Tony Dungy stood on the stage of the team auditorium at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday morning with 91 Tampa Bay Buccaneers players looking back at him. Dungy raised his right hand and held his thumb and forefinger about half an inch apart.
"[T]he difference between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns is about that much," Dungy told the players, indicating that small gap. "You just have to be on point on the details. It's not talent, but it's a mindset, and the discipline and the focus. That's what's going to determine whether the team gets there. They're talented enough and you see that, but it's being focused-in and dialed-in, and hopefully they get there."
The Eagles, of course, are the defending Super Bowl champions while the Browns are coming off an 0-16 season. Dungy experienced both ends of the spectrum during his 13 years as an NFL head coach, though only barely and certainly never as bad as 0-16. He won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2016 and took 11 different teams to the playoffs, including four of his six Buccaneer squads. He also inherited a Tampa Bay team in 1996 that hadn't been to playoffs in 13 years and saw them go 6-10 in his first season at the helm.
Obviously, things turned around quickly for Dungy and his Buccaneers because the main reason he was at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday was to take part in a Ring of Honor press conference later that afternoon. Dungy will become the 12th person to enter that exclusive club at Raymond James Stadium when he is inducted during halftime of the Buccaneers' Monday Night Football contest with Pittsburgh on September 24.
As Buccaneers Owner/Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer noted in introducing Dungy on Tuesday, that 1996 campaign would prove to be Dungy's only losing season as a head coach. After his '96 team won five of its last seven games, the '97 squad shot out of the gate with five straight wins and finished 10-6 and, finally, back in the postseason.
View photos of the Buccaneers' 2018 Training Camp practice Tuesday at One Buccaneer Place.
So when Dungy stood in front of the 2018 Buccaneers as a guest of current Head Coach Dirk Koetter, he had obvious weight behind his words. And he didn't have to come up with a new message. It was pretty much the same words he shared with a team assembled before him more than two decades ago.
"I think they recognize who you are and the fact that what you're saying does have some validity, some history behind it," said Dungy, who coached the Bucs to the brink of the Super Bowl in 1999. "It was fun for me [to address the team] but it brought back memories. It brought back memories of being in here for the first time in '96 and speaking to that team about what we wanted to do and how to do it. And it was the same advice as, whatever this is, 22 years later."
Not only did Dungy preach the importance of being focused on details, but he also stressed how critical it was to stick to the same message and continue to adhere to the same details. Buccaneer fans familiar with the Dungy era know the storyline from that 1996 season well. Dungy was in his first season at the helm of any NFL team, having been hired away from the Minnesota Vikings where he was the defensive coordinator, and his Bucs lost their first five games. The coach famously preached to his players to stay the course, that his approach would work and the wins would come. And they did.
"I think you had to really understand that you have to be who you are and you have to do what you believe in, and that's what I always preached to the players," he said. "There's a million ways to win; we're going to have one way that I'm going to do it and we've got to get everybody to believe in it. So I always felt if I changed course and tried to do something different it would really destroy the message."
There is another detail to that famous tale that Dungy finally shared during Tuesday's press conference. Apparently Bryan and Joel Glazer called him after that fifth lunch and said they wanted to take him out for lunch. Dungy couldn't help but worry.
"They needed to see me," said Dungy. "I was not expecting anything but the worst at that point. We hadn't done the things that we had hoped to do and things hadn't turned out well on the field. We went to lunch and they said, 'We see the progress we're making. We just want you to know we're a hundred percent behind you.' That was the greatest moments of my time here, knowing we were in it together, we were in it for the long run and you had the support of the people who worked with you. It was just an awesome time being here."
Even when Dungy spoke more specifically about the current Buccaneer roster and its areas of strength, he still came back to the factors beyond talent that will determine how the 2018 season goes. After speaking in the team's early-morning meeting, Dungy then took in the two-hour practice that followed, spending part of it next to General Manager Jason Licht. Dungy obviously has an eye for talent that he has continued to hone, past his playing and coaching days, as a broadcaster. He shared some thoughts on the roster on Tuesday afternoon but still got back to his main message.
"I like their speed," said Dungy. "I was talking to Jason Licht out there at practice and he said he really feels good. He feels like he's got some game-changers in the defensive line. He thought that's what was missing. He's got some guys that can make that one play that you need to turn the momentum of a game or to make a stop on the last drive that you need. I'm looking forward to watching those guys rush in live-game situations. They've got some offensive weaponry. What's going to happen is they've got to have that togetherness. One of the things I told them is that talent, it's not overrated but it's not the most important thing."
Every one of Dungy's seven teams in Indianapolis won at least 10 games and six of them won 12 or more. They all made the playoffs, but only one won the whole thing. Interestingly, Dungy said that championship team in 2006 was probably only his fourth or fifth-best squad in terms of pure talent. In terms of togetherness, it was number one.
The 1999 team was probably Dungy's best team during his time in Tampa, but he has often said the 1997 season was the one he found the most fun. That team faced quite a challenge to start the season, opening with the perennially powerful San Francisco 49ers and then having to go on the road to Detroit and Minnesota the next two weeks. Dungy remembered hearing that his team might be able to make something of the season if they could overcome their expected 0-3 start.
The Bucs won all those games, of course, and two more to boot before taking their first loss. The 2018 Buccaneers appear to have a similarly tough road to start their campaign, with a trip to New Orleans followed by visits from those championship Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those teams combined to go 37-11 last year. There are certainly analysts who see the picture as dire as some of their counterparts did in 1997. Dungy points to the Eagles, who were afterthoughts coming into 2017 before going all the way as an example of how quickly it can all turn around. And he can do the same thing simply by pointing to his own history.
"It could happen that way but it could just as easily be 3-0," he said. "That's the thing I think the players need to do, is block out the noise and focus in on their coaches and their direction. They might surprise some people."