Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tony Dungy

TAMPA, Fla. -- If Gerald McCoy has his way, the current Tampa Bay Buccaneers may look a lot like they did in their glory days.

The All-Pro defensive tackle said Tuesday he believes Tampa Bay’s defense can be an offensive weapon. He believes the Bucs can score on defense. McCoy said it’s up to the defense to set the pace for the rest of the team.

McCoy
McCoy
“Yeah, we have to because if the other team can’t score they can’t win," McCoy said. “Who’s to say we can’t win the game on defense? That’s not taking anything away from our offense. I think our offense is awesome. But who says we can’t just go win the game on defense? Let’s say the offense isn’t having a good day. Why can’t we take the ball away twice and put it in the end zone? There’s no rule that says that can’t happen. That’s just what we’re working towards."

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it wasn’t uncommon for Tampa Bay’s defense to score or at least set up the offense. The 2002 Super Bowl championship team scored nine defensive touchdowns.

“We have to take the ball away," McCoy said. “We can’t depend on the offense to make a mistake. We have to force opportunities and capitalize on them."

McCoy knows the history and he’s well aware that coach Lovie Smith’s defensive scheme is a lot like what the Bucs used to run. Smith was the team’s linebackers coach during the Tony Dungy years. McCoy didn’t criticize the system former coach Greg Schiano ran the past two years, but said he really likes Smith’s defense.

“We’re going to line up and do what we do and make you beat us," McCoy said. “It’s really a beat-the-man-in-front-of-me type defense and just be more physical than them. We’re not trying to outexecute or outscheme anybody. Just go out there and outplay them."

McCoy repeatedly has been called the team’s best player by Smith. McCoy said the coach also has challenged him.

“I’ve been asked by the owners, the head coach, the GM to take it to another level and to lead this team and that’s all I’m trying to do," McCoy said. “In the past, I was asked to lead, but it’s a different type of leadership now. Coach kind of put it on my back. I kind of asked him to. You can put it on my back. I can handle it."
TAMPA, Fla. – On a day near the middle of training camp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith walked into his post-practice news conference and delivered a message.

"There's nothing really I can give you today," Smith said.

Smith wasn't being condescending or rude to the media. He simply was being truthful. Tampa Bay's camp hasn't had any major news or controversies. It has been downright boring at times -- but it beats the alternative.

We saw the other side of things last year, and it wasn't pretty. There was plenty of news and a ton of distractions. Former coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman were in the early stages of a feud that would end in divorce one month into the season. And it wasn't just Freeman who was having issues with Schiano's style. Numerous players had problems with Schiano's rigid ways and never fully bought into the coach.

That quickly caught up to Schiano, who was fired after two lackluster seasons. Enter Smith, who is the anti-Schiano in just about every way. Smith is calm and treats his players like adults, and you already can see the results of that. There have been no controversies.

Amid the tranquility, players are singing the praises of Smith. The coach brings back memories of Tony Dungy, who guided the Bucs to their first era of sustained success. That's no coincidence. Smith was the linebackers coach in Dungy's early years in Tampa Bay and has an approach similar to Dungy's.

People already are comparing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to Warren Sapp and linebacker Lavonte David to Derrick Brooks. Smith's hiring has brought enthusiasm to a fan base that hasn't had much to be excited about in recent years. But that fan base has pleasant memories of what things were like in the Bucs' glory days.

On several occasions, Smith has said that one of his goals is to make the Bucs relevant again. If things go according to Smith's plans, the Bucs might be boring, but they'll be good.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Smith is known for being a defensive coach, and he has some good ingredients to start with. McCoy and David were All-Pros last year, and they play two of the most important positions in the Tampa 2 defense Smith is bringing back to the Bucs. McCoy and David give Tampa Bay a nice start, but some other players are going to have to come through. The coaching staff believes strong safety Mark Barron is ready to be a star. If some role players come through, this could be a very good defense.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDoug Martin is back from a shoulder injury, but he shouldn't have to shoulder all of the load in a deep backfield.
2. Doug Martin is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for about half of last season. That should provide a huge lift for the offense. Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, and he has looked sharp in training camp. Under Schiano, the Bucs often overused Martin. That’s not going to be the case with Smith. The Bucs have made it clear that Martin will remain as the feature back but that they’ll rotate in some other backs to keep him fresh. Rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James could be in the mix for playing time.

