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.

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