Tony Dungy made a mistake far, far away on the beautiful island known as Oahu, Hawaii, back on Feb. 1, 2000.
Dungy blinked that week. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach was implored by ownership and management to fire offensive coordinator Mike Shula and a couple of other coaches. He didn't want to do it. Sources say Dungy's resistance almost resulted in his resignation or firing. Finally, he relented and fired Shula, but nobody else.
That moment took Dungy out of his own skin, where normally he is very comfortable. I think he has been struggling to slip back into that skin since that day. I think the Bucs are 2-3 today because of it. I think Dungy will be fired at the end of the season. I think he will be sad but not without hope for the future. He will never repeat the mistakes he has made since that week. He will coach again.
|Tony Dungy's 2000 season ended with a wild-card playoff loss; the season before, the Bucs lost to the Rams in the NFC title game.|
Dungy is not about change (not radical change, anyway). He believes in what he believes in. He believes in his coaches. He believes in himself. He believes in defense. He believes in running the ball. He believes in winning.
Winning is a beautiful thing, but it's not about being sexy. Tony Dungy is not sexy. Never was. Never wanted to be. Never will be. Never again.
If you are a Bucs fan, take some of the blame. Fans want the sexy stuff. They want a glamour quarterback and big passing plays and a bunch of points. Let's face it, everybody wants their team to be the St. Louis Rams.
Sorry, but everybody can't be the Rams. In fact, the Bucs and Dungy can blame their missteps on the Rams. The event that led to Dungy's dismissal of Shula occurred Jan. 23, 2000, when the Bucs dropped an 11-6 decision to the Rams in the NFC title game.
It was an amazing game. The Rams had the unstoppable offense and they were playing at home. The Bucs had no chance, remember? Yet they played brilliantly on defense as they held a 6-5 lead into the fourth quarter before Kurt Warner hit Ricky Proehl with a late score for an 11-6 Rams' victory.
One touchdown. That's all the Bucs needed to score and they would have played in their first Super Bowl. They were playing that game with a rookie quarterback in Shaun King, so you couldn't blame him. Shula was the scapegoat, and the search for that one extra touchdown has put more distance between the Bucs and their goal. Instead of the Super Bowl that year, Dungy and his staff ended up at the Pro Bowl, where their trouble really began.
Follow the Bucs' trouble: They fired Shula. They hired Les Steckel. They fired Trent Dilfer. They hired King. They fired Steckel. They hired Clyde Christensen. They fired King. They hired Brad Johnson. Somewhere in between, they gave Keyshawn Johnson $50 million and the Jets two first-round picks.
You know where this is heading, don't you? Dungy will be fired next, even with two years remaining on his contract.
Oh, sure, there's plenty of time for the Bucs to turn this around. I won't be surprised if they beat the Vikings this Sunday. It wouldn't be the first time they've gotten off to a so-so start and then turned it around.
This season just feels different. It looks different. It is different. If there has been a constant throughout the Dungy years, it is that you could count on the defense. Two weeks ago in Minnesota, the Bucs had a lead in the final five minutes with the Vikings on their own 4. That's it. No way the struggling Vikes drive 96 yards to win the game, right? But it happened.
Then a Tennessee offense that had stammered and sputtered scored 31 points on the Bucs.
Next came the Steelers. Sure, the Steelers scored only 17. But the Steelers rammed the ball down the Bucs' throats. The Steelers had 220 yards rushing, the Bucs had 64. The Bucs are allowing 124 yards and a 4.3 average per rush on the ground. They're in the bottom half of the league.
It would be one thing if the Bucs' defense had asserted itself in other areas. The team that signed Simeon Rice in the offseason has just eight sacks in five games -- only Detroit, Arizona and Carolina have fewer sacks. Warren Sapp after five games? You can count his sacks with one finger. Even more startling, you can count his tackles on two hands (10 overall, and just seven of them are solo tackles).
The Bucs are averaging just 73.2 yards rushing per game. That's 30th out of 31 teams.
Worse yet, examine the Bucs' offense. The Bucs are averaging just 73.2 yards rushing per game. That's 30th out of 31 teams. Only the Carolina Panthers at 72.5 per game are sorrier. Johnson is a very sound quarterback, but he is no different than most quarterbacks in the NFL -- he needs a running game to take the heat off and set up play-action passes. The defense needs a running game to keep it on the sideline a little longer.
The amazing thing about this is that Johnson -- Keyshawn, that is -- is the NFC's leading receiver with 41 catches for 548 yards. That puts him on a 120-catch, 1,500-yard-plus pace. Wow. Even Keyshawn would tell you, so what? If you don't win, it doesn't matter.
You do know what's lacking here, don't you? It's identity. Somewhere, in that search for something better, Dungy may have found something true: Be yourself.