3. After using their first two draft picks on wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs have one of the biggest receiving corps in the league. Williams, Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson each are at least 6-foot-5. They're going to present coverage challenges for defensive backs.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The offensive line hasn't looked very good in the preseason, and that's a huge cause for concern. The Bucs are especially thin at guard. All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team after not being able to recover from a toe injury. That leaves four guys without a lot of experience vying for two starting spots. Oniel Cousins, Jace Daniels, Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards have been rotating at the guard spots, and two of them will emerge as starters, unless the Bucs bring in some help from the outside.

2. Smith went out on a limb when he signed quarterback Josh McCown as a free agent and immediately named him the starter. McCown, 35, has been a backup most of his career, but he did play well in Chicago last year when Jay Cutler went out with an injury. McCown threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. It's too much to expect him to keep up that kind of pace, especially with an unsteady offensive line. Smith, who coached McCown in Chicago, believes he can be successful over the course of a full season. But that's something McCown has never done.

3. Smith's philosophy is to play great defense and be efficient on offense. That worked well enough to get Smith to a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. But that philosophy might be antiquated. The league has become quarterback-driven. The Bucs are in the same division as New Orleans' Drew Brees, Carolina's Cam Newton and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. McCown and this offense might not have enough firepower to stay competitive in the division.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McCoy has had an outstanding training camp. He consistently has gotten into the backfield as a pass-rusher and has been stuffing running plays. But it remains to be seen whether McCoy's excellent play is simply the byproduct of the weakness at the guard spots.
    [+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounVincent Jackson, in his third season with the Bucs, will have a third starting QB throwing to him.

  • The chemistry between McCown and Jackson has been noticeable. In addition to the offseason program, the two spent a lot of time in the spring and summer working out at a local high school.

  • The Bucs have gotten almost nothing out of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers since taking him in the second round in 2011. But they are trying something new with Bowers this year. They're going to use him inside at defensive tackle in obvious passing situations.

  • The Bucs have high hopes for sixth-round draft pick Robert Herron. But don't look for the receiver/return man to get a lot of playing time early on. Herron has had ball-security issues in camp. He needs to hold on to the ball if he's going to earn playing time.

  • Herron will make the 53-man roster. So will Jackson, Evans and Chris Owusu. Eric Page also probably will stick thanks to his return skills. That probably leaves one spot to be filled from a group of receivers who have shown promise in training camp. Tommy Streeter, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins and Solomon Patton all have shown flashes, but at least a couple of them won't make the roster.

  • Hamstring injuries have kept cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins out for a big chunk of training camp. But there's a flip side to that, and it's positive. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has gotten a ton of work with the first team and has looked good. Banks didn't have a great rookie year. But his performance in camp probably will keep him in the starting lineup.

W2W4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

August, 8, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) and Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) open the preseason Friday night at Everbank Stadium.

Three things to watch:

1. Tampa Bay’s offensive line: This is the biggest area of question for the Bucs. They overhauled the offensive line in the offseason, but some uncertainty remains. The Bucs will use the preseason games to determine who ends up starting at the two guard spots. Jamon Meredith, Patrick Omameh, Oneil Cousins and rookie Kadeem Edwards are candidates to start. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith, left tackle Anthony Collins and right tackle Demar Dotson are set as starters, but the Bucs need two guards to step up and claim jobs.

2. Josh McCown: The veteran quarterback probably will only play about a quarter, but this is his first action as a member of the Buccaneers. McCown was handed the starting job when he signed as a free agent and he has looked solid throughout training camp. McCown looked sharp for Chicago last season when he was filling in for an injured Jay Cutler. If McCown can be as efficient as he was last season, the Bucs will be in good shape.

