TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Dungy can't dodge topic


While with Tampa Bay, head coach Tony Dungy advanced to the NFC Championship game in 1999.

NYT Regional Newspapers
Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 at 11:07 p.m.

Facts

Up next

  • WHO: Indianapolis Colts (4-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1).
  • WHEN: Monday, 9 p.m., ABC.
  • WHERE: Raymond James Stadium.
  • THE LATEST LINE: Buccaneers by 4.

  • INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Dungy is usually soft-spoken, talkative and laid back. This week, he appears a little uneasy.
    Instead of relaying his usual anecdotes about past stops, former players and countless memories, Dungy bristles at questions about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his old employer.
    He can't avoid the questions as his Indianapolis Colts prepare to face the Buccaneers next week.
    "We're playing on Monday night, we're 4-0 and we're playing the defending champs. That should be a good enough story line," he said. "But it probably won't be the story line."
    Dungy knows better.
    Much of the buildup this week will focus on his return to Tampa Bay and his first meeting against the team that gave him his first head coaching job.
    In six seasons with the Buccaneers, Dungy did just about everything except win a Super Bowl.
    He turned a perennial loser into a championship contender.
    He won more games (54) than any coach in franchise history and led Tampa Bay to four playoff appearances.
    He built the league's stingiest defense, developed strong friendships with players such as Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp, and became a fan favorite in the community where he still owns a home.
    But early playoff exits in 2001 and 2002 weren't enough to satisfy ownership. In January 2002, Dungy was fired.
    His successor, Jon Gruden, needed just one season to finish what Dungy started and won the Super Bowl.
    Players such as Sapp have credited Dungy for making the championship possible, but Dungy wants no part of it publicly.
    When asked Monday whether he felt he played any role in the Bucs' title run, Dungy had an uncharacteristically abrupt answer: "No."
    It's clear that neither Dungy nor Gruden relish Monday's matchup, which pits one of the game's best offensive minds against one of the game's best defensive minds.
    "I'm not going to make any more of this than what it is," Gruden said. "It's obviously a big day, I'm sure, for coach Dungy. He's got his emotions that he can answer for himself."
    Dungy's answers, however, already have been laced with a sense of angst.
    He said he doesn't want the game to become a sideshow.
    He doesn't want to provide bulletin board fodder for his former players, and he certainly doesn't want to make this a measuring stick about which coach is better.
    Instead, Dungy would prefer Monday night's game to be about the players and the other marquis billing - the unbeaten Colts against the defending Super Bowl champs.
    "Our distraction is Tampa Bay and the fact they're a good football team," Dungy said. "They're the defending champs and have played well, and we want to win down there."
    In Indianapolis, Dungy has had success similar to what he did in Tampa Bay.
    The Colts' defense and special teams are vastly improved - areas that needed fixing when Dungy arrived two years ago and areas that he revamped in Tampa to turn around that once-moribund franchise.
    Meanwhile, the Colts have found more weapons on offense, and on Sunday night, they put up a franchise-record 55 points on the road.
    They're off to their first 4-0 start since 1996 and haven't been 5-0 since 1977.
    Gruden realizes a victory over the Colts won't be easy.
    "They're in Year Two of a very good coaching scheme and system, so it will be a great challenge for us," Gruden said.
    Players are trying to follow the tactful lead of their respective coaches.
    Tampa Bay safety John Lynch and linebacker Derrick Brooks both said they're trying to focus on what happens on the field, not off of it.
    Colts linebacker Marcus Washington even cracked a wry smile when he was asked about Dungy's return to Tampa before saying all the right things.
    But what Dungy wants most for his 48th birthday, which just happens to be Monday, is a victory so he can spend next week being himself.
    "We're here, trying to get this thing going," he said. "We're trying to make a run here. That's where our energy is focused."

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