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Dungy trying to shift focus

With his job on the line, the coach wants his players' minds on the game.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2002

Bucs coach told his team to focus on beating the Eagles, not his future.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Bucs tested the artificial turf at Veterans Stadium on Friday, trying to find the right shoes to improve traction for today's NFC wild-card game.

Tony Dungy already appears to be on bad footing with the team's ownership, and one misstep against the Eagles could cost the Bucs their coach.

On the eve of perhaps the biggest game of his coaching career, Dungy gathered his team Friday and told them to focus on beating the Eagles. "There are going to be rumors and speculation; it's just the way it is," Dungy said. "I read the newspapers before when it was about other places or other situations. That's the NFL. ... We have a job to do. ... That's really what everyone in the organization is focused on."

Barring a change of heart, Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer will dismiss Dungy unless his team advances at least to the NFC Championship Game. Indications are he plans to replace him with Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl winner, according to people close to the Bucs, Parcells and the NFL.

Even before Friday's story in the Times, Bucs players were aware a victory over the Eagles could do more than advance them to the NFC divisional playoff game at St. Louis next week. And they have rallied around Dungy, the embattled coach in his fourth playoff appearance in five seasons.

DE Steve White: "It's really stupid for anybody to say anything about (Dungy) losing his job."
"Any time you try to attack our coach, it's like attacking us," defensive end Steve White said. "Here's a guy who's done so much for Tampa, so much for the city, so much for this team. It's really stupid for anybody to say anything about him losing his job. I mean, it's unheard of, it's unprecedented for a guy who's done so much for one team. ... He's a model citizen. He brings so much to the table and yet people are talking about firing him. It's just ludicrous."

Bucs officials continued their silence on the subject Friday rather than dispel reports they have a tentative agreement with Parcells if Dungy falters today.

Dungy said the speculation has drained some of the excitement from the postseason for the Bucs.

"The thing that's disappointing about all the speculation is that this is the playoffs," Dungy said. "A lot of the excitement has been taken away, and that's a shame for some of the new guys who have never been in it."

But most Bucs players already have plenty of motivation against the Eagles, who ended the Bucs' season here a year ago with a 21-3 win in the NFC wild-card game.

Aside from Dungy's wobbly status, the Bucs have plenty of obstacles to overcome. Tampa Bay is 0-5 in road playoff games and 0-20 in games when the temperature at kickoff is below 40. projects the temperature at kickoff today to be about 44. Tampa Bay also faces an Eagles defense that has not given up more than 21 points this season.

The Bucs defense appears to have regained its swagger with wins over New Orleans and Baltimore, and it hopes to fare better against quarterback Donovan McNabb, who threw a pair of touchdowns and ran for another in last season's wild-card game.

To be successful, the Bucs have to get something going on the ground, particularly behind Mike Alstott, who averaged 6 yards per carry against the Eagles a year ago. In the past few weeks, he has rejuvenated the rushing attack.

"I think Mike about five weeks ago gave us a sense that we could be good running the ball," Dungy said. "Much of offensive football, running the ball, is attitude. I think that has helped us.

"You don't have to make perfect blocks, they don't have to be gaping holes. Mike is going to run through and make positive yardage if you've got people just off balance a little bit. Depending on the field conditions and the type of weather, it could be his type of day."

The Eagles will be without injured defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, weakening the middle of their run defense.

FB Mike Alstott: A power running game can beat the Eagles.
"We kind of had to go back to the old-time stuff that we had been good at before, running that power game and basically pounding it," Alstott said. "So I think that philosophy works better here with our offensive line. It's helped me get more opportunities along with what's best for them."

Neither team learned much from Sunday's regular-season finale, in which both teams rested starters and the Eagles came from behind to win 17-13.

"We pretty much have a good idea how they're going to attack us and vice versa," Dungy said.

And while the Bucs might want to win for Dungy, they also want to win for themselves. "I really have never played for anyone's job," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "There are always consequences. When I was in Minnesota, there were always rumors about Denny (Green). There were always rumors about what was happening in Washington. You don't play for a coach's job, you don't play for another guy's job. You play for yourself to win. That's the whole thing. You win, everything takes care of itself."

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