PHOENIX — If only the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame could see what Tony Dungy inherited when he took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Wins were rarer than sashimi. The team had suffered through 11 straight double-digit losing seasons (soon to be 12). The training facility was One Buc Disgrace — two practice fields and a cramped, cinder block building just a fair catch from a runway at TIA. Players had to eat lunch at their lockers and lift weights outdoors.
There was talent on the roster, but had Dungy not arrived in 1996, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks might have been busts instead of having one in Canton, Ohio. John Lynch, drafted by the Marlins, could've pitched his football career and gotten back on the mound.
Instead, Dungy took the Bucs to four playoff appearances in six years before he was fired after the 2001 season. He was hired by the Colts, and became the first African-American head coach to hoist the Lombardi Trophy with a win over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Lynch was a cornerstone of a defense that led the Bucs to a Super Bowl XXXVII victory in January 2003, the first year under Jon Gruden. He went to nine Pro Bowls, including four with the Broncos.
For the second straight year, Dungy and Lynch are among the 15 modern-era finalists to be considered for election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Their careers will be debated today by 46 members of the selection committee at Super Bowl XLIX, consisting of writers and broadcasters. Five modern-era candidates will be elected.
The committee will also consider former Vikings center Mick Tinglehoff, the senior candidate, while general managers Ron Wolf and Bill Polian are contributor candidates. All must receive 80 percent of the votes for election.
Though both are worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, frankly, Dungy and Lynch face an uphill battle to receive a gold jacket this year, especially right on the heels of the enshrinements of Sapp and Brooks.
How the debate breaks down:
Why Dungy should be elected this year
Dungy is widely considered the conscience of the NFL. His accomplishments on the field are among the best ever. His .668 regular-season winning percentage (139-69) and .652 overall mark (148-79) rank among the top seven coaches with at least 100 victories.
He was the first coach to beat all 32 teams and is one of three people to win a Super Bowl as a player and later as a head coach. He led the Colts to double-digit wins and playoff appearances in all seven seasons.
Dungy had one losing record in 13 seasons, and that came in his first year at Tampa Bay. He left a future Super Bowl winner in Tampa Bay and helped finalize another with Peyton Manning at quarterback for the Colts.
At the time he was hired, Dungy was only the fourth African-American head coach in the NFL. Six of his assistants became head coaches, and five are African-American — Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell and Leslie Frazier.
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Why Dungy might not be in Class of 2015
Dungy won only one Super Bowl with Manning, arguably the greatest quarterback of the generation. When comparing him to coaches such as Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells, Dungy lacks the hardware. It also won't help that two other NFL head coaches — the Cowboys' Jimmy Johnson and the Chargers' Don Coryell — also are finalists. Voters prefer to elect players.
Why Lynch should be elected this year
"I would say John Lynch set the standard for safety in his era," said Dan Pompei, a Chicago-based NFL writer and voter.
Lynch was one of the hardest hitters in the history of the league. He was as much of an integral part of the Bucs' dominant defense as Sapp and Brooks. He helped the Bucs win a Super Bowl, then made four Pro Bowls with the Broncos, helping them to an AFC title.
Why Lynch might not be in Class of 2015
Only seven full-time safeties are in the Hall of Fame. Ronnie Lott, Rod Woodson and Aeneas Williams split their careers between cornerback and safety.
The last true safety elected was Paul Krause in 1998. He waited more than a decade for enshrinement despite being the league's career leader in interceptions with 81.
Lynch had 26 career interceptions — good but not tops among safeties already in Canton.
Junior Seau, Orlando Pace, Charles Haley, Tim Brown, Will Shields and Jerome Bettis are the favorites to be inducted this year.
Dungy and Lynch's turn might come, but it likely won't be today.