Sunday, January 4, 2009

The What If Game

By JC De La Torre

St. Petersburg Times columnist Gary Shelton put together an interesting column, speculating on what may have happened if the Glazer family hadn't fired Tony Dungy at the end of the 2001 season. Its a confounding question - where would the Bucs be today? Further, what other what if questions can we add to the pot? I believe its definitely an interesting topic of conversation.

First, lets speculate on Dungy.
Scenario 1 - What if the Glazers didn't fire Dungy in January 2002?
Shelton speculates that Bucs would not have won the Super Bowl the following season and would have never won it under Tony Dungy. Dungy's record in Indy seems to disagree with that assumption, but let's face it - Tampa Bay has no Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, or Reggie Wayne on their offense - the catalyst of Dungy's success with the Colts. Jon Gruden likely would have remained in Oakland and considering the Raiders team he built went without him, he would have likely gotten the Raiders to the Super Bowl. Would the Raiders have continued their poor play throughout the decade? Its hard to say but with the braintrust that built the Raiders into a power still intact, one would have to imagine that Oakland would still be competitive today.

The Buccaneers would still have had their draft picks, with the ability to draft players like Ed Reed, Charles Grant, Lito Sheppard, Andre Gurode, or Clinton Portis - all players who were available where the Bucs would have picked in the first and second rounds of the 2002 draft. In '03 you could have seen the Bucs select Nnambi Asomugha, Drayton Florence, Kawika Mitchell or Aquan Boldin. How would any of those guys look in a Buccaneer uniform?

Mike Alstott would have definitely been better utilized by Dungy and may have completed a Hall-of-Fame career, rather than become a blocker and short yardage back as he did in Jon Gruden's offense.

Dungy and Rich McKay would have had to make the same tough decisions that Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen had to endure as the salary cap would have been a factor for them as well - but with the extra draft picks, the Buccaneers could have weathered cap hell a little better. Dungy was extremely loyal to his staff and likely wouldn't have fired offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen. It was the elevation of the inexperienced Christensen that evetually cost Dungy his job in Tampa Bay. That means either Christensen would have grown into the role and become a better play caller or the offense would continue to stagnate, worse than it has under Jon Gruden.

Would the Bucs have won the Super Bowl under Dungy? In 2002, not likely, but in 2003 - the last shot the Bucs had a being a truly competitive force during the Sapp/Brooks era, I think he could have gotten it done. Keyshawn would have continued to be a pain in the butt but he wouldn't have been kicked off the team. Benedict McKay wouldn't have bolted to Atlanta mid-season, and Alstott would likely not have injured his neck (there would have been no Joe Jurivicious to collide into on the team). The team would have likely resembled the 99 squad - with the one last hurrah. There was no power in the NFC that year, with the 11-5 Carolina Panthers going to the Super Bowl to face the Patriots. The Bucs would likely have had to beat the Eagles in the playoffs and you'd have to wonder if they could have under Dungy.

If Dungy survived the salary cap years of '04 and '05, he likely could have had the Bucs back in contention in 06 - but what would have been the ceiling? With no offense, the best Tampa Bay could hope for was 11-5 and in most seasons it would have been right around .500, in other words, right where the Bucs are today with Gruden.

Scenario 2 - What if Bill Parcells would have came to Tampa Bay?
So, let's say Dungy was fired and Parcells came to the Bucs with Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum in toe. Would the Bucs have won the Super Bowl? I'd say yes, this team was primed and ready for a championship run. Parcells would have provided the same accountability commanded by Jon Gruden and would have found the pieces on the offense to put the Bucs over the top. The Bucs would have still had all of their draft picks and would have been in much better shape for their salary cap hell. 2003 the Bucs would have had a chance to repeat but Parcells likely would have quit before 2004 or 2005 downturn hit, leaving the Bucs searching for a coach again in 05. Where would they be today? That's tough to say.

Scenario 3 - What if Marvin Lewis would have come to Tampa Bay?
GM Rich McKay picked Marvin Lewis to replace Tony Dungy, but the Glazers vetoed it, wanting an offensive mind after the years of defensive minded Tony Dungy. They also wanted to keep Monte Kiffin and the defensive staff intact, unlikely under Lewis. Would they have won the Super Bowl? Unlikely, while Lewis' teams were definitely effective offensively, there was no Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson or TJ Houshmandzadeh on the Buccaneers. The Bucs would have had their extra picks and likely would have been set up better for cap hell, but the team would still be defensive minded. Its hard to say if Lewis could have gotten it done, his Bengals made the playoffs only once and lost in that game. Lewis likely wouldn't have survived the cap years.

Scenario 4 - What if Lane Kiffin was never been head coach of the Raiders?
Lane likely would have gotten a job in college elsewhere and wouldn't have needed the security blanket of his dad to get the gig. Monte Kiffin would still be defensive coordinator of the Buccaneers, Tampa Bay would have managed to win at least two of their last four games and made the playoffs as a wildcard. Would they have gotten far? Unlikely.

As Shelton said at the end of the article - Dungy would have still brought a consistent winning product to Tampa Bay, as he's done with Indianapolis. The Bucs record wise wouldn't have been much better, but they still would have been competitive and in better position to weather the cap hell years. Likely, except under Parcells scenario, the Buccaneers wouldn't have had a Lombardi trophy to call their own.

Would you trade those memories and the Lombardi trophy for better treatment of the players, more draft picks, and more consistency in winning?

Personally, I would not. That doesn't mean I support Gruden's continued employment with the Buccaneers, but I would never trade that trophy for anything. And who knows? John Fox and Jeff Fisher weathered mediocre seasons and were on the hot seat coming into this season and they're contending for the Super Bowl. Bill Cowher had subpar years in Pittsburgh before the Steelers won it and made him the hottest coaching commodity today. You never know, Buc fans.

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