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Dungy sets to asserting command

Hires attest to goal to get coaches on one page, keep Bucs on same path.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001


TAMPA -- The Bucs are through testing their limits, and those of coach Tony Dungy.

A year ago, he listened to his critics, surrendered control and changed offensive coordinators. Look where it got him: bounced out of the wild-card round in the playoffs.

Then Dungy had to sit back and watch the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium using a suffocating defense and an offense that was quarterback challenged.

So beginning in 2001, and until his coaching days in Tampa Bay are Roman numerated, the Bucs' approach to winning will be as straitlaced as their coach.

"I felt like we were starting to lose our identity a bit, and it has been part of my thought process. I asked, "What can we do to help me establish that again?" Dungy said.

"When you get close and only need to improve by a little bit to get to the next level, I think there's a tendency to think you've got to just do things a little different. But really, what you have to do is just keep doing what you do a little better."

The biggest evidence of Dungy re-asserting his control on both sides of the ball is his selection of quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen as offensive coordinator to replace Les Steckel.

Then he filled two of the three remaining spots on his staff with young, energetic coaches with little or no NFL experience: 30-year-old Joe Berry will coach linebackers; and 29-year-old Mike Tomlin will coach defensive backs.

To replace Christensen, Dungy chose former Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell.

All will have input in the game plans, but Dungy knows they won't stray far from his philosophy.

"We won't change our philosophy on winning," Christensen said. "Coach Dungy is clear on his philosophy on winning. But I think he does want to be aggressive. I think there's a reason we went out and got a No.1 receiver, a franchise guy and one of the top guys in the league. That was a statement we do want to get the ball thrown down the field. We do want some explosive plays.

"I think it's a continuation on our journey of being a Super Bowl football team. It's not a re-direction. It's just a continuation on that journey."

What convinced Dungy to stick to his guns was the improvement of the teams that made it to the past two Super Bowls.

Tampa Bay has enjoyed three seasons of 10 wins or more in the past four, but it did not advance beyond the NFC Championship Game.

"All you have to do is look at the last four teams to go to the Super Bowl," Dungy said. "St. Louis was 4-12 (the previous season), Tennessee and Baltimore were 8-8 and the Giants were 7-9 and all came from that to the Super Bowl in one year. We don't have to make that big of an improvement. We're right there. We've got to jump on that."

Linebacker Derrick Brooks, a four-time Pro Bowl player, said the addition of a young coach such as Barry might be good for the Bucs in terms of getting back to fundamentals.

"It's paying attention to the details. It's doing all the little things on every play that count," Brooks said. "Maybe we got a way from that.

"Last year, it was losing Hardy (Nickerson) and some of the personnel. And this time, it's the coaching side of things, especially at my position. Lovie (Smith) found a way to get the best out of everybody. Hardy was in his ninth year and he found a way for him to have the best year of his career. He made me better, and I'm still getting better each year.

"We never found that extra thing we had in '99. We had some spurts of it. We held the New York Jets to about 60 yards in the first half of that game and in the second half they went up and down the field with us. We had it against Miami. Then we didn't have it the next week against the Rams."

Brooks said the off-season moves reflect an urgency Dungy feels, and a desire to win his way.

"In another year, fans could be calling for Coach Dungy's head," Brooks said. "But where are you going to find someone who's had all the success he's had in building this team?"

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