Herman Edwards credits Tony Dungy with grooming him for a head coaching position
Great NFL coaches are often remembered by their family trees. Bill Walsh has a league full of second, third and fourth-generation 'disciples' spread from Seattle to Philadelphia. Marty Schottenheimer begat Bill Cowher. Art Shell begat Jim Haslett, the newly-anointed NFL Coach of the Year.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach, Tony Dungy, is an NFL son, so to speak, of the legendary Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh. Now, Coach Dungy's own tree has begun to flower.
Herman Edwards, Dungy's assistant head coach for the last five seasons in Tampa Bay, is the newest member of the NFL head coaching fraternity, having just been hired to lead the New York Jets into the new millennium. Edwards lays much of the credit for his advancement at Dungy's feet and plans to use many of the lessons he learned while working for the Buccaneers' head man.
Tony brought me there to be the assistant head coach and then the secondary coach," said Edwards on Thursday afternoon, just a few hours after the Jets made his appointment official. "With that title came a lot of responsibility that Tony left in my hands to groom me to become a head coach one day. I think it was (due to) Tony's foresight and his ability to help me along the way the last five years that…I was prepared and had a good plan. It was really what he wanted to do with me, by being my mentor, that has really given me this opportunity. I really can't thank Tony enough."
Of all of the traits Dungy brings to his position, it is his unnatural calm in the constant storm that is an NFL season that has, rightfully, drawn the most attention. Dungy's influence on Edwards in this regard is evident in the pupil's assessment of what he will need to bring to his new position.
"You have to have patience," said Edwards. "You have to trust your coaches. Your coaches are the ones who coach. You have to have some great assistants and some coordinators that you can trust. You really have to manage the team and exercise the opportunity to be close to your players and make them understand how important it is to (pay attention to) detail and all the things it takes to win football games. I think that's what Tony has shown me. Obviously, I'm going to use a lot of that here."
It is also revealing what Edwards considers the traits of a successful coach.
"I think a teacher," he answered. "A guy who really cares about his players. I think when you can do that, you can gain some respectability among your players and some trust. When you are a teacher, and you're always trying to teach your players the right thing to be successful, they appreciate that. That's what a coach is supposed to do."
Edwards inherits a Jets team that narrowly missed the playoffs in 2000 and was in the AFC Championship Game just two years ago. It is also a squad that, while talented, has received a very recent youth infusion. Last April, New York was the first NFL team ever to have four picks in the first round of the draft.
If Edwards has learned his player-coach skills from Dungy, then he has also learned the importance of a close relationship with the personnel department during his time in Tampa. He should have no trouble forging a rapport with the Jets new General Manager, Terry Bradway, who hired Edwards in part because of their experiences together with the Kansas City Chiefs.
"As a head coach, now you start talking about player development, the draft," said Edwards. "You have to be in touch with the other side of football as far as the management side. I think that's the unique bond Tony has formed with our guys, with (General Manager) Rich (McKay) and Jerry Angelo. Hopefully, I can do that here because I've worked with Terry.
"The familiarity between myself and Terry Bradway…we had worked together, which was a real good fit."
Still, as comfortable as Edwards might already feel in the Big Apple, it will be difficult for him to leave behind the relationships he has formed in the Bay area. Until Dungy's staff began to break apart this January, virtually the same group had been intact for his entire five seasons in Tampa. The Buccaneer franchise made a remarkable turnaround with the help of this group and strong bonds were formed in that crucible.
"That's going to be hard," said Edwards of leaving. "There are a lot of good coaches there. You've been there and it is like a family. We have been really tight for the last five years – not only the staff but the players. It's going to be really tough for me to face my guys, all those guys that are special to me. That's how you get these opportunities, because your players play well and people notice how you coach.
"It's all a reflection on the Bucs organization and, obviously, Tony, what he's done for me. The Bucs winning the last three or four years, that's a tribute to what they've done down there in Tampa."
In the course of what might be considered his 'farewell' press conference to Tampa, Edwards touched on a variety of subjects concerning his exciting new challenge and his departure from the Buccaneers.
Can you assess this Jets team you are taking over?
