The first time new coach Tony Dungy stepped into the Bucs'
locker room, a look of disappointment spread across his face.
Towels, jocks, tape and the remnants of a team meal were strewn
everywhere as if a twister had just ripped through the place.
"You know, guys," Dungy said in his gentle, Father Knows Best
voice, "this is like a family. This is like your house. Take
good care of it." With that, scrubs and starters alike sprang
into action. Soon the room was as tidy as an army barracks.
This is an article from the Aug. 1, 1996 issue
"When Coach Dungy talks, everybody listens," says quarterback
Trent Dilfer. "When he says, 'Do this,' everybody's reaction is,
How good can I do this for you, Coach?"
Considering that this franchise has been a mess for most of its
20 years--Tampa Bay has the worst winning percentage in NFL
history and has already gone through three coaches in the
'90s--the locker room anecdote serves as a felicitous metaphor.
It is up to Dungy to finally get this house in order.
Most recently the Vikings' defensive coordinator, Dungy is well
equipped for the job. He is one of the NFL's most respected
coaches, a fair man for whom players will line up to play.
(Dungy's presence helped the Bucs re-sign standout linebacker
Hardy Nickerson in February.) He was so well liked in Minnesota
that on his last day with the franchise, team secretaries wept
at their desks.
On a scale of difficulty, Dungy's charge falls just below
turning water into wine: His team must win and generate enough
local enthusiasm to improve its slim chance of remaining in
Tampa Bay. (Owner Malcolm Glazer has said that he may move the
franchise after the 1996 season if the city does not pledge $110
million to help build a new stadium.) The Bucs' fans and players
are so inured to the team's legacy of losing that Tampa Bay is
in need of a serious attitude adjustment. Dungy must lead the
pep rally. "The team has to overcome the perception that
everything has gone wrong here," says Dungy. "If we draft a
defensive lineman, people point to so-and-so who failed. If we
get off to a good start, people say, 'Well, in '79 we got off to
a good start and then...' No matter what happens, people will
emphasize the negative. This is a new era, and that's what we
have to get across to our team."
Already Dungy has his players believing in themselves and in
each other. "We don't expect anything less than the Super Bowl,"
says wide receiver Alvin Harper. This statement seems all the
more implausible when you consider the source. Last year Harper
had more complaints than catches. He griped that his number
wasn't being called, he whined incessantly about the complexity
of the offense, and he clashed publicly with then coach Sam
Wyche. After the final game of the season, Harper, who scored
just two touchdowns all year, threatened to retire. (By
comparison, he caught eight TDs for Dallas in '94.)
Though Tampa Bay has not had a 1,000-yard receiver since Mark
Carrier in 1989, Harper should more than earn his keep this
season. "Once Tony came, he said, 'We're gonna get you the ball,
put it all on your shoulders and see what you can do to come up
with one of those 90-ball-type years,'" explains Harper.
As for the running game, the Bucs will rely on tailback Errict
Rhett--who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his
two pro seasons--to carry the load. Fullback Mike Alstott, a '96
second-round choice from Purdue, will complement Rhett in the
new two-back offense. For Tampa Bay to be successful, it must
have a productive running game to relieve the pressure on
Dilfer, who threw just four touchdown passes last season.
With just 25 sacks in '95, the Bucs enter the season desperately
needing to improve their pass rush and bolster the defensive
line, which lost free agents Santana Dotson and Mark Wheeler in
the off-season. Tampa Bay spackled the holes by drafting two
linemen in the first round, Cal's Regan Upshaw and North
Carolina's Marcus Jones. Second-year defensive tackle Warren
Sapp, despite a three-sack performance in '95, is full of promise.
The same can be said of the Bucs in general. With Dungy in
charge, this star-crossed franchise will see better days. Look
for Tampa Bay to break its string of 13 straight losing seasons
simply because the team will play hard for him. Ask any Bucs
player about the new coach and the gushing is infectious. When
Dilfer talks about Dungy, he sounds like a man who has just won
the lottery. "Wow," Dilfer says. "How did we get so lucky?"
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 99.2 (19) 184.7 (26) 283.9 (27)
DEFENSE 109.6 (15) 247.4 (26) 357.0 (27)
Fighting for .500
True, the Buccaneers avoided losing 10 games last season, ending
their NFL-record streak of 12 consecutive years with 10 or more
losses. But their 7-9 record kept another streak going and in
fact established a league mark for consecutive losing seasons.
The Bucs are also within three sub-.500 years of the alltime
record for consecutive losing seasons in the four major North
American pro team sports (held by the 1933-48 Philadelphia
Most Consecutive Losing Seasons in NFL History
Buccaneers 1983-95 13
Saints 1967-78 12
Broncos 1963-72 10
Eagles 1933-42 10
PLAYER TO WATCH
In June 1992 John Lynch, a righthander with a 95-mph fastball,
became the first player to throw a pitch for the Florida
Marlins' organization. (To commemorate the moment, his cap was
sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame.) But football had always been
his first love, so Lynch gave up a promising baseball future and
signed with the Bucs, who had selected him in the third round of
the '93 draft. Frustrated by a lack of playing time, Lynch
briefly considered a return to the pitching mound in 1994. His
decision to stick with football has been rewarded: This season
the fourth-year pro will start at strong safety.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Tony Dungy
QB Trent Dilfer 415 att. 224 comp. 54.0% 2,774 yds. 4 TDs 18 int. 60.1 rtg.
RB Errict Rhett 332 att. 1,207 yds. 11 TDs
FB Mike Alstott[*](R) 243 att. 1,436 yds. 11TDs
TE Jackie Harris 62 rec. 751 yds. 1 TD
WR Alvin Harper 46 rec. 633 yds. 2 TDs
WR Horace Copeland 35 rec. 605 yds. 2 TDs
WR Courtney Hawkins 41 rec. 493 yds. 0 TDs
LT Paul Gruber 6'5" 296 lbs.
LG Jim Pyne 6'2" 290 lbs.
C Tony Mayberry 6'4" 292 lbs.
RG Ian Beckles 6'1" 304 lbs.
RT Scott Dill 6'5" 295 lbs.
PK Michael Husted 25/25 XPs 19/26 FGs
LE Eric Curry 2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
LT Warren Sapp 3 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RT Marcus Jones[*] (R) 7 sacks 1 fum. rec.
RE Regan Upshaw[*] (R) 9 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
OLB Lonnie Marts 0 sacks 1 int.
MLB Hardy Nickerson 1 1/2 sacks 0 int.
OLB Derrick Brooks 1 sack 0 int.
CB Martin Mayhew 5 int. 0 sacks
SS John Lynch 3 int. 0 sacks
FS Melvin Johnson 1 int. 0 sacks
CB Charles Dimry 1 int. 0 sacks
P Tommy Barnhardt[*] 95 punts 41.1 avg.
PR Vernon Turner[*] 6 ret. 6.5 avg.
KR Vernon Turner[*] 17 ret. 19.0 avg.
[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)