3. The return of the Tampa 2 defense: That is the defense that was made famous in Tampa Bay by Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin back in the 1990s. The Bucs got away from the Tampa 2 when Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano were the head coaches. But Lovie Smith, an assistant on Dungy’s original staff, is a big believer in the Tampa 2 and has brought it back to the Bucs.
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In his 24-minute Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech, Derrick Brooks thanked dozens of people from every stage of his career.

There were plenty of emotional moments, but one stood out to me: when Brooks thanked the late Lee Roy Selmon, the first draft pick and the first Hall of Famer in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Lee Roy set the standard, and we’re just trying to walk the path he set for us," Brooks said.

Selmon was much more than a football player. He was elegant, classy and heavily involved in the Tampa Bay community long after his playing days were over. Selmon left this world too soon, and he left a void in Tampa Bay.

But now that void is being filled. Brooks is as close to Selmon as you can get. Of course, Brooks was a tremendous football player. But, like Selmon, Brooks is so much more. Brooks now is the biggest icon in the Tampa Bay region, but he wouldn’t like hearing that. That’s because Brooks is especially humble.

That was best demonstrated when Brooks asked all his Buccaneers teammates who made the trip to Canton, Ohio, to stand and be recognized.

“Please stand up and let me bow and salute you guys," Brooks said.

Brooks had plenty of help. But, perhaps more than anyone, Brooks was responsible for turning around a dismal franchise.

“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers [were] the team that invented losing," said ESPN’s Chris Berman, who served as the master of ceremonies.

Brooks was drafted in 1995 by a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 1982. Joining forces with coach Tony Dungy and teammates such as Warren Sapp, Hardy Nickerson, John Lynch and Ronde Barber, Brooks ushered in the most successful era in franchise history. The Bucs became regular playoff contenders and, eventually, Super Bowl champions.

Brooks last played in 2008, but he’s more visible than ever. Brooks founded a high school in Tampa, does all sorts of charity work and works as the president of the Tampa Bay Storm.

“As a servant leader, I just want to do the best I can to make something better when I come into touch with it," Brooks said.

Brooks always has made the things he comes into contact with better. Selmon started that path, but now it’s Brooks’ turn to follow in the footsteps.

Buccaneers minicamp report

June, 11, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The world of NFL coaches can be filled with paranoia. That's not the case with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Lovie Smith.

For at least the second time in the last two weeks, former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy attended practice during Wednesday's minicamp.

That wouldn't fly with a lot of coaches (and, yes, Greg Schiano is one of them) because many would feel like they have someone looking over their shoulder. Salute Smith for being secure and for remembering where he came from. Dungy hired Smith as the linebackers coach when he got the Tampa Bay job in 1996.

"When you have a mentor like that and a football mind like that then why wouldn't you want him to be around as much as possible?" Smith asked. "When I first got here, it went without saying 'Tony, we want you out here as much as possible. Show up. You don't have to tell us when you're coming. Just show up and get that football fix that I think all coaches need when they're away from it.' "

Dungy stood on the sidelines and, at times, was seen chatting with players.

"[Cornerback] D.J. Moore was picking Tony's brain," Smith said. "It's special for our guys to have a guy like that around."

It should be special. Dungy was the man who turned the Bucs into a consistent playoff contender after years as a laughingstock. He's one of the classiest people to ever pass through the NFL. It's nothing but a good thing to have Dungy present at One Buc Place from time to time.

A few other notes from Wednesday's practice:

Patrick Omameh continued to work with the first team at right guard and rookie Kadeem Edwards worked at left guard. Edwards is a fill-in for the injured Carl Nicks. But Omameh appears to have a chance to be a starter. If Omameh and Edwards are working as the starting guards, you have to wonder what the Bucs think of veterans Jamon Meredith and O'Neil Cousins.

The defense dominated this practice. That was the trademark of Smith's teams in Chicago and it certainly is a positive that the defense is off to a good start. But the downside is that the offense wasn't very sharp.

