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Christensen given keys to offense

Up next for Bucs: QBs coach, and they are believed to be pursuing one of hottest assistants in college ranks.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


TAMPA -- It did not happen often, mostly late in the game and certainly too late in the season.

Bucs offensive coordinator Les Steckel would be riding the elevator from his coaching box atop Raymond James Stadium. By the time the doors opened, his offense was no longer in the basement with him.

As receiver Keyshawn Johnson tells it, the few plays selected last season by Clyde Christensen had one thing in common.

"They worked," Johnson said.

"A couple games, late in the year, when the other guy was in the elevator, Clyde took over and we took the ball and moved it down the field."

Christensen, who turns 43 Sunday, officially was named Bucs offensive coordinator by coach Tony Dungy in a news conference Friday.

The Bucs' next order of business is to hire a quarterbacks coach and they are believed to be pursuing one of the hottest assistants in college football -- the University of Oregon's Jeff Tedford. The 39-year-old Tedford has served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Ducks since 1998. During his career, he has coached former first-round picks Akili Smith at Oregon and Trent Dilfer at Fresno State.

Although Christensen never has been a coordinator in the NFL, Dungy said what won out was Christensen's familiarity with the players and the continuity that comes with not changing systems for the third time in three years on quarterback Shaun King.

"I think that can be overblown. I think you can make a splash with a name from somewhere outside the organization," Dungy said. "But for us, we just felt this was the best way to win.

"The thing I had to go through in my mind was what would be the benefits of bringing this new guy in that would override the fact of switching, having a third-year quarterback that's going to be in a third system, we've got some Pro Bowl players we brought in last year that just learned this system ... I felt that slows you down a little bit."

Already popular among players, Christensen also says he has an advantage on a new coach who would be unfamiliar with the Bucs' talent.

"This gives us tremendouscarryover," Christensen said. "Just knowing what people can do, knowing what Warrick (Dunn) can do. I don't know how any outsider can come in within two years and have knowledge of players I have. I don't have to come in and earn their respect. I have to earn a different respect, but I have a relationship with them and there already is a respect level."

Christensen's task will be to improve an offense that set a club record with 388 points last season but was inconsistent -- particularly in the passing game.

Dungy said he expects Christensen make better use of Johnson and continue to feature Dunn running the ball, but he also wants to keep a two-back system with Mike Alstott.

Above everything, Christensen has to hope to develop King into a Super Bowl quarterback.

"We want to throw the ball better. I do want to make that clear," Dungy said. "I mean, people don't necessarily believe that, but we do want to throw the ball effectively. We want to throw it as much as we can without losing our running identity.

"That was one of the questions I asked. How are we going to get better throwing but not lose our identity as a running team? I think going the way we're going to go is the best way to do that."

One of the things that factored in Dungy's decision was Christensen's performance at last year's Pro Bowl.

After Mike Shula was fired in Hawaii, Christensen took over as offensive coordinator and called the plays for the NFC's 51-31 win against the AFC.

"I was very impressed at the Pro Bowl because it was a very difficult situation," Dungy said. "He didn't go into the week expecting to do that. He was very clear and concise on the headset. He was very quick and sharp. ... I felt better about that than had I not had that experience."

Dungy also sought the advice of Vikings coach Dennis Green and former Redskins coach Norv Turner, both of whom had lots of turnover on the coaching staff the past few years.

Both Green and Turner convinced Dungy to do what was best for his football team, regardless of how popular the move might be to Bucs fans.

"We talked about reaction," Dungy said. "And the advice they gave me was don't do anything for splash, don't do it thinking this is going to give you a shot in the arm. Do it to win games, do it for what you think will be best for your club. I took that as good advice."

Not only will making Christensen offensive coordinator sit well with King, it also should pacify Johnson -- for a while, anyway.

"I think it's good. In talking to Clyde, he's saying all the right things I like to hear," Johnson said.

"I've put my trust in people before and I've been burned once, twice. The third time, shame on me. I trusted Ron Erhart my rookie year and it didn't work. I trusted the other guy (Steckel) to get me the football. This is the third time in my career I could get fooled. But he's got me fired up for 2001."

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