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Thursday, Mar 22, 2018
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Lovie Smith: Trio put Bucs on map

You think back to 1996 at that facility and you didn’t picture the Bucs being where we are right now in terms of the Hall of Fame. After six games that year, it was same old Bucs.

Early on, Tony Dungy showed us a picture of the stands in Tampa and there was nobody there. He said, “Hey guys, look at the metal bleachers. When we get this thing going, and it’s not going to take long, everybody will want a ticket to Buc games.”

That was big talk back then.

I knew Derrick Brooks was special right away. I knew Warren Sapp was special right away. John Lynch worked himself into a position like that.

Our guys said, if you could get us one or two touchdowns on offense, we’re in good shape. We had every reason to be confident — we had a Hall of Famer at all three levels.

Those guys set the profile for the position — this is what we want it to look like. What we started then is everlasting. It has withstood the test of time. The system has been tried and tested. You have to go out and get the players to fit it, but there’s a profile for what we did in Tampa.

John wasn’t listed as a linebacker, but he really was. Like Sapp and Brooks, he never gets credit for his football knowledge. As a whole, the strong safety has more responsibility than anyone else on that defense. The strong safety has to know all the reads of the linebackers, and in our signature coverage, the safety is a half-field player.

It’s also hard to do what John did in Denver, going to a different conference and having just as much success. John Lynch was the same guy from the moment he started playing football to his last snap.

I was just coming into the league as a coach, and to get Derrick early in his career was unbelievable. For him to let me coach him like I was Vince Lombardi and believe everything I said was very special to me. To see how a Hall of Famer prepares was special.

Sapp was the enforcer and Lynch was the enforcer, but when you’re in the middle of the defense, you’re the glue. Derrick connected the front and the secondary.

Of course he was the leader of that defense. No knock on Sapp or Lynch, but everything goes through the linebacker. It’s a linebacker-friendly system, and there has been no better linebacker in space. Derrick was like a defensive back. There’s nothing he couldn’t do.

On his slow day, Derrick ran a 4.5. When they say he didn’t have that many sacks — we didn’t rush him. If we would have rushed him, people would be talking about him as one of the all-time great sackers. I’m convinced he could have been a Pro Bowl strong safety.

What can I say about Tony Dungy? His record alone puts him up there in the Hall. You’re not supposed to add character into it, but Tony Dungy has had, and continues to have, a major impact on the NFL.

He was the first African-American football coach to win the Super Bowl. That’s part of it. It hasn’t been the same since that type of guy came into the league. His knowledge, he gets it. End of the game, two-minute situations, how he sets his schedule up, he gets it.

For a young coach like me coming into the league, listening to Tony talk about fundamentals was critical. He never compromised on his principles. He stayed with it with a steady hand, always. He had a plan, and guys saw that it worked.

Players initially give you an opportunity. If you’re doing things the right way and they enjoy coming to work, they’ll give you a little bit of time.

That’s all Tony asked.

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Lovie Smith: Trio put Bucs on map