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Tony Dungy’s Hall of Fame selection ignites familiar fan debate

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The noise is familiar. It’s still loud.

It’s the old Tony Dungy-Jon Gruden debate.

You know the discussion. Which coach was more responsible for the Bucs winning Super Bowl XXXVII? Dungy, who turned the franchise around earlier? Or Gruden, who gave it a burst of energy in the 2002 season?

The debate was rekindled this week when Dungy reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dungy turned the Bucs around, and he salvaged the careers of Derrick Brooks (who was playing on the wrong side), Warren Sapp (who was overweight and unhappy) and John Lynch (who was a linebacker in the nickel defense). He made the playoffs four times, more than the Bucs have made it since he left.

But even Dungy has said the Super Bowl belongs to Gruden. Gruden got that Bucs’ team over the hump in Philadelphia and, for a year at least, pushed all the right buttons with his team. If you concede that Dungy was the most important coach in the history of this team, you also have to concede that Gruden won its biggest game.

The reasonable conclusion, of course, is that it took both men to get the Bucs to the title: One to grow and one to harvest. If Wyche had followed, say, Sam Wyche, it’s doubtful if he would have had the talent to win a Super Bowl. But with that offensive staff, it’s fair to wonder whether Dungy would have won it all here.

Dungy’s only Super Bowl victory came after he changed jobs to join Indianapolis. He will be presented at the Hall of Fame by Donnie Shell.

The disagreement among Bucs’ fans has lasted for 13 years. Much of the reason is that Dungy has been openly admired in Tampa Bay (and in Indy), and his defense remained pretty much intact as it carried the Bucs to a Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay has not won a playoff game since that Super Bowl victory. In a way, then, the arguing has given Bucs’ fans a reason to pay attention.

Dungy is the third member of those Bucs’ teams to reach the Hall. Brooks and Sapp are the other two.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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