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Dungy out if Bucs lose

If Tampa Bay fails to beat Philadelphia on Saturday, team owners have a tentative agreement to replace the Bucs coach with Bill Parcells.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 11, 2002

TAMPA -- A loss by the Bucs to the Eagles in Saturday's NFC wild-card playoff game will lead to the dismissal of coach Tony Dungy, unless owner Malcolm Glazer has a last-minute change of heart.

[Times files: Toni L. Sandys]
"I would be very surprised," Dungy said Wednesday of his possible firing.
In addition, there are indications the Bucs have a tentative agreement with Bill Parcells to replace Dungy, according to interviews with people close to Parcells, the Bucs and the NFL.

Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants, is expected to sign a five-year deal that would make him the highest-paid coach in the league should Dungy be fired.

While Parcells likely would have final say on personnel decisions, he may not insist on the joint title of coach and general manager. But it's unlikely Bucs general manager Rich McKay would have a position in the team's new front office.

If Dungy is fired, Parcells would seek to retain some members of his coaching staff, a list that might begin with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

The Glazers seemed ready to make a run at Parcells during the Super Bowl in Tampa last season before deciding to give Dungy another chance. But they fueled speculation about Dungy's future by rebuffing his attempts to negotiate a contract extension at the start of the season, saying they preferred to see how the team performed this season.

After reaching the playoffs as the NFC's sixth seed with a 9-7 record, Dungy will have to take the Bucs to the NFC Championship Game, and possibly win it, to return for the final season of his contract.

The Glazers and McKay repeatedly refused comment Thursday about Dungy's future or the tentative agreement with Parcells. "We have a long standing policy of not responding to rumors or speculation," said Reggie Roberts, the team's public-relations director.

The Glazers, however, have responded in the past to rumors that they said were untrue. Most recently, the Glazers called a news conference during last year's Super Bowl to dispel repeated reports the team was for sale.

Dungy's agent, Raymond Anderson, said he is disappointed with the owners' continued silence on Dungy's future.

"As Tony's friend as well as his agent, I very candidly am bothered and disappointed at the prolonged silence of the Glazers given all speculation swirling around," Anderson said. "I believe Tony Dungy, with all he's done with the organization, should've been given more appropriate treatment. Tony is focused on Saturday's game and chooses not to respond to speculation and will let the matter take its course. It's totally in their control and others who have their sights on the situation."

Dungy, while preparing for his fourth playoff appearance in the past five seasons, said he has been given no indication he is coaching for his job.

Dungy said some of his recent discussions with the Glazers have involved the team's plans for training camp next season.

"I would be very surprised," Dungy said Wednesday of his possible firing. "Whenever I talk to them, it's about what we're going to do about training camp at Disney (World) or something of that nature. It's business as usual."

But behind the scenes, Parcells, who quit coaching the Jets in 1999 and resigned as general manager after last season, has been preparing a return to the sideline. While working as a part-time broadcaster, he has kept rosters of NFL teams along with salary-cap data.

Parcells could not be reached for comment Thursday. But he told Sports Illustrated last month he had not ruled out coaching again.

"I like football," Parcells told SI. "Sometimes I miss 1 o'clock on Sundays. It was my life for a lot of years. But you can't do this forever and guys like me aren't for everyone. I do feel like this is it for me. If I get through January, I'll be in the clear forever."

What makes Tampa Bay attractive to the 60-year-old Parcells is the Bucs are a Super Bowl-caliber team. They have one of the league's best defenses and six Pro Bowl players, including Keyshawn Johnson, whom Parcells traded in 2000 for two No. 1 picks.

Not even the surprising resignation of Steve Spurrier from Florida on Friday has apparently altered the Glazers' choice of Parcells to replace Dungy.

The Glazers offered Spurrier the Bucs job when they took ownership in '95, but he decided to remain with Florida because the Bucs were in a battle for a new stadium and couldn't guarantee the team would remain in Tampa.

Bucs players have become increasingly agitated that the Glazers have remained silent on Dungy's future and feel they are playing for his job Saturday.

"As a person people say is a leader of this ballclub, I'm a little ticked off that somebody who has a little more power hasn't stepped in and said, "Relax,' or say whatever it is," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "Just get off the man. Get off the only winning coach this team has ever had. Get off of him."

Dungy, who is in his sixth season with the Bucs, owns a franchise-best 54-42 overall record and has averaged nearly 10 wins the past three seasons. During that time, Tampa Bay's 29 wins are the second-most in the NFC. His team appeared in the NFC Championship Game two years ago and hasn't had a losing record since his first season in '96 (6-10).

The Glazers profited from his efforts, going from a season-ticket base of fewer than 30,000 in Tampa Stadium to a 30,000-person waiting list for season tickets at the 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium.

But Dungy's teams always have played on an uneven field. While the Bucs defense annually has ranked among the league's elite, the offense never has ranked better than 20th.

As a result, Dungy has used three offensive coordinators and three starting quarterbacks in the last three seasons -- all disappointing end results.

For the fourth straight season, the Bucs slumped to a 3-4 start. Meanwhile, Parcells is regarded as one of the most successful coaches in history. He retired after winning his second NFL title with the Giants in 1991, but returned in '93 to coach the Patriots, leading them to an AFC title in '96.

In '97, Parcells left the Patriots to coach the Jets, turning a 1-15 doormat into AFC East champs in two years. Then he retired from coaching and served one season as director of football operations.

Despite Parcells' success, Dungy's departure would be an unpopular move in the Bucs locker room. Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber said players will be playing hard Saturday.

"Everybody wants to see him stick around," Barber said. "For anybody who needs any extra motivation, and they shouldn't, that's definitely it.

"I think it would be a mistake, personally, to even consider getting rid of Tony. He's the best thing that has ever happened to this town, bar none."

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