At this level of quicksand, the Bucs could use stability. They could use steadfast. In some ways, they could use the right kind of stubborn.
And so I offered the head coaching job to Tony Dungy. Again.
And he said no. Again.
This is a shame, because the Bucs could do with a little bit of Dungy right about now. Forget that the job is not actually open yet, or that I am not technically empowered to hire anyone, or that Dungy's last stay didn't end well. Details, details.
The point is, the Bucs could use Dungy's calm. This team could use his attention to detail, his professorial demeanor, his ability to help good players grow into great ones. It seems the Bucs have broken out with a fresh case of 1995, and once again, they could use Dungy to provide the direction out.
More than any coach the Bucs have had, Dungy seems like a fit with the current state of the Bucs. Yes, the hottest rumor is that Jon Gruden may leave the booth to coach the Rams, which seems certain to rekindle the old Dungy vs. Gruden debates. But Dungy is a grower, and Gruden is a finisher. Given the youth of the Bucs, Dungy seems the better choice. You can always call Gruden back in six years.
Dungy laughs softly at the job offer. He still has a home in Tampa, and he still has friends here. Hey, Bud Grant coached Minnesota twice. Marion Campbell had two tours with the Falcons. In the movies, sequels happen all of the time.
On the other hand, no. Dungy won't even open the door a little bit.
"I'm not coaching," said Dungy, 56. "I'm not looking at coaching. I'm not thinking about coaching. I had a great job in Indianapolis, but I wanted to be home more. That hasn't changed. It's not going to change."
Over the last three seasons, Dungy has said that often. When a coach walks away after reaching the playoffs 11 times in 13 years, owners tend to hang onto his phone number.
"You hear about just about every job that comes open," Dungy said. "Usually, it's from someone who is not officially with the organization. Sometimes it's a head hunting firm that wants to gauge your interest. I've never been interested. I've had people say, 'You write the check out' or 'You write the terms out.' It doesn't have any draw to me.
"I miss the players. There are times I miss the excitement of winning. But it doesn't really hit me. I kind of left at the right time."
Other coaches leave one sideline and burn to get to another. For them, a studio job is but a long halftime until they can put their imprint on another team.
On the other hand, Dungy is having a ball. He loves his job at NBC as an analyst more than he imagined he would. He has been able to see his son Eric play at Oregon, and he's about to go to the Rose Bowl. He still has young children at home. He continues to work with his various charities. Go back into coaching, and there is a price to be paid.
"If I were an owner, I would be leery of guys like me," Dungy said. "You have to be totally in. I don't think I could be totally in. I think it's a young man's game. The football is the same, but the people part is completely different."
Okay, Tony. So what if I offer you the general manager's job instead? Interested?
"I don't see myself in that," he said, laughing again. "I don't think that's my strength. I coached and put teams together. I think I know how to win and make players better. But I was never one like (Bill) Parcells or (Mike) Holmgren who wanted to run the front office and worry about the salary cap and long-term planning."
He has been gone for 10 years, and Dungy points out that his fingerprints are no longer on the Bucs. Still, he watches, and he hears his friends talk, and he still knows some of the players.
"I think they hit the same thing we hit," Dungy said. "We made the playoffs in '97, and in '98 we weren't ready for the next step. They do have a lot of young players. It's tougher when you don't have the experienced guys.
"I don't know what the next step is. You can't react to fans. You have to say, 'What's the best way for our team to improve? Can we get someone better?' It's easy to fire people, but is that going to make it better? And who do you hire?"
In the meantime, Dungy says he feels for what Raheem Morris is going through. No one understands a coach's frustration like a former coach.
"I can't imagine it," Dungy said. "In my first year, we lost our first five games, and it felt like three years. I don't know what eight, nine, 10 feels like. As a former coach, you always want coaches to do well. You know what it's like to lose a job. You always believe that, with time, you can make the right decisions."
Still, there has never been a fired coach who didn't think he deserved more time. Despite the losing streak, despite the constant blowouts, despite the lack of improvement, Morris wants to come back, too. "No explanations, no excuses" has turned into "Well, we were good last year."
"Stats are for losers" has turned into "The players are young."
But what if Morris doesn't return? What would Dungy's advice be to the Glazers?
"They're not going to ask my advice," Dungy said. "But all different types of guys can work. I would say you need someone who is committed to doing it their way and not worrying about it. A lot of fans have a lot of thoughts. You have to be able to block out all the outside noise and stick with the plan.
"It has to be someone who can develop young players and teach them to focus. They have some good young players. We had some assistant coaches — Herm (Edwards) and Monte (Kiffin) and Chris Foerster and Mike Shula — who were committed to working with young players. They never came out and said they needed a veteran guy. Some coaches are like that. Look at (Green Bay's) Mike McCarthy. Look at (San Francisco's) Jim Harbaugh."
Once, Dungy was like that. When he came to Tampa Bay, Derrick Brooks was playing on the wrong side of the defense, covering the tight end. Warren Sapp was coming out on third downs because the coaches didn't think he could rush the passer. John Lynch was a nickel linebacker. The team had no idea how to win.
It has been 10 years now since Dungy left. Still, he should be the standard for the Glazers. This time, when they reach out for a coach, they should look for someone with Dungy's strength, with his standards, with his consistency. They should find someone who can teach a player, who can help him grow.
Most of all, they should find someone who still sounds like a good idea all these years later.