Cornerback Rashaan Melvin was the star of the day. He intercepted two passes, including a leaping grab in the two-minute drill.
The other day, I wrote about future candidates for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ring of Honor.

We talked about Doug Williams, Ricky Bell, Mike Alstott, John Lynch, Monte Kiffin, Tony Dungy, James Wilder and Ronde Barber. I think all of them should get into the Ring of Honor at some point.

But they may have to take a spot in line. With the death Wednesday of owner Malcolm Glazer, there's another obvious candidate.

Glazer deserves a spot in the Ring of Honor as soon as possible. Although he wasn't always popular with fans, Glazer did more for this franchise than anyone.

When he paid a then-record $192 million for the Bucs in 1995, Glazer was taking over a franchise that was a laughingstock. The Bucs had been bad for most of their existence and there was even talk about the team moving out of Tampa Bay.

Glazer fought a hard battle to get taxpayers to fund a new, state-of-the-art stadium that kept the Bucs in town. He also started changing just about everything.

He put the Bucs in new red and pewter uniforms. He also hired Dungy, who turned the franchise into a consistent winner. When Dungy couldn't quite get the Bucs over the hump, Glazer made a tough decision. He fired Dungy and traded for Jon Gruden.

In Gruden's first season, the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Speaking of Super Bowls, Glazer was instrumental in bringing two of them to Tampa Bay.

There are a lot of candidates with qualifications that make them worthy of the Ring of Honor. But none of them have better qualifications than Glazer.
Scott Smith of the Buccaneers’ official website took a look into the future, exploring possible 2015 inductees into the team’s Ring of Honor.

That gave me a lot to think about. Smith lists James Wilder, Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, Mike Alstott and John Lynch as the top five candidates. I’ve got no problem with any of those possibilities and I also would include Ronde Barber after a little more time passes from his retirement. All of those guys belong in the Ring of Honor at some point.

But there are two players from deep in the team’s history that I think belong in the Ring of Honor -- quarterback Doug Williams and running back Ricky Bell. This is where things get a little tricky.

Since starting the Ring of Honor, the Bucs pretty much have gone in chronological order. Derrick Brooks will be inducted in September and Warren Sapp got the honor last year. That makes plenty of sense because Sapp went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year and Brooks will go in this summer.

Brooks and Sapp were from the Dungy era, so it would make sense if Dungy, Kiffin, Alstott or Lynch was chosen in 2015. I’d put Lynch and Alstott as the early favorites.

But I’d like to offer a suggestion to the Bucs. The rules for the Ring of Honor don’t limit the number of inductees to one per year. Next year would be the perfect year to break from tradition and induct two people. Reach deep into the past and make Williams or Bell one of the inductees along with one of the Dungy-era candidates.

Williams and Bell have been passed over before, but it’s time to get one (or both) of them into the Ring of Honor. Bell’s career and life were cut short by an illness. But, for a brief period, Bell was one of the best running backs in the league and a class act off the field.

Williams probably already should be in the Ring of Honor and he’s partly to blame. Williams helped the Bucs go from an expansion team to respectability. But his spot in team history has been clouded a bit. Williams came to work in the team’s personnel office, but that didn’t last. Williams clashed with former general manager Mark Dominik and left the team on bad terms.

It’s time for Williams to set aside his bitterness. And it’s time for the Bucs to set aside memories of Williams’ departure.

The Ring of Honor is a very special thing and it should fully represent the team’s history.
When Greg Schiano was coaching the Buccaneers, you generally heard the coach on the practice field before you saw him.

New coach Lovie Smith is a completely different story. During the weekend rookie camp, I often had to look long and hard just to find Smith on the practice field.

Smith floated from position group to position group. I could see him talking to players, but couldn't hear him. The same was true of most of Smith's assistant coaches. There wasn't much (if any) yelling and screaming on the field.

That's a stark contrast from the Schiano days. Schiano's background was almost exclusively in the college ranks and the same was true of many members of his staff. That led to very vocal practices and the style didn't always go over well with the players.

