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NFL - Coaching Changes That Payed Off

By Steve Goldstein
Monday, December 9th, 2002
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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 Bowl.

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 better.

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.

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