod of his head, would sell out Raymond James Stadium instantly, stop the losing, put an end to just about all the trouble off the field and give the Bucs credibility and respectability with their fans and across the league.

His name is Tony Dungy.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying it will happen. Raheem Morris is still coaching the Bucs, and the team already has picked up his contract option for 2012. But the Bucs are on a six-game losing streak and seem to be in total chaos. Dungy seems happy away from coaching and may not ever want to get back into the business.

I’m not saying the Glazer family, which owns the Buccaneers, has decided to fire Morris. And if that decision does come, I’m not saying the Glazers would pursue Dungy.

I’m simply saying I believe the Glazers should make a run at Dungy, who coached the team from 1996 to 2001.

Go after Dungy with an open checkbook and promise that never again will he be ordered to fire Mike Shula (in Hawaii) or any other assistant.

Maybe Dungy simply shrugs off any overture and stays with his broadcasting career and ministry work. But maybe, just maybe, Dungy would be tempted.

I ran the scenario by three people who worked closely with Dungy at one time or another. None of them knows whether Dungy wants to coach again. But all three agree that if there is one coaching job that might tempt him, it would be Tampa Bay. Dungy lives in the Tampa area.

I used to think that there was no way Dungy would even want to work for the Bucs again. The Glazers fired him and Dungy is a fierce competitor. He can be stubborn and, although he comes across as very humble, Dungy has a deep streak of pride.

Would his principles allow him to go back to work for people who fired him?

Josh Freeman
Tony Dungy would have a talented, franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman.
They just might. If the Glazers came begging, Dungy might feel he has the upper hand, and that’s important to a man with his pride. But Dungy’s not an egomaniac who would want to handle every personnel matter. General manager Mark Dominik appears to be in the good graces of ownership, and he’s got three years remaining on his contract. Dominik is following a plan of building through the draft, which is pretty similar to the route Dungy took the first time he was with the Bucs.

Take some of the money that’s being saved by not signing free agents and wave it in front of Dungy. It could pay huge dividends immediately and down the road.

Hire Dungy and, bad economy or not, there will once again be a waiting list for season tickets. Dungy is a beloved figure in Tampa Bay, and fans who never warmed up to Morris and his young team (and grew tired of Jon Gruden and his failure to put together a consistent winner after winning a Super Bowl with Dungy’s team) would be ecstatic if the best coach in franchise history came back.

Dungy would clean up a locker room that has a lot of guys who have had off-field troubles. Dungy’s not going to walk into One Buccaneer Place and tell Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson to hit the road. He believes in second chances (see his extensive work with Michael Vick). He would lay down the law with Talib, Jackson and everyone else in the locker room. He’d tell them they have to toe his line, which is located in a completely different place than Morris’ line, and instantly would cut them if they ever got in trouble again. Any player who has played for Dungy will tell you the last thing they ever wanted was to let him down.

That would translate into discipline on the field -- something the Bucs have lacked during the Morris years or even in Gruden’s tenure.

Dungy is a defensive guru. He could fix Tampa Bay’s defense, which already has lots of draft picks and money invested in the front four.

In his previous stint with the Bucs, the only two knocks on Dungy were that he couldn’t win “the big one’’ and he never found a franchise quarterback.

But Dungy dispelled all that when he went to Indianapolis. He won a Super Bowl there. Dungy also inherited Peyton Manning, who was a bit more gifted than Trent Dilfer and Shaun King. Dungy didn’t bring his boring offense to Indianapolis. He adjusted and let Manning do what he does best.

That’s another thing that could make a return to the Bucs attractive to Dungy. The Bucs have all sorts of flaws, but the one positive thing they have going for them is they have a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman. Yeah, I know Freeman’s not having a good season, but he is a big-time talent.

Give Freeman a good supporting cast and some stable coaching, and the Bucs are winners. If Dungy were to take the job, he might be wise to keep offensive coordinator Greg Olson or quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt or both. Freeman likes them both, and some continuity would help his development.

But Dungy wouldn’t have much trouble putting together a strong staff. In all likelihood, Indianapolis is going to have a coaching change. That means a bunch of coaches who once worked for Dungy would be available. Heck, Dungy might even be able to pry Monte Kiffin away from his son, Lane, and the University of Southern California. Kiffin decided to leave the Bucs near the end of Gruden’s time. Kiffin and Gruden got along fine, but I don’t think they ever had the strong bond Dungy shared with Kiffin.

As the Bucs have struggled to sell tickets and try to get their fans to understand why they’re building almost exclusively through the draft, team officials have said they want to give fans a team they can love again.

They haven’t made any progress in that area this season. There’s one easy way to get fans to love the Bucs again: Go out and hire the coach who made them lovable in the first place -- if he'll take the job.