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Preseason has plenty of meaning

Bucs coach Tony Dungy says playing well and winning only can help build team confidence.

Conventional wisdom has said the preseason is about working on basics, polishing the details and evaluating those who need to be evaluated.

Winning is not that significant.

Yada, yada, yada.

Entering his fourth season at the Bucs' reins, coach Tony Dungy's message about the preseason is crystal clear play well, win.

As he sat with reporters Thursday, Dungy reached for the NFL's Record and Fact Book for last season to make his point. He patiently rifled through the pages in search of this glaring statistic to prove his point.

In the past decade, 10 teams have gone unbeaten in the preseason. All have gone to the playoffs. Three lost in the conference championship. Two made it to the Super Bowl.

"I think when you're winning (preseason games) it shows that you're playing well and you're sharp," said Dungy, who faces Cleveland in Saturday's preseason opener. "It's not going to correlate into regular-season victories but I think it says something about your mental frame of mind, how you are playing, your confidence level and the fact that you're not necessarily winning but playing well."

Despite a historic understanding that the preseason doesn't count, Dungy and other NFL coaches beg to differ.

"Preseason games are not meaningless," said Jets coach Bill Parcells, whose 1990 Giants were 4-0 in preseason and won Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. "But if you're a competitor. I try to win all the games we play. I happen to believe the more good habits you create on a team, the better you'll be."

Parcells, considered one of the game's coaching gurus, has a 42-15 career record in the preseason. He fell one loss shy of being the first coach to take three teams to the Super Bowl when the Jets lost to Denver in the AFC Championship Game in January.

The Bucs are 46-52 in preseason. In three years, Dungy is 4-9.

"We want to play well, that's something we haven't done really, in any of the preseasons since I have been here," he said. "We've probably had three good games out of 13. We want to change that around. We want to play well, especially being at home, we definitely want to do well."

Playing below average is not something Dungy was used to in his coaching days before coming to the Bucs. As defensive coordinator with the Vikings, Dungy was there when Minnesota went 4-0 in 1992 and made the playoffs. In the past 10 years, Minnesota twice has gone unbeaten in preseason, including 4-0 last year, and Dungy has patterned his training camp regimen after the one put together by Vikings coach Dennis Green.

"The schedule we use is kind of the same one I used when I was with Denny in Minnesota and it's the same one they used when they were 4-0," Dungy said. "We haven't been good with it and they have been very good."

Dungy said he can't explain why the Bucs have not had similar success and has thought about tinkering with the schedule.

But with 83 players in camp, Dungy said wanting to win does not preclude a coaching staff from getting a good look at fringe players.

"You want to go in and have a certain amount of things you want to get down," he said. "It's very important to evaluate your young guys as to who you think can warrant more time in practice and more time in games and who has a chance to go on and make your final 53, because that's what this is all about. You can't lose focus of that."

"You don't want to win at all costs but you want to play well and the way we're going to challenge our guys is, "Okay, if you're playing 15 plays you've got to win those 15 plays and if everybody does this we will win the game.' "

Preseason can make a difference

A look at how teams in the '90s built on an undefeated preseason and made the playoffs:

Yr Team, record Finish

'90 N.Y. Giants (4-0) Won Super Bowl XXV

'92 San Francisco (5-0) Lost NFC Championship Game

'92 Minnesota (4-0) Lost wild-card game

'93 Detroit (4-0) Lost wild-card game

'94 Chicago (4-0) Lost in divisional playoffs

'95 Philadelphia (4-0) Lost divisional playoffs

'97 Pittsburgh (5-0) Lost AFC Championship Game

'97 Green Bay (5-0) Lost Super Bowl XXXII

'98 Minnesota (4-0) Lost NFC Championship Game

'98 Miami (4-0) Lost divisional playoffs

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