Tonight, former NFL head coach Tony Dungy will forever be enshrined in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Without him, the Buccaneers may still be enshrined in the Hall of Shame.
It was a risky move by general manager Rich McKay, but on January 22, 1996, former Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator Tony Dungy was named head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, replacing Sam Wyche. One of the caveats of the job was being able to coach not one, but two players Dungy desperately wanted the VIkings to draft in 1995 – Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. With those two in the first two levels, and John Lynch in the third level, Dungy – with the help of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin – installed what would be known as the “Tampa 2”.
Things didn’t start out so swimmingly. The Bucs finished 6-10 in Dungy’s first year, but the tide was turning. The moment this team would go from laughable losers to a force was the game Tampa played at San Diego. As Warren Sapp has famously told, he heard ESPN’s Chris Berman refer to Tampa as “the yucks” and that was it. Sapp and Brooks banded together and said never again. Not us. Not anymore. From there, despite the creamsicle uniforms, “Pewter Power” was born.
As his defense continued to evolve, and on the brink of consistent domination, Dungy would lead the Buccaneers to a 5-0 start in 1997. New uniforms, new attitude, new era in Tampa Bay. Dungy and the Bucs would finish 10-6, gaining a wild card spot in the NFC playoffs. They would defeat the Detroit Lions for their second playoff win in team history before falling to Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
In 1999, the Buccaneers made their second NFC Championship appearance, and would again face the St. Louis Rams as they did twenty years earlier. Dubbed “The Greatest Show On Turf”, the Rams had dominated every opponent offensively, averaging 32.9 points and 400.8 yards per game. They are one of only four teams in NFL history to have scored over 30 points twelve times in a single season.
With all those accomplishments and accolades, and playing in their home dome, Dungy’s defense held the Rams to eleven points. Eleven. Thanks to a botched incomplete pass call (later being inspiration for the Bert Emaunal Rule), the Buccaneers may very well have been on their way to their first Super Bowl and, potentially, the start of a dynasty. Unfortunately, the Rams would go on the win the Super Bowl and the Bucs were left to answer more questions.
Despite going 10-6 in 2000 and 9-7 in 2001, the Buccaneers were ousted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round of the playoffs in both seasons leading to the firing of arguably the greatest coach in franchise history. We all know the story from there: Bucs trade for Jon Gruden and win Super Bowl XXXVII, Dungy moves on to Indianapolis and wins Super Bowl XLI, becoming the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl in NFL history.
Dungy finished his Buccaneers career with a record of 56-46, with his first year as head coach as his only losing season in not only his Bucs career, but his entire coaching career.
Until Dungy, the Buccaneers were the joke of the NFL. The league’s punching bag. Once Dungy took over, the Bucs had nearly a decade of defensive dominance – even in the Gruden era – because of the system Dungy brought to the Bay. They were able to win a Super Bowl because, primarily, of the foundation Dungy had laid.
Yes, it appears for all intents and purposes, Tony Dungy will be entering the Hall of Fame as an Indianapolis Colt;
Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times said that his Hall of Fame locker is all Colts because it’s “where he coached longer, won 12 games a year, and won a Super Bowl”, but that Dungy said what he did with the Bucs was “bigger”.
Buccaneers fans have a giant debt of gratitude towards Tony Dungy and what he accomplished here. Although the Super Bowl eluded him until he was in Indianapolis, we all know the Bucs never even sniff the promised land without him.
Congratulations, Mr. Dungy, on a well deserved honor. You earned every fiber of that gold jacket and every ounce of bronze on your bust. You truly are one of the classiest people the NFL has ever seen and beyond being a Hall of Fame coach, you are a Hall of Fame person. You’ll forever be loved here in Tampa and we thank you for all you did.