Smith comes from a strong NFL background and it shows. He's treating his players like adults. Smith teaches, but he doesn't yell and scream.

Smith's demeanor reminds me a lot of Tony Dungy when he coached the Bucs. That’s not a coincidence because Smith was the linebackers coach in Dungy's early years in Tampa Bay.

Being similar to Dungy -- and just the opposite of Schiano -- probably is a good thing. Dungy had success with the Bucs. Schiano did not.

After what this team went through under Schiano, Smith's quiet (but strong) approach might be just what the Bucs need.
I heard one of the best summaries of what's happened to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in recent years on Tuesday.

"You talk about consistency and the way of doing business. That's gotten lost over the years," Derrick Brooks said, shortly after the Buccaneers announced he will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor and his jersey will be retired. "It really has. The sense of direction, how you go about doing things. All of those things have really gotten lost and can't be defined. What is the Buccaneer way?"

But Brooks believes that, with new coach Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay can get back to being a well-defined and successful team.

"Now, I think you can have an answer and get a visual of what that is," Brooks said. "That's what I think he brings. Is that going to turn into Super Bowl championships or 12-win seasons? I don't know, but I think Coach Smith being the right guy at the right time gives us a good start. He brings a lot more experience in this situation than what coach [Tony] Dungy did in 1996 because he has a better football team. You can tell by some of the offseason movements how they're going about their business. It's not overly splashy, but it's definitely been effective. Now, it's about bringing all this stuff together and keeping everybody on the same page."

I think Brooks is right. I like everything I've seen out of Smith and general manager Jason Licht so far. There's a sense of order that's reminiscent of the Dungy days. That order seemed to gradually get lost as the Bucs went through coaches Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano and general managers Bruce Allen and Mark Dominik.

Smith should know the Dungy way and how to succeed in Tampa Bay. He was the linebackers coach on Dungy's original staff in Tampa Bay. Smith went on to become defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams and the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Brooks said he's confident Smith is the coach to get things back on track in Tampa Bay.

"It's not so much the X's and O's, more so the Jims and the Joes," Brooks said. "I think he's shown my yes is yes and my no is no. It's not a guessing game with him."
Basketball's LeBron James caused a stir when he said he should be on the NBA's Mount Rushmore. With that in mind, let's have a little fun.

Let's talk about a Mount Rushmore for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There are only four slots available and I'm not seeing anyone on the current roster who deserves that status. There are some current players who can get there, but they're not there yet. That's why I think you have to go back into Tampa Bay's past to determine who deserves to be included.

At least in my eyes, the first three spots are easy. Then, there's a tough call for the fourth spot.

Here are my four choices for a Buccaneers' Mount Rushmore. Feel free to add your thoughts in the accompanying comments section.

Lee Roy Selmon: You have to start with Selmon because he was Tampa Bay's first superstar. He brought respectability to the franchise in its early years and had a Hall of Fame career.

Derrick Brooks: For years, Selmon was unquestionably the best player in franchise history. Selmon's greatness hasn't diminished, but I'd give Brooks the nod as the best player in franchise history now.

Warren Sapp: Like him or not -- and many don't -- you have to give Sapp his props as a player. He was the first Tampa Bay player to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Tony Dungy: This one's a tough call and I had a tough time choosing Dungy over Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Doug Williams, Jon Gruden and John McKay for the final spot. But I'm going with Dungy because he was the first coach to make this franchise consistently respectable. By the way, I'm giving retired tight end Tyji Armstrong special honorable mention for his many contributions.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There’s a lot of talk among Tampa Bay fans about how Tony Dungy and John Lynch got snubbed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process over the weekend.

I think snubbed is way too strong of a term. Dungy and Lynch weren’t slam-dunk candidates like former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, who was selected in the first year he was eligible. Dungy and Lynch made it to the final 15 modern-era candidates and that alone is an honor.

But Dungy and Lynch each had some holes in their résumés. For Dungy, it’s the fact that he won only one Super Bowl despite having a great defense in Tampa Bay and Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Lynch was hampered by the fact he played safety. It’s hard to get a safety into the Hall of Fame unless his interception total is astronomical.

