Gruden deserves to go before Dungy

by Gary Shelton on May 31, 2017 · 6 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

I saw how he changed things. I saw how he moved Derrick Brooks to the right side of the line of scrimmage. I saw how he got his message to Warren Sapp. I saw how he buried the image of the Tampa Bay Bucs as awkward losers.

Yeah, I’m a Tony Dungy guy, all right. I’d debate that he’s the best coach, the best teacher, the best builder this team has ever had. I’d debate his importance across the league.

But I understand why the Tampa Bay Bucs wanted Jon Gruden in their Ring of Honor first.

I agree. Gruden should go in, and a little Chucky face should emerge from the “o.”

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Gruden finished the deal. In a bottom-line sport, he signed his name in ink at the bottom of the page. He instilled a new energy, and he pushed athletes on both sides of the ball, and he became the first Bucs’ coach to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

Good for Tony for taking it with the grace you would expect. Dungy is one of the few men in Tampa Bay who has never taken a side in the Gruden-Dungy debates. He recognizes that a coach is there every day, and it becomes his team, not that of his predecessor.

No, it didn’t last. The Bucs were an aging team, and the number of great players who left while Gruden was here exceeds the number of great players who came.

With Gruden, that’s not the point. This team has won exactly one Super Bowl in its existence. And Gruden was in charge for it.

Ask yourself this: What would have happened if Dungy would have stayed? Personally, I think the Bucs would have been better in the years after that Super Bowl. But do I think Dungy would have won it here? No, not with that offensive staff. I don’t.

Granted, growing crops is a special thing, even if you aren’t there for the harvest. And Dungy, too, is worth remembering. Next year sounds nice. Dungy did great, great things while in Tampa Bay. He just didn’t win a Super Bowl.

If you remember, Gruden and I didn’t always get along. With his dwindling won-loss record, that was natural. I always respected him as a coach, I just didn’t think he had a very good general manager in Bruce Allen (after Rich McKay left). He was going to take a team that should go 6-10, and he was going to coach it to 9-7.

Here’s something a lot of people don’t remember. For all of my criticism, I endorsed Gruden’s contract extension in his penultimate season. In his last season, also 9-7, I never called for his firing. I thought it was a mistake then, as history has proven.

If the Bucs could rewrite history, I’d have tried to keep McKay and Gruden together. I think the Bucs were good then. Turning that combination into Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris wasted everyone’s time.

And so Chucky comes home to roost. Good for him. Good for Malcolm Glazer, who rescued this town from Hugh Culverhouse.

There are 11 men in the Bucs’ Ring of Honor now. And let’s be honest. This team hasn’t been successful long enough to have many more inductees.

Still, there are some.

How about the next 10 in line?

10. Rich McKay: McKay won’t make it because of the way he jumped ship to the Falcons. But he drafted both Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp (no, it wasn’t Sam Wyche) and helped get the RayJay built.

9. Monte Kiffin: An assistant coach in a Ring of Honor? Kiffin deserves consideration for the decade-long job he did.

8. Batman Wood: Early excellence tends to be forgotten. With Woods, it shouldn’t.

7. Brad Johnson: On his way to a Super Bowl win, he outplayed most quarterbacks he faced.

6. Warrick Dunn: As much a Falcon as a Bucs, but a tough player.

5. James Wilder: Wilder was a stalwart for the Bucs.

4. Simeon Rice: Has Hall of Fame numbers as a pass rusher.

3. Tony Dungy: He ended the punchlines and established standards.

2. Hardy Nickerson: The first great leader of the Bucs’ defense.

1. Ronde Barber: A versatile, instinctive corner who made the biggest play in team history with his interception return in the NFC title game.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller June 1, 2017 at 4:19 am

You make a good point about Dungy. If he is in the HOF then you have to put him in the Ring of Honor here. Although we both know there were legitimate reasons why he was fired by the Bucs. But if you put in Gruden then Dungy can’t be far behind. In general I think the bar should be HOF or near HOF type people. So for me I would stop at Dungy and Barber until some of the current players earn that level of honor. Otherwise it becomes a PR thing which in reality that’s probably what will happen and some of the ones you mentioned may get in. It’s going to be a long wait for any current player to make the cut because the Bucs were so bad for so long.


Gary Shelton June 1, 2017 at 6:09 am

I agree with your stance on current players,although McCoy isn’t that far away with all of his Pro Bowls. Winston isn’t old enough to stay up for the end of the movie.

In a way, I think it helps some of the Bucs in that excellence is so rare around here. If the Bucs had won 5-6 Super Bowls, then being on the one they did win might not seem so special. Still, it’s hard to argue that a Ring of Honor isn’t a p.r. thing, you know?


Larry Beller June 1, 2017 at 12:36 pm

I guess you are right about the p.r. thing but I just never thought of it that way because the ones who are up there now are solid gold Bucs royalty. But that’s probably just me being naive and I’m not naive about too many things. Adding Gruden does sound like a p.r. thing though especially since he just happens to be broadcasting the game on ESPN that night.


Gary Shelton June 1, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Jon travels most weeks. I’ve run into him at the airport. I think it’s more of “we want to get him in, let’s do it at a time he can get here.” They did the same thing with Lynch.

I guess we would agree that it matters what level player the Bucs want to honor. Is it the level of a several times Pro Bowler? (Mike Alstott. Jimmy Giles). Someone who has made the final cut of the Hall of Fame? (Lynch). Someone who was a darn good player locally? (Gruber?).

We also agree that there is a finite number of athletes who should go into a Ring of Honor for a franchise with seven double-digit winning seasons. Right? It’s all fun to discuss, which I think is the best thing about any Ring of Honor.

A story: An old friend of mine worked in Dallas, and one day, he wrote a scathing column asking why Chuck Howley (not a Hall of Famer, either) wasn’t in the Ring of Honor. He cited states, including that Howley was the only MVP from a losing team. He was extremely fired up.

The Cowboys called him the next day and said they agreed with every line he had written. That was why, six years earlier, they had put him in their Ring of Honor. Howley’s name was above the press box, though, and the writer couldn’t see it. Pretty funny.


Larry Beller May 31, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Enough is enough. The Ring of Honor is turning into the Ring of Guys who did something pretty good. I think only the best of the best should be up there and I wouldn’t put either Gruden or Dungy in. The bar should be set higher than just winning 1 Super Bowl with a team that was at least 75% complete when he got here. Dungy never won one so he doesn’t qualify either. Ronde Barber for my money is the only other guy that should be considered due to a career of excellence.


Gary Shelton May 31, 2017 at 10:50 pm

Maybe you’re right. The Bucs historically haven’t been very good.

Still, it’s a team ring of honor, not a Hall of Fame. And a lot of teams have a lot of pretty good players, not great, surrounding their stadiums. I certainly think Wilder and Nickerson should be in. But that’s just me. And Dungy is in the Hall of Fame; don’t you think he qualifies after the job he did turning a franchise around? Maybe I just don’t take it seriously enough.


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