Dungy soaks up glory of first coaching win
Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times, published 14 October 1996

Win, win, win ... Tony Dungy is new at this. He never thought to duck. After an agonizing L-L-L-L-L beginning as Tampa Bay's head coach, he got a W . That's W as in win. W as in wonderful. W as in wet. Dungy would get the Sunday bath he so badly needed.

As the Big Sombrero clock ran out on Tony's old team, the Minnesota Vikings, he cracked a minigrin. Nothing sassy. Restraint is his classy style. No gloating. No in-your-face exhibitionism. But, behind Dungy's back, giddy Bucs came running with a vat of water. As the game ended, they flooded Tony the Placid. Celebrating a 24-13 stunner. H0 washed away some of the 0-5 pain. Poor man's champagne. Tony joyously shivered. Icy but nice-y.

"It took me by surprise," Dungy said. "I thought you only did that in a championship game. But it felt real good." Dripping with relief, Tony rushed to midfield. He met Dennis Green, head coach of the Vikings. Dungy's boss when he was Minnesota defensive coordinator. They embraced. Green whispered in Tony's ear. "He said to keep it going," Dungy would say later. "He's been (head coach) at Northwestern. He said he knew what it was like... having the same type situation (losing a lot of games). He's a good man."

Dungy moved on through the athletic masses. Encountering faces so familiar from his four seasons in Minnesota purple. Tony wrapped an arm around safety Robert Griffith. He hugged wide receiver Cris Carter, then fullback Charles Evans, then defensive end Derrick Alexander and safety Orlando Thomas and linebacker Jeff Brady. Tampa Bay's first-time winner, convoyed by photographers, sprinted to catch up with John Randle, a splendid interior lineman in Dungy's defensive schemes with the Vikes.

"It was a little weird, being on the other side," Dungy said, having made old friends and associates Victim One in his Tampa Bay existence. "I can recall being so proud of those (Vikings) guys so many times. But I've never been any prouder than I am of our players. I think I will always remember this one. We worked so hard to get off that zero."

As he reached the dressing room, Dungy was hugged by a beaming, bearded Malcolm Glazer. Tampa Bay's owner and coach had more of a 5-1 look than a 1-5. "It's a load off Tony's back," general manager Rich McKay said. "It builds and builds when you're losing. It becomes harder to focus on the long term. Self-doubt has to creep in. You don't like being criticized. You can't help but hear it. I called Tony at his home one night, but he was out. I wound up talking with his wife (Lauren). She said, `I get madder than Tony does (at all the losses).' Lauren said she was mad at him because Tony was not getting mad enough."

Lauren Dungy is like the rest of us. She can't believe Tony can undergo an 0-5 start without shouting, kicking and grimacing. He's too religious to curse. But the coach's wife knows well, and we're learning, that Tony's sideline demeanor is that of a man waiting for a bus. No outward passion. No knee-jerk reactions. Seemingly unemotional.

"Tony maintains his coaching ways no matter what," said Bucs defensive lineman Brad Culpepper, who played for Dungy in Minnesota. "He was the same way on the first day of training camp this summer as he was after one loss, two losses and five losses. Same as he is now after a win. Tony has a proven way to coach. He has a proven way to win. But, yes, you need some affirmation on the field. We badly needed this beating of the Vikings. It just happened to be Minnesota, where we used to be. Tampa Bay needed to beat somebody anybody. This gives us a reason to have confidence in what we're doing."

Culpepper was 1-0 with his new, chopped-short haircut. For years, he'd worn long, beach-boy blond locks. Brad even braided it at times. "I got tired of all the hair," said the former Gators football hero and student-body vice president. "Time to cut the stuff."

Also tired of 0-5. Time to cut the stuff.