I think those who are talking about snubs got spoiled by the first-ballot selections of Brooks this year and Warren Sapp last year. They made the process look easy, but it’s not. Brooks and Sapp had credentials that couldn’t be questioned. The same can’t be said for Dungy and Lynch.

Will Dungy and Lynch eventually get into the Hall of Fame? It’s entirely possible, but they need a year in which the class isn’t as strong as it was this year. I think cornerback Ronde Barber, who will be eligible in four years, is going to fall into a similar category. And let’s not even get into the belief that many Tampa Bay fans have that Mike Alstott should be a Hall of Famer.

Then, there’s one other factor to consider. How many guys from a team who won only one Super Bowl do you put in the Hall of Fame? It’s not like the Bucs (in their prime) were the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s.

Dungy, Lynch and Barber may end up in the Hall of Fame but it’s not going to be nearly as easy as it was for Brooks and Sapp.
TAMPA, Fla. -- When I voted (as an alternate) for Warren Sapp as a candidate for the Professional Football Hall of Fame, I did so unenthusiastically.

Don't get me wrong -- I thought Sapp was a Hall of Fame football player. I just didn't think of him as a Hall of Fame person. I had covered Sapp in his early years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when I worked for The Tampa Tribune and had seen plenty of boorish behavior out of him. But the Hall of Fame rules state that the only thing that matters is what a player did on the field.

Sapp made the Hall of Fame and he deserved it, but I didn't feel any joy when he was elected. It's completely different this year with Derrick Brooks getting selected the first time he was on the ballot.

Brooks and Sapp were the cornerstones of Tampa Bay's turnaround from a doormat to a regular playoff contender. They were best friends. But they're as different as two people can be.

Brooks is a Hall of Fame person. Through his lengthy career and since then, Brooks always has carried himself with class and dignity. I'm genuinely happy for Brooks.

I would have been even happier if former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy and safety John Lynch, two other guys who were great on and off the field, were selected along with Brooks. But Dungy and Lynch came up short in the balloting this year. I think both have a good shot to get in at some point.

But this is about Brooks. Following Sapp and the late Lee Roy Selmon, Brooks is only the third player who spend the majority of his career with the Bucs to make the Hall of Fame. He'll also join them in the team's Ring of Honor, and probably have his jersey (No. 55) retired.

For years, Selmon was the standard when it came to talking about the best player in franchise history. Plus, Selmon was as great off the field as he was on it. Sapp entered the argument for best player in franchise history when he went into the Hall of Fame last year. But even die-hard Tampa Bay fans were lukewarm with their feelings about Sapp -- the person -- because they'd seen or heard about his moodiness.

There are countless stories about Sapp blasting fans who had the nerve to approach him in public. There are almost as many stories about Brooks stepping in and preventing what could have been uglier scenes.

When Brooks and Sapp were in their heyday, they often went out to dinner together. Brooks knew how to read his friend's mood, which often was far from welcoming. On those occasions, Brooks would politely intercept fans and tell them, "This isn't a good time."

But Saturday's selection of Brooks to the Hall of Fame marks a great time for Tampa Bay and fans of the Bucs. There are no bittersweet feelings about Brooks in Tampa Bay. There's only adoration for a guy who firmly proved good things can happen to good people.

Dungy turned the Buccaneers around

January, 29, 2014
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When I first encountered Tony Dungy, I didn’t think he was going to make it as an NFL head coach. Now, he’s a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

So what changed about Dungy? Absolutely nothing. He stuck to his philosophy, no matter what. At times, he bordered on being stubborn, but that turned out to be part of the key to his success.

Let’s flash back to when Dungy first became the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the 1996 season and I was covering the Bucs for The Tampa Tribune.

The season started badly for Dungy and the Bucs. They went 0-5 and I remember thinking that Dungy was a very nice guy, but didn’t know what he was doing. His defense wasn’t clicking and his offense was terrible.

