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Win or else? Dungy says no

The Bucs coach, whose contract expires this season, doesn't think his job is in jeopardy without a significant playoff run.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2001


The Bucs coach, whose contract expires this season, doesn't think his job is in jeopardy without a significant playoff run.

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- He has hired a third offensive coordinator in as many seasons.

He has sacked Shaun King after one full season as a starter in favor of one -- possibly two -- high-priced quarterbacks. He indulged his defense with another Pro Bowl pass rusher.

So is Bucs coach Tony Dungy hoping the recent spending spree will buy him at least another season?

Dungy insists those moves were not a short-term way for him to keep his job a little longer.

The 45-year-old says that if he is fired at the end of the 2001 season, it won't be because of his record or whether the Bucs fail to reach the Super Bowl in his sixth season.

"I think our ownership does look at the long haul," Dungy said Wednesday at the NFL owners meeting. "Now, does that mean you still don't have to win this year? And you might get fired at the end of the year? It could happen. But if it does, I don't think it'll be based on a short-term deal or one season. I think it'll be because he doesn't like the direction of the team. He'll be saying, 'I don't like what's happening,' and it'll be a well thought-out decision."

Dungy said the recent acquisitions of quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Ryan Leaf, and the signing of defensive end Simeon Rice, are moves the Bucs believe will pay long-term dividends.

He said before the free agency period started that he was committed to King as his starter for 2001 and beyond. But the Bucs couldn't resist claiming Leaf, the second overall pick in the 1998 draft, off waivers from the Chargers. And three days later, they were somewhat stunned when Johnson accepted a five-year, $28-million deal instead of signing with Baltimore, as they had speculated.

"I don't think we've ever looked at it to make moves for one year or short term," Dungy said. "We claimed one guy off waivers, which a lot of people do. We signed Simeon Rice to a contract where he's making a lot less money this year than he made in the past, and he basically is coming because he thought it would be a chance to really show what he can do.

"We've got a quarterback that we liked, and we think it's very rare to get a Pro Bowl quarterback, and he wanted to come as well. We felt we've helped our team. Down the road, we feel we'll have enough money to make deals and we didn't have to let any of our young talent go. We just feel we're improving the team."

And improving so much over the past two seasons, the Bucs again are considered the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

After three playoff berths in four seasons, including an NFC title game appearance two seasons ago, it should not come as a surprise that Dungy's team remains a contender.

But Dungy said the increased attention is the result of obtaining Johnson.

"Probably the only difference is we have a quarterback that's been in the league and started for a number of years that most people perceive can really play," Dungy said. "As opposed to Shaun, whom we had a lot of faith in but everybody else said 'Here's a guy who has only four or five starts in a year.' "I guess I never worry about that because there were times when I thought we were going to win it when people picked us last or next to last. I don't think it matters. I think it's great for our town and our area to see we are the favorite and have people excited about it. But you still win on the field and on the practice field, so I don't think it's any different whether you're the favorites or not."

But Dungy said owners and fans aren't as patient and it's not even enough to produce a string of winning records.

"The Super Bowl is the ultimate goal, and everyone feels their team should get to the Super Bowl," Dungy said. "But if you don't and you're just delivering good teams and you don't quite get there, they're not as patient anymore to ride it out.

"I can remember as a kid hearing that Tom Landry couldn't win big games and John Elway couldn't win big games because he'd been there three or four times. If you really believed that and not let John Elway play at the end of his career, we would've missed something."

As proof that owner Malcolm Glazer is patient, Dungy points to the six-year contract he signed in '96.

"I think that's the one thing that impressed me the first day that I got there and we did a six-year contract, which was kind of unheard of at that time," Dungy said. "Malcolm really talked about long term. Some of the businesses he's had, short term is 10 or 15 years."

So is Dungy's job safe if the Bucs don't reach the Super Bowl, or at least go deep in the playoffs?

"I would guess you'd have to ask the owner. The owner is the only guy who knows that," Dungy said. "Sometimes winning doesn't always do that. You never know that."

"It won't be on my mind because I think you go in every year as a coach feeling you want to maximize and do everything you can for that team. If you do that, that's all you can do."

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