Monday, December 9th, 2002
Tony Dungy presided over the first extended stretch of the Buccaneers'
history in which there were high expectations. Dungy brought in a defensive
philosophy that almost immediately molded Tampa Bay into a perennial playoff
team. His conservative offensive philosophy, however, finally wore thin on
Bucs' management, and Dungy was fired.
He landed on his feet in Indianapolis, in what seemed to be a perfect
situation. The Colts had three All-Pro offensive threats in Peyton
Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Edgerrin James, but their
defense was suspect. Plus, Colts' players had to be excited to step on the
field with anyone other than Jim Mora as their head coach. After a
sluggish start, the Colts have moved into first-place in the AFC South.
Dungy's defense has excelled in the last several weeks, while Manning and
Harrison have performed up to their usual standards. If James' injured knee
can continue to get better or if his backup, James Mungro, can fill
in adequately, the Colts have to be considered a threat to reach the Super
The man who was supposed to replace Dungy in Tampa Bay was Bill
Parcells. After much contemplation, Parcells decided not to take the
job. That led the Buccaneers to recruit 49ers coach Steve
Mariucci, who also turned down an offer. The team's third choice, Jon
Gruden, accepted the job in Tampa and left Oakland.
Since Gruden came to Tampa, the Bucs' defense has been better than ever.
Their offense, on the other hand, has been just as bad as it was under Dungy.
Quarterback Brad Johnson has been under heavy pressure because running
backs Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott haven't run well behind
the Tampa O-line. Keyshawn Johnson has been mediocre. The Buccaneers
simply aren't scoring a lot of points. But having Gruden has made the team
No matter how good a coach and a man Tony Dungy is, his players weren't as
fired up to play for him as they are for Gruden. Dungy was professional and
respectful. Gruden is visibly intense, and his players like it. They feel
more comfortable showing their emotions now, and it's contributed to making
them a first-place team in the NFC South.
Gruden's departure from Oakland opened up the top job for Bill Callahan,
formerly an assistant on the Raiders' staff. At least for this year, Callahan
has been an improvement over Gruden.
Although Tampa's players are loving Gruden's intensity, the Raiders were
tired of it. Without Gruden, Oakland wouldn't be in such a strong position
in the AFC West, but Callahan's low-key approach has been a positive. The
Raiders are an older team. Not everyone on the team needs to have an in-your-face
boss like Gruden. He helped them learn how to win, but he couldn't quite
get them to the next level. Callahan just might do the trick.
Changing coaches always has a degree of risk. Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, and
Oakland had all achieved some success, but some serendipitous timing -- and
excellent effort and research from front office staffs -- has made all three
teams better this season.