- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. — He is second in seniority among NFC coaches. Only one other coach has taken a team to the playoffs more often in the past four seasons. He has been a part of just five losing teams in 20 years as an NFL player, assistant and coach.

But Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy is almost the anti-coach at age 45. Almost all veteran NFL coaches operate their organizations with nearly total control, but Dungy doesn't mind that general manager Rich McKay runs the personnel department. And while coaches such as Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher and Dick Vermeil are more famous than any of their players, Dungy remains in the shadow of such hyper-kinetic Buccaneers as Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson.

Dungy is so laid back that McKay came close to not hiring him to revive the long-downtrodden franchise in 1996.

"Tony didn't try to sell himself," McKay said of his meeting with Dungy when the latter was the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator. "He just said, 'This is how I would do it.' I walked away thinking, 'We're trying to turn this franchise around. We probably need more than [a career assistant].' We were dying for credibility.

"But then I realized that what we really needed to do was to win games and the way to do that was to hire the best coach. All Tony had done throughout his career was achieve at a high level. We didn't sell any tickets by hiring Tony. But we did two years later when we made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. And now we have 21,000 fans on our waiting list."

The Bucs were a putrid 58-149 (.281) in the 13 seasons before Dungy's hiring, losing fewer than 10 games only once. Defensive tackle Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety John Lynch all of whom have become Pro Bowl regulars along with tight end Dave Moore and backup offensive tackle Pete Pierson are the only pre-Dungy players remaining.

In six seasons under Dungy, the Bucs are 45-35 (.563), have made the playoffs three times and reached the NFC Championship game (in 1999, losing to eventual Super Bowl champion St. Louis 11-6) for the first time since 1979. Tampa Bay had one of the NFL's top 10 defenses in each of the past four years. Nine Bucs, six of them starters, made the Pro Bowl last season.

"Tony's like that old-school uncle you don't want to mess with, the one who spanks you when you do something wrong and your parents aren't looking," said defensive end Marcus Jones, the second player drafted after Dungy's hiring. "You don't want to let Tony down. He understands that we're men. He gives us enough space to where we can be our own people. At the same time, he's a no-nonsense guy. Tony lets you know where you stand."

Brad Johnson admired Dungy so much from their days with the Vikings that the coach's presence in Tampa was a major reason why the quarterback passed up a chance to join the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and signed with the Bucs in March.

"Tony's one of the classiest people I've ever met," Johnson said. "He's very organized, very smart. He turned a losing franchise into a winning franchise. This is a first-class place and it's because of Tony."

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said patience is Dungy's trademark.

"Tony really lets you coach," said Kiffin, who was coaching when Dungy was in sixth grade. "You don't feel pressure coaching for him. You can just be yourself instead of wondering, 'What if I do something wrong and upset the coach?' When we lost 45-0 in Oakland two years ago, I didn't know if I should get back on the plane and come home. But on Monday morning, Tony walked in and all he said was, 'We've got to pick it up. We've got Green Bay coming in.' We played the same defense and we kicked the Packers' butts [29-10]."

McKay said Dungy didn't panic last season when the Bucs lost four straight games in which they had led or been tied in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay won seven of its next nine games and wound up a missed 40-yard field goal try from winning the NFC Central.

"One of the reasons I came here is that the Glazers [owner Malcolm and his three team executive sons] and Rich wanted to build a program for the long term," said Dungy, who was second in the AFC with six interceptions as a backup safety for Pittsburgh's 1978 Super Bowl champions. "People always want to know, 'What are you going to do to get to the next level? You've got to do something dramatic.' We want to be at that level, but we believe that what will get us there is doing everything a little bit better, not making dramatic moves.

"We want to be consistent for 10 years. Our off year was 1998, when we were 8-8. Hopefully, we can keep it that way. I would much prefer that than to win a Super Bowl and follow it up with a couple of 6-10 years. If you keep knocking at the door, you've got to feel you'll win a Super Bowl eventually."

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