Flynn's Focus: No More Excuses

July 22 – The latest national media forecast has Tampa Bay making a trip to Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans this season, but isn't this something we have all heard before? Expectations are mounting over at One Buc Place and the window of opportunity is slowly closing. So, will the third Super Bowl forecast in four years finally be the charm for Tony Dungy and his Pewter Pirates?

When Tony Dungy was hired as the Buccaneers' head coach in 1996, he was taking over a franchise with a 43-111 record in the past 10 seasons, so needless to say, the expectations Dungy had then were nothing compared to the ones he has six seasons later.

Dungy surpassed the late John McKay as Tampa Bay's winningest head coach last season. He has a 45-35 regular season record and is 2-3 in the playoffs. But with stakes higher than ever before, Dungy's sixth season will prove to be the most important of his career.

With the exception of the 1999 season, free agent signings and strong drafts have led to everything but a Super Bowl appearance for Tampa Bay. Why?

Perhaps the biggest reason the Bucs have failed to make the Super Bowl under Dungy is because of their poor starts. In each of the Bucs' past three seasons, Tampa Bay has started off with a record of 3-4.

After reaching the NFC Championship Game in 1999, Dungy fired offensive coordinator Mike Shula and the team decided not to re-sign QB Trent Dilfer.

Second-year QB Shaun King and new offensive coordinator Les Steckel helped improve the offense from 29th to 21st in one season, but the offense still failed to show consistency and more changes were on the way.

Although his offense broke four team records, Steckel was fired by Dungy. Steckel was replaced this offeason by Clyde Christensen, who has been with the team since 1996. Christensen coached the tight end position for his first three years and the quarterback position for the last two.

If Dungy had so much confidence in Christensen, why was he passed over for the vacant offensive coordinator position last year and hired only after Dungy considered a handful of candidates before him this offseason?

Dungy knew the 2001 season was going to be a critical one and could not afford to risk hiring a new offensive coordinator who would have wanted to bring in an entirely new offensive system. Christensen's familiarity with the players and offensive system is what ultimately led to his promotion.

Christensen has offensive coordinating experience from his coaching days at the University of Clemson and East Carolina, but he also held the position in the 2000 Pro Bowl, where he coached the NFC's offense to a record 52 points.

At that time, the Bucs were under the assumption that QB Shaun King was going to be their starter in 2001, but the Buccaneers and Dungy thought free agent QB Brad Johnson was too good to pass up. After the Bucs signed Johnson and later drafted LT Kenyatta Walker in the first round of the NFL Draft, all positions were left with no glaring weaknesses.

In the past, Dungy has elected to handcuff his starting quarterbacks. Both QB Trent Dilfer and QB Shaun King were asked not to lose games, but there are no reasons why a veteran and proven talent like Johnson should be asked to do the same. In fact, Johnson should be relied on to occasionally win games for the Bucs like he had previously done with his former teams-the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins.

After being eliminated and embarrassed by the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs last season, Tampa Bay sent a record nine players to the Pro Bowl. In fact, the Buccaneers and Dungy have sent 28 players to the Pro Bowl in the last five seasons.

The Buccaneers' offense will go into the 2001 season with six Pro Bowl players: FB Mike Alstott, C Jeff Christy, RB Warrick Dunn, QB Brad Johnson,WR Keyshawn Johnson, G Randell McDaniel.

On defense, Tampa Bay has four Pro Bowl players: CB Donnie Abraham, LB Derrick Brooks, SS John Lynch and DT Warren Sapp.

The Bucs' special teams unit features a Pro Bowl player in K Martin Gramatica.

This gives Tampa Bay 11 starters out of a possible 24 who have made the Pro Bowl at one time or another in their career.

Unless Tampa Bay suffers a wrath of injuries, Dungy cannot afford to have his team fall short of their expectations this season.

If Dungy comes up short again this season, some whispers around Tampa Bay suggest the Bucs might start searching for his replacement.

Is it Super Bowl or bust for Tampa Bay? Probably not, but anything less than the NFC Championship Game might be unacceptable to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' organization and their fans.

With a schedule that features seven games against playoff teams from last year, the task will not be easy, but all of the pieces are in place for the Buccaneers to make a serious Super Bowl run this season. It's time for Dungy to finish what he started in Tamp Bay.


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