Three former Tampa Bay Buccaneers who spent their entire careers in Tampa -- Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles -- share their favorite stories and greatest lessons learned from their former coach, Tony Dungy, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
'God, family, football ... in that order'
For years after games at Raymond James Stadium, longtime Buccaneers fullback Alstott, who was drafted by the team out of Purdue in 1996, would bring his three young children -- Hannah, Lexie and Griffin -- and wife Nichole out onto the field after games.
Win or lose, the girls would turn cartwheels excitedly for their dad, a man whose priorities were shaped by Dungy, whose own young children also had a place at One Buc Place. That’s because his motto and one of the first things he said when addressing his team was, "God, family, football," said Alstott. "In that order."
The team felt like a family too. Yes, Dungy was a coach but he also was a father figure. He didn’t yell and scream or berate to get the most out of his players. He treated them like grown men. He’d pull them into his office to have a conversation, rather than humiliate them in front of teammates.
"Coach Dungy talked to you like a man, treated you like a man and you had to make the decision: Do you want to abide by what he was expressing to you or what he wants you to do, or do you want to continue to do it?" Alstott said. "If you continued to do something that he didn’t want you to do, you weren’t there, bottom line."
Back in 2000, in a game against Kansas City, Alstott fumbled three times. "I’m coming off the field and I made a point not to go next to him because I just didn’t want to look him in the eyes ... because I knew that I’d let him down," Alstott said.
"But he kept on putting me in and he kept on putting me in. Like other coaches across the league would [have said], 'Get him out of there,' and just kill your confidence and kill your demeanor. He believed in me. But I believed in him so much as a father figure, I didn’t want to look him in the eyes and get that look."
Dungy had a unique way of dealing with people, getting them to come together and getting them to believe. The team went from 6-10 in 1996 to 10-6 in 1997, reaching the playoffs in one year, and it wasn’t because of on-the-field play alone -- it was because he got those personalities to jell.
"Coach Dungy was that nucleus," Alstott said. "He was that piece that brought together a lot of great talent but had to mold that talent with character and form it into one ... and that’s called "team."
'We were going to fight for the guy next to us'
Quarles arrived in Tampa in 1997, one year after Alstott, and he felt that chemistry. Dungy and his linebackers coach, Lovie Smith, gave him an opportunity as an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt who had spent two seasons in the CFL. He never left Tampa, playing there for 10 seasons and now working as the team's director of football operations.
"The way we practiced, the way we went about things off the field, the way we fought, the way we worked -- it wasn’t just a bunch of guys who came together -- it was a bunch of brothers who played for each other," Quarles said. "That’s what we took to the field every Sunday, that we were going to fight for the guy next to us."
He added, "When somebody had a breakdown on defense, we didn’t get down on that person. We knew that he had the ability to play or he wouldn’t be here. We knew that he’d get it right the next time when he got out there on the football field. That’s the way we approached the game, and it was all because of Coach Dungy."
Much of that had to do with Dungy’s belief that if players were well-rounded people and winners off the field, the rest would fall into place. He believed the focus couldn't solely be on wins and losses. It couldn’t be all about winning, even in a town that needed it. He told players they had to win in the community first. That struck a chord with Quarles.
When the team used to hold training camp at Pepin Stadium at the University of Tampa, back in 1997, Dungy asked the players for help one day.
"He said, 'Hey guys, today I am going to have a special group come out. It’s going to be family first. It’s going to be Dad’s Day. We’re going to invite the fathers to come out and bring their kids onto the football field and experience a little bit of time with them. I’d appreciate it if you guys came out and hung out with them and threw the football around with them,'" Quarles recalled.
"I took him up on the opportunity. At that time, I didn’t have any kids, I wasn’t married, so I was like, 'Well this will be good. I’d like to go out and experience what it means to play in front of our community.' He said, 'The community supports us so much, and we need to figure out ways and avenues to give back to them.'
"That’s why I started my foundation," said Quarles, who founded the Shelton Quarles IMPACT Foundation to serve at-risk single-parent families. "That’s why a lot of these guys started their foundations. That’s why we give back to the community. Without them, there would be no us."
'You need to move on'
For Pro Football Hall of Famer and Buccaneer Ring of Honor member Derrick Brooks, the single greatest lesson of his professional football career came during a phone call he had with his former coach of seven seasons -- Dungy.
Just one week earlier, Dungy had been let go by the Buccaneers, despite reaching the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and posting a 9-7 record. The 31-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2001 NFC wild-card game was the last straw.
Local TV cameras captured him loading boxes into his pewter Dodge Durango, rain soaking him and his belongings. His critics said he couldn’t get over the hump, his offense was too conservative, he was too loyal to his assistants and he was "too nice."
Dungy would continue his career as coach of the Indianapolis Colts, but Brooks was still heartbroken. In fact, according to Brooks, he was more upset than Dungy.
But Coach had a special message for his star pupil, the one he hand-selected to be his prototypical weakside linebacker in his Tampa 2 defense, and it’s one Brooks said he’ll never forget: "move on."
Brooks said Dungy said something like: "Derrick, you need to move on ... because this team needs you. They’re looking at you. The organization needs you to move on because you guys are right there in terms of a team that could win a Super Bowl. And how you react is going to determine a lot of attitudes."
"He needed to move on so he could give his all to the Indianapolis Colts," Brooks said. "And I needed to move on and welcome the new leadership in so we could continue the path of being a successful football team that wasn’t far away from a Super Bowl."
Brooks admits he was taken aback.
"I left that conversation [thinking], 'I can’t believe this man.' Here I am, I’m pissed off about it ... and all he’s talking to me about is moving on without him, and how important that is!" Brooks said. "That was probably one of the greatest football lessons in a very difficult time that Coach Dungy gave me, and I’m glad that he had the wisdom to do it and I had the wisdom to listen."
That next season, Brooks helped the Buccaneers win Super Bowl XXXVII under Jon Gruden, sealing the game with a 44-yard pick-six off Rich Gannon. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and scored four defensive touchdowns, an NFL record for a linebacker. Brooks was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
Dungy would get his moment to hoist the Lombardi trophy overhead too, in a torrential downpour that was Super Bowl XLI, when Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17. By the time the game was finished, he was soaked. He got a hero’s welcome as players carried him off the field.
Dungy was the sixth head coach to win a Super Bowl as a player (with the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII) and head coach. He retired after the 2008 season. His .668 regular-season winning percentage ranks fourth all time among NFL head coaches.
This weekend, Dungy will have his Canton moment too. Of course his former pupil will be there to welcome him and to see him put on the gold jacket for the first time.
"To be honest with you, the one thing I’m looking forward to most, in regards to Coach Dungy this upcoming weekend -- I can’t wait to hear the message of his speech," Brooks said. "A lot of people will hear the speech, but I want to listen to the message. And I challenge everybody to do that. He will have a message, and I just don’t want to miss it."