Campfire

       The head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers strides into his office on the first Friday in March, closes the door with authority and immediately makes himself comfortable on a black leather sofa.

       Tony Dungy is filled with purpose. He wants to talk about one of those quiet reasons why the Bucs have become an emerging power in the National Football League. He wants to talk about FCA Camp.

       Dungy has been to every Coaches Camp at Black Mountain, N.C., since 1992. More significantly, since he was hired in 1996, several of the Buccaneers assistant coaches have gone with him. Traditionally coordinated by quarter-backs coach Clyde Christensen, anywhere from six to 10 families will drive up to Black Mountain in a 10-hour caravan to spend their summer vacation together. "It has a lot of benefits," Dungy said.

       The even-keeled head coach never will forget the afternoon when he climbed the mountain with his older son James, who was six years old at the time.

        "We started up after the afternoon program and it took us about three hours altogether, up and back down," Dungy said. "We only saw one other person on the whole trip. It was a time to go up there and talk. We'd get tired and sit down for awhile, then go. James was very determined to get to the top, and it was a neat bonding time for us to do something together. It was unique that we didn't run into any other people.

        "I wasn't going up there for any type of sacrifice, obviously, but it reminded me of Abraham and Isaac. That was something that you don't expect to do when you go to Camp. That was probably the time I'll remember the most."

The Dungy difference

       The Buccaneers began playing in 1976, but that may be debatable. Losing their first 26 games made them a national joke. Although Tampa Bay had some good years shortly after that, the franchise always has had a better chance to host a Super Bowl than to play in one.

       Enter Tony Dungy. His two average seasons (1996 and 1998) have been followed by two playoff seasons in which the Bucs managed to produce two home victories in the postseason. In the NFC Championship Game this past January, they nearly willed their way into the Super Bowl despite dragging a ball and chain known as their offense. The explosive St. Louis Rams scored their only touchdown late in an 11-6 victory.

       The 2001 Super Bowl will be played in Tampa. The Buccaneers obviously have a championship-caliber defense, and their 28th ranked offense only can get more efficient under the teaching of new offensive coordinator Les Steckel, whom they lured away from the Super Bowl runner-up Tennessee Titans. Which brings up an interesting question-why the lateral move?

        "He knows about our staff and what we do," Dungy said. "I think that was attractive to him."

       Steckel always has wanted to work for Dungy. When the offensive coordinator came on board in February, he made it a point to sign up for Black Mountain. "He could have been a head coach again on the college level as well as the NFL," said FCA President Dal Shealy, "but he chose to go with a strong Christian head coach in Tony Dungy because of the respect that he has for him as a person and his willingness to serve in his capacity of expertise."

       The combination of Steckel and newly acquired wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson may be just what the Buccaneers need. If God took an interest in Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, helping him to win both the league MVP and the Super Bowl MVP last season for His glory, it very well could happen for His glory, it very well could happen this season with the Bucs. In fact, when Titans head coach Jeff Fisher lost Steckel to Dungy, he consoled himself by calling it a match made in heaven.

        "We've been in playoff games where people around the country get to see you, and they know that you're a Christian," Dungy said. "There is a responsibility that goes along with that. I pray that our staff and our team would always reflect that."

First things first

       Almost immediately after January 22, 1996, when Dungy was named head coach of the Buccaneers, he wanted to know the dates of the Black Mountain Camp. Both Shealy and Christensen love to tell that story, but the assistant coach can deliver it with more urgency.

        "I don't think I'd be fired for messing up coaching, but I certainly could lose my job over screwing up the summer trip," he said.

       Shealy said Dungy clearly stands for the FCA core values of integrity, serving, teamwork and excellence. That is how he views his character. "I think that's why he's a winner, on and off the field," Shealy said.

       What goes on at Black Mountain, then, is what makes Dungy tick.

        "It gives us a perspective of what things are all about," he said. "We've got stressful jobs. Obviously the games are important and you want to win, but you go into that season with a perspective about what's really important-your family and faith and how you're going to handle things. I think it gets us off to a great start."

       Christensen said that several of his fellow assistant coaches have told him that it has turned out to be their best family vacation. "Your kids are being ministered to and they're meeting good kids," said the 25-year Black Mountain regular. "Your wife is having a blast because she's with other coaches' wives. The atmosphere is extremely low-key. You spend a ton of time with your wife and kids. It's a great family experience, and there are very few of those available to a coach."

       Whether it's scrumptious country cooking at the Red Rocker Inn or the traditional weekending prayer meeting at the chapel with their wives, the Bucs coaches have fun. Praying for the upcoming season is prioritized.

        "Spiritually it's where we get juiced and recharged," Christensen said.

        "We pray to not let the things of the world choke out things God's called us to do.

It can be all-consuming. All of a sudden you look up and all you've done is coach football. I know we (Coach Dungy and most of his staff) don't want this to be just a job. It's more than that."

       Coaching under Dungy means praying for each other, reading through the Bible together and going to Black Mountain as a staff. In a system such as that, with all due respect, the Super Bowl almost can seem shallow.

        "We've seen a couple of guys come to know the Lord, and it's certainly strengthened our marriages and our commitment to family," Christensen said. "It also has been incredibly significant in our children's lives."

One of the guys

       Bill Browning is the head football coach at Hernando High School in Brooksville, Fla. One year at Black Mountain he was waiting to go into the dining room. Glancing back over his shoulder, he noticed Dungy standing near the end of the line.

        "Somebody should go tell him to come up to the front," Browning remarked.

        "Nah," said one of the other coaches. "He's just one of the guys."

       Dungy would have it no other way. He makes it sound as if he benefits just as much from the wisdom of junior high school, high school and college coaches as they benefit from him.

        "You get to talk to coaches and know that what you're going through isn't all that different from what everybody else is going through," Dungy said. "You get to share some things and encourage some other people and draw encouragement from them."

       Due to a scheduling conflict, Dungy will have to miss this year's Coaches Camp. He and his wife, Lauren, are planning to accompany Derrick Brooks, the Bucs' three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, on a youth ministry trip to Africa for the week of June 26-30. The Dungys will be serving as chaperones.

        "It's going to be tough to miss it, but we've made a commitment to Derrick," Dungy said. "Not knowing exactly when it was going to be, he had to work out a lot of details. We'll be back the following year."

       Look for him next June near the back of the Black Mountain chow line, talking about the day's huddle competition or some clinic topic with a high school coach from Georgia. Like a deer on the floor of the forest, the Tony Dungy of Black Mountain tends to blend right in with his surroundings. He never has desired to be a Bill Parcells or a Jimmy Johnson.

        "From what I understand, he doesn't want his picture on billboards around town," Shealy said. "He was given a very expensive car to drive, and he took a lesser car. He's not on that ego trip that so many folks get carried away with when they get an opportunity such as that."

       Christensen is one of Dungy's best friends. He also happens to be his employee. Like a skillful circus performer, Christensen walks this tightrope with great joy. When you figure out how to separate friendship from job performance, as Christensen has, you feel free to comment on both of those relationships as only a close friend and a good employee would.

        "You don't have a guy ranting and raving around the sideline, cussing and yelling," Christensen said. "He's going to be classy. He's going to treat people with respect. He's going to sign autographs. He's going to be gracious. He's going to be humble.

        "All of those things aren't necessarily foregone conclusions in the NFL."

Reprinted by permission, Sharing the Victory.

?