Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Traveling Coach

Head Coach Tony Dungy is in Africa and out of touch with the Bucs, but he remains focused on the season ahead

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Tony Dungy and his staff rely on videotape during the season...in Africa, Dungy himself is the videographer

(contributed by Charlie Nobles

PIGGS PEAK, Swaziland - He moves with the group like just another chaperone. Gracious and almost self-effacing, Tony Dungy - head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs - alternately talks informally with the 20 deserving teenagers touring South Africa and this country under the sponsorship of Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, videotapes virtually anything that moves and plays wide-eyed tourist.

He hasn't called the Bucs office once since this trip began on June 24, so secure is he that everything is in place for the club's July 23 training camp opening for his fifth season as head coach.

It should be. The team is coming off an 11-5 regular season that saw it advance to the National Football Conference championship game before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion St. Louis, 11-6. Moreover, with the addition of former Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the Bucs this season appear to have a better than average chance of becoming the first Super Bowl host team to actually play in the game.

"For the last three years, I've thought we've had a Super Bowl-caliber team," Dungy said after viewing the world's oldest iron ore mine. "So this year won't be that much different from our perspective, from the inside out. But from the outside in, it might be. I think our attitude is very good right now. If we can keep that going - the determination and desire - then we'll be fine."

Dungy's building program at Tampa Bay began in 1996, when the Bucs made him one of the few African American head coaches in the league. In 15 years as an NFL assistant coach, was there ever a time that he thought he would never get a chance to be a head coach?

"I wasn't really that concerned about it," he said. "I enjoyed the jobs that I had. I could have gone on doing that and really been happy. I didn't know if I'd get a chance to be a head coach because some of my philosophies and my personality aren't maybe what a lot of people are looking for. I knew it would take a certain type of owner to want to do things the way I want to do them."

Dungy suspected his low key style might be wrongly interpreted.

"I think people have a notion that the head coach be someone who's going to make people do things," he said. "I think a lot of the ownership in the NFL feels like the players really don't know how to win, they don't want to win and they don't want to be disciplined. So therefore it's going to take someone who can make them do things. I've never had that view. I think they want to win, they want to do well, they want to get paid well, they want to excel.

"They just need people to show them how to do that. And I felt I would be as good as anyone in showing people how to do it. And if we got that feeling and got enough people who wanted to, then we would win. But I know everyone didn't share that view."

Dungy has given the Bucs that feeling, Brooks said.

"He's consistent on and off the field," the three-time Pro Bowler said. "There's no surprises. You know what you're going to get day in and day out. I think that's one thing that sticks out the most with all the guys. He's really never lost control of this team, from the time he stepped in there. And he really hasn't changed. He was the same coach when we were 1-8 (in '96) to going 11-5 and a few minutes away from the Super Bowl."

His religious beliefs give him a calming foundation, his wife Lauren said.

"You're not going to see the ups and downs," she said. "He has morals and principles. They remain the same, regardless of the situation. He's not swayed by things going on around him. I believe he is successful because he is so stable and grounded in God's word - God's truth."

Dungy readily admits that he has patterned his coaching philosophy after Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls with Pittsburgh in a faceless manner. Like Noll, he is a practice stickler for doing "the same things the same way all the time." He also adheres to Noll's philosophy that you can allow each player some individualism within your system as long as winning is foremost in everyone's mind.

"Chuck didn't have blanket treatment for everyone. But everyone felt they were getting treated fairly. I really believe that is the way to go."

Dungy said the Bucs now have team leaders who simplify his job. It wasn't always that way. His faith in Noll's philosophies was tested in his first season, when the Bucs were 1-8 at one point before winning five of their final seven games, in particular overcoming a 14-point deficit at San Diego.

"All of a sudden you could see the light go on," Dungy said. "When we were 1-8, because the guys didn't know me and didn't have a track record with me, I'm not sure they believed me when I told 'em they didn't need any major changes, just a little better execution. I tried to show 'em this is where we lost the ballgame. This two-minute stretch where we had a chance to put 'em away. Or maybe it was several plays late in the game. Or maybe it was a mistake I made."

With that backdrop - the feeling that they had worked out of worse jams -- the Bucs were able to overcome last season's 3-4 start with a blistering regular season finish.

"The one thing, if anything, I've been able to do in Tampa is give us a focus," Dungy said. "This is what we're going to be like as a team, this is what we're going to emphasize and we're going to try to bring in players who believe in that. I think we have. We've got some leadership now."

He believes the NFL is often so competitive that the difference between winning and losing are four plays, and maybe just one player mistake in each play.

Yet this trip hasn't been about football. It's been about cultivating the 20 teenagers under Brooks' Bunch auspices. Dungy did his part during a frank-talk session over dinner Thursday night. He told the eight boys present what he looks for in potential Bucs players and the traits that make a player successful. "What is important is how they can transfer that to their lives," he said. "You look for people who aren't afraid to be different. You look for people who are willing to sacrifice for the good of the group and sacrifice to accomplish their goal. As a leader you might not always be popular, but people are going to respect you as a decision-maker."

Dungy came away from the evening with chill bumps. "It just makes me feel good being around eight young men like that," he said.

Touring South Africa also has been special for him.

"I have wanted to come for a long, long time," he said. "We've seen so many places of historical significance, so much natural beauty and to see wild animals come so close to you. This trip has been everything I thought it would be and more."

Meanwhile, it's almost time to pump up the footballs. The Bucs open camp in less than three weeks.

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