TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Tony Dungy transformed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the laughingstock of the NFL into championship contenders, creating lofty expectations that Bill Parcells might get a chance to fulfill.
Dungy was fired by the Bucs on Monday night, and the team is believed to be close to agreeing to terms with Parcells to succeed the winningest coach in franchise history.
The Bucs went 54-42 and made the playoffs four times under Dungy, who led them to the 1999 NFC championship game before gradually losing a grip on his job the past two seasons.
``It's a disappointment,'' Pro Bowl safety John Lynch said.
``You look upon it in terms of what he meant to our organization and to me, and that's a great deal. As a coach he has brought a tremendous amount of respect to the franchise. More importantly is the contribution he made to a number of players by making them better men. There are few people I admire more than coach Dungy.''
The announcement that Dungy wouldn't return for the final year of his contract came hours after a team spokesman said a decision on the coaches future wouldn't be made until after a meeting Tuesday with general manager Rich McKay and the sons of owner Malcolm Glazer.
``It has been a privilege to work with not only Tony Dungy the coach, but Tony Dungy the man,'' Glazer said. ``This has been a most difficult decision. Tony has done great things for our football team and our community.''
Dungy was not available for comment. He scheduled a news conference for Tuesday at the team's training facility.
The coach's agent, Ray Anderson, pushed for a quick decision from the Glazer family in order to give Dungy a chance to pursue other vacancies in the NFL.
Indianapolis, Carolina and San Diego also are in the market for coaches.
There has been speculation that McKay's job also could be in jeopardy if Parcells replaces Dungy, but there was no indication Monday night whether the general manager will return.
Dungy sought a contract extension before this season, but was rejected by the Glazers _ a move that some of Tampa Bay's fiercely loyal players felt was insulting.
The coach ultimately lost his job because an anemic offense prevented the Bucs from getting beyond the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
The Bucs have had three offensive coordinators and three starting quarterbacks the past three seasons. They never finished better than 21st in offense under Dungy, whose defenses routinely ranked among the best in the NFL.
The Bucs went 9-7 this season, overcoming a slow start to earn the final NFC wild-card spot. But losing to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year sealed his fate.
The Eagles eliminated Tampa Bay 21-3 a year ago and 31-9 last Saturday _ the third straight playoff game the Bucs have gone without scoring a touchdown.
The Glazers have remained silent about their pursuit of Parcells, who won Super Bowl titles with the Giants during the 1986 and 1990 seasons, took New England to the Super Bowl in 1996 and the New York Jets to the AFC championship game in 1998.
Since last week, Parcells has consistently denied that he was close to a deal to coach the Bucs.
Whoever replaces Dungy will inherit a team in much better shape than the one the former coach took over six years ago.
Before Dungy's arrival, the Bucs posted a .307 winning percentage (94-213-1), won 10 games in a season once and made three playoff appearances in 20 seasons.
Dungy had a .563 regular-season winning percentage, won 10 or more games three times and guided Tampa Bay to its first NFC Central title in 18 years in 1999.
The Bucs had 18 Pro Bowl appearances before Dungy, an average of less than one per season. In the past six years, the team has sent 35 players to the Pro Bowl, besides having an average of two players per season voted first-team All-Pro.
Cornerback Ronde Barber was an All-Pro selection for the first time this season.
``He gave me an opportunity in the league and it's something I hold dear to my heart. I'm at a loss for words,'' Barber said.
``He should be remembered for how he pulled this franchise from the ashes. He made it into something, and made a bunch of players into special players.''