But Dungy stuck to his core beliefs and, all of the sudden, everything changed. The Bucs got a win against the Minnesota Vikings, the team Dungy previously had worked for as the defensive coordinator. You started to see signs of hope as the Bucs finished the season on an upswing.

The next season, Dungy had the Bucs in the playoffs for the first time in a generation. The rest is history. Dungy made the Bucs into a regular playoff contender and won a lot of games. Those were good days in Tampa Bay, but they didn’t last forever.

Largely due to a stagnant offense, Dungy was fired after the 2001 season and Jon Gruden came in and won the Super Bowl. Dungy landed quickly on his feet with the Indianapolis Colts and eventually led that franchise to one Super Bowl.

As the Hall of Fame voters debate Dungy’s candidacy, some detractors will point to the fact he won only one Super Bowl despite having a great defense in Tampa Bay and Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Those are valid points.

I don’t know if Dungy will get in during his first year of eligibility. But I still think he belongs in the Hall of Fame at some point. His record in Indianapolis speaks for itself. His time in Tampa Bay was long ago, but people should remember how Dungy turned around a franchise that had been having hard times for a long time.

TAMPA, Fla. -- In his office at the Tampa Bay Storm's headquarters last week, Derrick Brooks looked the part of a successful president of an Arena Football League team. He also looked as though he could still go out and play linebacker in the National Football League.

But something was different about the Brooks of past week and the one I've known since he entered the NFL in 1995. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I asked Brooks if he was nervous about being a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2014 will be selected Saturday and Brooks, who played 14 seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is on the ballot for the first time.

"I must admit I think about it every day," Brooks said. "There's a nervous energy about it. It's kind of like the feeling you get before you play a game. But here's the difference: If I'm playing a game, I know I can do something about it and I have a say in it. This situation here, you don't have any say in it.

"The résumé has been written. My career is what it is. If I could write the next chapter, I'd be going in with this class. But the nervousness about it is you just don't know. It's human beings making a vote and there's no guarantee of anything."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Brooks
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Brooks will find out on Saturday if he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
That's a stunning admission from a guy who always seemed to have supreme confidence. Brooks was ice to Warren Sapp's fire during the Buccaneers' glory years, which included a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. Brooks, now 40, always seemed calm as he was earning 11 Pro Bowl berths, nine All-Pro honors, the 2002 Defensive Player of the Year award and the 2000 Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

But now Brooks is nervous?

Sure he is and it's understandable. That's largely because he always has been a student of the game and knows plenty about its history.

"You talk about the founders of football," Brooks said. "You talk about the history of the game. You talk about the first African-American players. You talk about greatness for centuries. You get a chance to have your bust sit in that room and share that history."

That's where the nervousness kicks in.

"I always watched the process," Brooks said. "But now I watch it with a different intent, like, 'Am I worthy of being in that company?' I guess it presented more questions for me about my career. 'Am I worthy of a bust?'"

Absolutely. Brooks deserves to be a first-ballot selection. He's the best player I've ever covered and that includes Sapp, who went in on the first ballot last year.

More than anyone -- with the possible exception of coach Tony Dungy, who also is a Hall of Fame finalist -- Brooks was responsible for one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history. Prior to Brooks' arrival in Tampa Bay, the Bucs had been a laughingstock for a generation. That point was driven home in 1996 when Brooks and Sapp were sitting in a San Diego hotel room, getting ready to play the Chargers.

"Playing a late game, we got a chance to see the pregame shows," Brooks said. "Those guys were making jokes about the Yucks, the Yuckaneers, the quarterback rating for Trent [Dilfer]. They were making fun of us. It kind of resonated with us and Warren and I just looked at each other. I was upset. But he was pissed. He went to a new level with his anger.

"I internalized and said, 'I'm going to do something about this.' But he externalized it. We went to pregame and he just went off on how we were being so disrespected by everybody. We went out there and went down 14-0 before you could sneeze. But then we fought back and won that game. I think the confidence that we built on the road that day was the turning point. I don't think it's ironic or a coincidence that we came back a few years later and won a Super Bowl in that same stadium."