"Coach (Bill) Parcells built a good foundation here. There are some quality players here, the kind of guys we try to bring to Tampa. They've won a lot of football games here. They know how to win. The players understand what it takes to win. What we have to do at this point is just make sure we can say focused down the stretch and win in the later months, so we can continue to win and get into the playoffs.
"Coach Parcells built a good foundation of teaching them how to win. I visited with Vinny (Testaverde) today. These players have a burning desire to win and they want to win. They want to please the coaches. They want to find out exactly what they need to do to win. With that in mind, that's where we have to direct them."
Did you wonder when and if this opportunity would arrive for you?
"I thought this day would come but you don't dwell on it. I'm the kind of guy who thinks about the work at hand. I don't worry about what the future holds. If you just work hard every day and do the best you can, I think good things happen to you. I'm that kind of guy. I don't look back and I don't look too far forward. I just worry about what's ahead of me on that day. That's the way I try to live my life and that's how I've coached my players. There has been a strong desire to get this opportunity and it's finally come about."
Are you pleased that your first head coaching opportunity is in New York?
"I feel like my life has come around circle somewhat. I told these guys today that this team is kind of linked to me. My first start as a rookie in the National Football League preseason game was against the New York Jets. It was in the Meadowlands. 1977. I can remember it clear as a bell. My first career interception was against Joe Namath when he was with the Rams. It's really kind of ironic but some things kind of work their way around the wheel and you're back to where you started again. It's really kind of an exciting moment for myself, my wife (Lia) and my son (Marcus)."
Your departure means that both you and Coach Dungy are potentially in the same market for new assistants, doesn't it?
"Tony has a plan in mind. He's looking for coaches. We just had a conversation here about 15 minutes ago and I'm looking for coaches. We're going to spend a lot of phone time together, there is no doubt about it. I'm going to lean on him a lot. He knows that. He's there for me and he knows I'm going to be there for him. I'm definitely going to make a lot of calls to Tampa in the next month or so."
Are you interested in taking any additional members of the Buccaneers' staff with you?
"That hasn't been discussed yet. I'm trying to worry about the guys I have in place (on the Jets' coaching staff). The first thing you have to do is assure these guys how I feel about them and they should have the opportunity to see how they feel about me. I think that's the first thing I have to get established here."
Okay, what about any Buccaneer players that just happen to be free agents in about a month, such as secondary starters Ronde Barber and Damien Robinson?
"That's a unique situation. That's why you have to build it through the draft because you are going to lose guys. When you have good players, teams want to get them. We have done a great job there of developing young guys and when they get the turn to move on if the opportunity presents itself, a lot of guys move on. A lot of guys stay."
What's your opinion of the players' mindset in New York?
"I haven't been around long enough to visit with them individually to see how they feel. One thing about players, they understand the climate of the professional football league. They understand free agency, when coaches get fired, things change. Their mindset will be what am I going to bring to the table and what am I going to do to enhance our ability to win games? That's what they are concerned about – what is this guy going to bring to the table and how is he going to get us to win football games?"
Now that you've graduated from an assistant position to head coach, do you expect to maintain a close relationship with the players, one of your trademarks?
"I think I'm going to be close. Just because you're a head coach doesn't mean you can't be close. I think I'm that kind of guy. That's my personality. I think my players will understand that when they are around me for a while. I have to be me. That's what thing Tony always taught me. You have to be you. I'm going to be Herman Edwards. That's all I know to be. I think the players will appreciate that. There aren't going to be hidden agendas. I'm going to coach them and we're going to have fun. Our coaches are going to coach them and I think we are going to win a lot of games here."
Do you think this hiring is a step in the right direction in the process of giving minorities an equal shot at head coaching positions?
"I think the league has done a lot of things to try to speed up the process of evaluating all coaches, to get them the opportunity to go before management and before the owners – to go through the process of interviewing. They've done a nice job of that and will continue to do a nice job of that. Obviously, it's a good day. But I think it's a day of when you work hard and you don't worry about who gets the credit, I think sometimes things come your way. This was my opportunity. I had the opportunity to interview. Obviously, they felt I was the guy who they wanted to be in charge of the football team at this point in time."