When Tony Dungy took the reins in 1996, he was faced with a mess of a team. One with little talent on offense, a lack of discipline and an inability to win more than a handful of games per year stretching back all the way to 1983. Midway through the 1996 season, it felt like one of those years: a 1-8 record didn't speak to Dungy's great abilities as a head coach. A few blowout losses, especially early in the season, hurt.
And then things changed. There had been steady progress throughout the season, and the Bucs would go on to win five of the last seven games of the season. The Bucs wouldn't notch a losing season until seven years later, one year after they won a Super Bowl. Parallels to Greg Schiano's reign are easy to draw: a team that has talent but struggles, especially on offense, to produce. A team that has not had much success in recent years, and a team that started out with eight straight losses this season before winning four of the last five games.
There also some rather significant differences. For one, this is not Greg Schiano's first year, but his second season in charge. Growing pains are excusable in year one, but when they pop over the entire first half of a coach's second season, things are different. Especially so when you look at the talent on this Tampa Bay team, and then gaze at those blowout losses in the middle of the season.
Schiano turned out to be the coach the Buccaneers thought they were getting when they hired him, quieting his critics and proving his team had not quit on him. Over the past five weeks, the Buccaneers have gone 4-1. Had Tampa Bay not committed a silly penalty in the opening-game loss to the Jets, or made one more play the next week against the Saints, this team could be in the thick of the playoff hunt. Tampa has turned it around.
He is who we thought he was? After four wins in five games against three bad teams and one mediocre team? Wins in which we are still observing many of the same problems that plagued the Bucs before (coverage breakdowns, a heavy reliance on ineffective quick stunts, an offense hampered by a simplistic scheme)? A streak in which they were also blown out once? There's been improvement, but this isn't the kind of streak where you go "wow what a great coach". Not when he's 4-9 with this talent.
There's also another simple fact: three losses in the last three games of this season, and all of those good feelings go out the window. Two blowout losses and one win and things still look rather bleak.
Are we witnessing a Tony Dungy-style turnaround? It's possible, but while there's been real improvement, this feels more like a short-term blip than a real, fundamental turnaround for this franchise.