Looking at the 2012 Buccaneers, there appear to be a few parallels between head coach Greg Schiano and another first-year Bucs head coach, Tony Dungy.
Tampa Bay was the first head coaching position for both men after stints as defensive coaches in the NFL – Schiano with the Bears from 1996-98 and Dungy with the Steelers (1981-88), Chiefs (1989-91), and Vikings (1992-95). Coincidentally, Schiano and Dungy even shared a specialty, coaching defensive backs.
Although their paths to being hired to steer the Buccaneers’ ship were different, both men brought two similar traits to the table when they landed in Tampa; they were both consistent in their approach and they got their respective teams to buy in to new philosophies.
When Malcolm Glazer bought the Buccaneers in 1995, the first order of business was changing the Bucs’ image. The new modern pewter and red uniforms would take two years to be unveiled, but the billionaire immediately began lobbying for a replacement for the outdated Tampa Stadium. Not impressed with the 23-41 record over the previous four years, Glazer fired Sam Wyche following the 1995 season. The hiring of Dungy was key to implementing the new era Bucs, much like hiring Schiano will hopefully be the catalyst for the Buccaneers of the future.
Much like Dungy’s first season in 1996 when the Bucs went 6-10, Schiano has immediately improved on the team’s record from a year ago. At 6-4, the Bucs are 10 games into the 2012 season and have two more wins than the squad had in all of 2011.
Under Dungy, the Bucs’ drafted two cornerstone pieces in his first draft in fullback Mike Alstott and cornerback Donnie Abraham in rounds two and three, respectively.
In Schiano’s first draft he added three pieces to the puzzle that have immediate shown a return on investment. Safety Mark Barron has had an overall solid campaign, while running back Doug Martin and weakside linebacker Lavonte David have been nothing short of sensational. The front office added wide receiver Vincent Jackson and Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks – thought to be the best free agents at their perspective positions, one of the most prolific tight ends of the past decade Dallas Clark and cornerback Eric Wright.
When Dungy’s rookie coaching season was complete, it was obvious the Bucs were building something special for the future.
This Tampa Bay team has evoked the same emotions in fans and the community with six games left to go.
Rebuilding years usually mean that you are trying to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together; take what was handed to you and add your own ingredients to formulate a winning equation.
The biggest loss for Dungy following his inaugural season was wide receiver Alvin Harper, but through free agency, the Bucs added linebacker Shelton Quarles who spent 1995 and 1996 in the CFL with the British Columbia Lions. In the 1997 draft, the Bucs selected players that would be instrumental in turning the franchise around in running back Warrick Dunn, wide receiver Reidel Anthony, guard Frank Middleton, tackle Jerry Wunsch, and two players who would receive Super Bowl rings in linebacker Alshermond Singleton and cornerback Ronde Barber.
In Dungy’s second season the Bucs would improve to 10-6 and make the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
After this season, the Bucs are facing more potential personnel losses than the 1996 team had. Running back LeGarrette Blount will be a restricted free agent, and Barber, Clark, defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback E.J. Biggers, long snapper Andrew Economos, defensive tackle Roy Miller, and offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood – to name a few – will be unrestricted free agents.
With 206 starts and counting, Barber’s impact on the organization is long and esteemed and if the converted free safety does not see a 17th season, it will most likely be because he chooses retirement, not because he was pushed out the door.
Clark has established himself as a leader on and off the field, guiding the young players in the tight ends room, while being a productive, reliable player on the field – despite what the statline shows.
Blount, a third-year back has had a rough season playing sparingly after losing the starting job to Martin, and he hasn’t found a niche in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s playbook. However, third-down back D.J. Ware has and the Bucs still have one of two 2012 seventh-round draft picks, Michael Smith, waiting in the wings.
On the defensive line, the Bucs will have to make an offer to Bennett, who is the team's leading sacker (seven) and fumble-producer (three), and Miller has been steady and productive in stopping the run all season.
Then there’s the injured players who should be back at 100-percent next year - defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Quincy Black, and guards Davin Joseph and Nicks.
The players that have been asked to step up have, putting the Bucs’ front office in a unique position in regards to the offseason with an influx of talent, whether it is “homegrown” in the case of right tackle Demar Dotson or through free agency as is the case of Bennett. Each and every player that has walked through the front doors of One Buc Place have either bought in or walked right out.
Dungy was a master of disrupting bad habits whether on or off the field. His modus operandi was to reprogram players from thinking so much during a game into making automatic, instinctive decisions. Off the field, players were held to a higher standard than in previous years.
Schiano has taken a similar approach. His coaching philosophy is to be prepared and trust, belief, accountability have been preached since his arrival. Like Dungy, Schiano believes in players being held to a higher standard off the field with the departures of several “problem” players, such as tight end Kellen Winslow, defensive tackle Brian Price, wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe and cornerback Aqib Talib, as evidence.
Although it will always be debated if it was Dungy’s defensive players or Jon Gruden’s offensive genius that won Super Bowl XXXVII a year after Dungy moved on to the Colts, one thing is certain – with an overall record of 54-42 (.562) and four trips to the postseason in six years, Dungy certainly had a hand in the 2002 world champion squad.
Schiano has laid the same foundation for winning seasons to come – be responsible for yourself, be a strong teammate, and believe in what the coaching staff is trying to accomplish.
In his first season, Schiano may not win the Super Bowl, but the groundwork has already been implemented. Unlike Dungy, hopefully Schiano will be the one to take full credit for bringing another Lombardi Trophy to One Buc Place.