This year has reminded us how important a good team owner in sports can be.
While the NBA has been roiled by the racist comments of the Los Angeles Clippers' Donald Sterling, the NFL now mourns the loss of its third visionary owner this year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Malcolm Glazer died Wednesday at 85, less than three months after the deaths of Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford and Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson.
Unlike Ford and Wilson, who helped build the NFL's foundation as we know it, Glazer bought the Bucs fairly recently – in 1995. Yet his impact on the stability of professional football in his community is similarly profound. And his legacy in the delicate area of race in sports is as important in a positive way as Sterling's is in a negative way. For it was Malcolm Glazer who placed his faith in Tony Dungy.
Not many remember how precarious football in Tampa was before Glazer purchased the team. The Bucs were near bankruptcy in the mid-1990s, and bidders for the franchise after the death of owner Hugh Culverhouse included Peter Angelos, who wanted a team in his beloved Baltimore. George Steinbrenner, whose Yankees are deeply popular in Tampa – the Yankees' spring training facility across the street from where the Bucs play is named for him – was also interested.
Glazer won the Bucs' rights with a $192 million offer, at the time the highest ever for a professional sports team. He kept the team in Tampa. He then went to work on changing a culture that had delivered 12 straight 10-loss seasons, disappointing attendance and the humiliation of losing Bo Jackson to baseball.
A major part of the new owner's solution for the losing was also a solution to a leaguewide problem: Glazer, along with general manager Rich McKay, hired Dungy.
It is no longer rare to see a black head coach in the NFL, but before Dungy won the Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, no African-American had ever accomplished the feat. Although Dungy didn't get the Bucs to their first and only championship in the 2002 season, he built the Bucs into a defensive powerhouse. Glazer's financial backing gave Dungy the support he needed to keep a roster of stars like Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, and the new Raymond James Stadium where the team now plays.
The Bucs had been a laughingstock for the bulk of their existence since expansion in 1976, finishing with the NFL's first winless season along the way, but Tampa Bay has stood largely for great football since Glazer purchased the team and Dungy coached it.
And with the exception of embarrassment from an MRSA outbreak and locker room issues in 2013 under head coach Greg Schiano, the Bucs have stood for professionalism during Glazer's tenure as well. Some of the most respected players in the league, including Ronde Barber and Warrick Dunn, became as popular for their public personas and their community outreach as for their play. That was also part of Glazer's imprint.
"An amazing man," said former Bucs quarterback Shaun King, who was a part of the Bucs' Super Bowl run under Jon Gruden in 2002. "So personable and kind. He used to come up to me after every game when I was the starter and say, 'I'm so proud of you, Shaun.'"
Under Glazer, the Bucs went from laggards to leaders, both on the field and off. Dungy is constantly sought out for his coaching and his counsel, even in retirement, and he is one of the most well-liked figures in sports. His coaching tree is vast and growing, thanks largely to his mentorship in Tampa Bay. Jim Caldwell, Leslie Frazier, Lovie Smith and Herm Edwards were all assistants under Dungy during the Glazer years. And it's fitting that the last head coaching hire made in Glazier's life was Smith, who in turn hired Frazier as an assistant.
Smith has restored the calm, teaching vibe once brought to the Bucs by Dungy. One of Dungy's great legacies was moving the sport away from yelling and screaming and toward education on the field. He made coaching nobler – not an easy task in a win-now league – and he had Glazer's backing from the beginning.
Glazer turned a pro football wasteland into a community of champions. And, more significantly, he helped the community of football coaches look more like the community of football itself.