In 1997, the Bucs turned the corner and made the playoffs for the first time in a generation. It also was around that time that two wise men got in Brooks' ear and planted the first ideas that he could have a Hall of Fame career.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Brooks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesBrooks returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown in the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII victory.
Early in his tenure, Dungy, who had played for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their 1970s heyday, sat down Brooks and Sapp for a chat.

"He had a conversation with Warren and myself and said, 'You can be Joe Greene, Jack Ham or Jack Lambert,'" Brooks said. "It was intimidating. He laid it on the table what his expectations were for us."

Then, there was the late Tom McEwen. He was the legendary sports editor for the Tampa Tribune. McEwen was a grandfatherly figure who cared deeply about Tampa Bay sports. At the time, he also was Tampa Bay's voter for the Hall of Fame and he always was on the lookout for someone to join Lee Roy Selmon, the Bucs' first Hall of Famer.

"I had a ton of respect for Tom," Brooks said. "After the 1997 season, we started to have some pretty serious conversations. Tom kept telling me, 'Hey, you've started this turnaround. Keep it going and you can have a Hall of Fame career.'"

McEwen was a sage because Brooks only continued to become a greater player. He was a do-it-all linebacker, a leader and a model citizen. He also led the Bucs to their only Super Bowl championship and made the All-Decade Team for the 2000s.

Brooks played through 2008 and the Hall of Fame credentials are there. Still, the guy who seemed unflappable for so many years is nervous.

On Saturday, Brooks will make some appearances in New York and do a radio show. He knows the nerves will continue to grow as afternoon turns into evening.

"I'll just be sitting and waiting," Brooks said. "What's a couple hours more when you put up years of work to get to this position?"

Not much I guess. But Brooks shouldn't have to be nervous. He did his work. Now, it's time for the Hall of Fame voters to confirm him as what he made himself into -- a first-ballot Hall of Famer. With no reason to be nervous.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The hiring of Lovie Smith as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has drawn positive reviews just about everywhere.

That’s only going to be enhanced by the weighty words you’re about to hear from Derrick Brooks. As you know, Brooks was one of the best players in franchise history and was a team leader during Tampa Bay’s glory days. Smith was Brooks’ linebackers coach for six years. Brooks said Smith’s hiring is a major step for a franchise that has lost some of its luster in recent years.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Brooks
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaFormer Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks says Tampa Bay made a smart move when it landed Lovie Smith, right, as head coach.
“It’s exciting because, for five years, I’ve just sat back and watched it disappear," Brooks said Tuesday. “The Glazers are not immune to this criticism. But I just sat back and looked from afar and just watched something I felt my teammates and I put a lot of effort into building, watch it just kind of slip away. Now, I think with Lovie coming back here, now you’re starting to build it again. I think the community will start to trust the organization and make an investment into the team again."

Brooks, a finalist for this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class, said Smith is the perfect coach for the Buccaneers.

“They got it right this time," Brooks said. “For where this organization is right now, I really believe he’s the right man at the right time. He brings a calming spirit and a consistent spirit that’s going to energize the entire staff. Not just the football side, but the business side and the whole community. With this type of environment, you can create that buzz for the community and they’ll want to spend money with the Bucs again. I’m excited about that. Just since he’s been hired, I’ve had so many people tell me that they’re going to get back on board.

Smith worked as an assistant coach under former Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy. The two frequently are compared, and some see Smith as a Dungy clone. Brooks said that perception isn’t accurate.

“Faith, family and football, that’s where they’re alike," Brooks said. “They’re alike in their consistency. But they’re different in how they go about doing it. I think they’re also different because Lovie has a lot more experience than coach Dungy had coming in here in 1996. Lovie’s getting a more talented team than what coach Dungy got in 1996. Lovie brings the experience of how to run a team and all those ancillary things from his time as the head coach in Chicago that Tony didn’t have in 1996. So the expectations on Lovie are a lot higher than what they were in 1996."

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