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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Decisions, Decisions

Coaching changes, free agent negotiations, Super Bowl predictions…Tony Dungy has a lot on his plate right now


Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy has been burning up the phone lines in recent days

It's Super Bowl week and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy is holding a press conference.

Oh, what could have been!

Had Dungy and his troop met their expectations for the season, he might have had enough media attention to strain even that famous patience (though probably not!). As it is, Dungy can satisfy the requests of the gathered media with one Wednesday afternoon conference because he is not the main focus of the week. Baltimore's Brian Billick and New York's Jim Fassel are at the center of the attention.

But Dungy remains at the core of the issues that are most important to Buccaneer fans, and he discussed those subjects on Wednesday. This January, soon to be February, the issues facing Tampa Bay are primarily a changing of the guard on the Bucs' coaching staff plus a group of its own impending free agents.

As reported, Dungy and the Buccaneers met with former Cleveland Browns Head Coach Chris Palmer on Tuesday concerning the team's vacancy at offensive coordinator, though Palmer was apparently ruled out as a candidate late on Wednesday. Dungy and General Manager Rich McKay must fill that post plus defensive backs coach, linebackers coach and offensive assistant, and they would prefer to do all of that as soon as possible.

However, Dungy is not eager to share information on the search until it is completed.

"I guess I'm going to follow my rule of (speaking on the subject) when I have an announcement to make," he said. "I don't want to get into what we might do or what we could do, or who we've talked to or haven't. When we make an announcement, which we hope to make pretty soon, then we'll know."

Just how soon might that be?

"I'd like to have something by Monday or Tuesday at the latest," said Dungy.

Considering the rapid-fire manner of the recent coaching departures, Dungy and the Bucs' management have really plunged into the matter quite quickly.

"We're making progress and we're talking to people," said Dungy. "Hopefully, we'll get this thing wrapped up. We've got four spots to fill and I feel like I've been on the telephone an awful lot. We'll get it going and get the right type of people in, hopefully sooner than later."


There is even less to report on the free agency front, precisely because the coaching search remains in full swing. There is no terrible sense of urgency, however, as a later NFL schedule this season means potential free agents won't hit the open market until after March 1.

"We haven't really gotten to that," said Dungy of the list of free agency decisions to be made. "I think that's one of the benefits of the new league calendar, that it's not until March 1st so you have a little bit of time. My focus, really, has been on our coaching staff right now. "

Between now and then, the Bucs might be expected to make a run at their own list of soon-to-be restricted and unrestricted free agents, a group that includes half of the starting secondary in CB Ronde Barber and S Damien Robinson. What the team has done, in preparation for this procedure, is complete its intense series of position-by-position analyses. Over the previous two weeks, McKay, Dungy and additional Buccaneer personnel men met with each assistant coach and discussed each player on the roster.

"That process is really evolving slowly," said Dungy. "We've had our evaluations and talked about our players, how they performed last year, what we think we need to do to get better. Obviously, keeping as many players as you can gives you the best chance. That's not realistic in this day and age, that you're going to be able to keep everybody.

"But we're just really in the evaluation process. I think we'll start to talk to people in the next week or so. But, really, I think people have been more focused on the Super Bowl, and I know I've been focused on getting our coaching staff going."

After many of last year's key offseason personnel decisions were focused on the offensive side of the ball, it appears that some of the most important moves this year will concern the defense. The Buccaneers put a lot of effort into an attempt to upgrade the offense last spring, but maintaining their dominance on the defensive side of the ball will be just as crucial this year. With two very defensive-oriented teams set to do battle in the Super Bowl, right here in Tampa, that issue might receive a little extra attention in Buccaneer land.

"I think you're always going to have teams that either have an offensive personality or a defensive personality because, from a money standpoint, you cannot pay everyone," said Dungy. "As your good players come up (for contract negotiations), you're going to have to decide who to keep and who you may be able to lose and how you're going to draft.

"Ideally, you'd like to be very well-balanced. You'd like to have a great kicker and a great punter and a great quarterback and great defensive linemen. But, as you have to cut that pie up and divide the money up, it's hard to do."


Speaking of the Super Bowl, how does Coach Dungy see it playing out? If forced to choose, the Bucs' coach would go with the Ravens, and you might be surprised as to why.

"I think both teams are playing outstanding defense," said Dungy first. "The Giants have been a little more explosive on offense, but I really like Baltimore's mindset defensively and the way they've handled the running game. I think they're going to be tough to run on and it's going to be which offense can make a couple of big plays in the passing game. And I guess I have to go with my ex-quarterback (Trent Dilfer) on that one. If it's going to depend on the quarterbacks, I like Baltimore in a real tight game."

Dilfer is one of several people Dungy feels a close connection to in the Ravens' roster, including Billick, WR Qadry Ismail, S Rod Woodson and assistant coach Jack Del Rio. Still, Dungy probably would be most pleased for Dilfer in the event of a Baltimore win.

"I'm excited for him," said Dungy. "I'm happy for him. No one prepares for the games any more than Trent does. No one gets himself as ready to go. I know what he puts into it. I know the type of effort he's had this year and I'm glad to see it paying off. He went through some tough years here. He went through a period of time where it wasn't fun for him, so I'm happy to see that he's having fun and having this type of run. It really started the end of last year when he got back in the lineup and started winning. We started winning. He hasn't lost many games in the last year and a half."

One other factor that swings Dungy's opinion slightly toward Baltimore is WR Jermaine Lewis, the Ravens' excellent return man. If the game evolves into a hardnosed field position battle with no shortage of punts, as many expect, Dungy believes Lewis could turn in one or two crucial returns.

Like most, however, Dungy expects a close battle and would be pleased to see one develop.

"I think both of those teams play good, fundamental football, " he said. "That's what it's all about, so it wouldn't hurt me to see either team win."

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