Nice Guy Is Finished, Alas

There was no way the firing of Tony Dungy wasn’t going to be difficult and sad. Dungy’s a helluva nice guy and the winningest coach in Tampa Bay Buccaneer history.

Those doing the firing are not nearly that nice. And what they’ve won is the right to keep what they’ve inherited. The Glazers once again lived down to their PR-challenged reputations. No one this side of John Walker can turn a media briefing into an awkward interrogation the way the Glazer brothers, Classless and Duplicitous, can. Candor, empathy and public relations savvy continue to elude them like so many Brad Johnson-to-Reidel Anthony TD passes.

It would have been an upset on the order of Luxembourg knocking off Nazi Germany, but couldn’t the Glazers have made a behavioral exception for Dungy? Instead of a terse, written statement at a media-squeezing late hour, followed by a bumbling, disingenuous, next-day press conference, couldn’t they have stood up and just said:

“Thank you all for being here. After much anguish and soul-searching, we have decided not to bring back head coach Tony Dungy for the fifth and final year of his contract. We wish Tony and his family nothing but the best in the future.

“Before explaining why we’re taking this action, this much must be said first. “We as a franchise owe a large debt of gratitude to Tony Dungy. More than anyone else, he was responsible for turning the Bucs around. For making losers into winners. That will never change.

“Moreover, he did it in a way that always exuded class. Would that we all comported ourselves with such dignity. So, we thank him for what he did and how he did it.

“As responsible owners, however, we would be remiss if we didn’t keep raising the bar. It is the nature of competitive sports; it is the nature of the competitive-sports business. Our fans, from what we heard — and we do listen — expected nothing less than continued improvement. That means a championship — not merely settling for no longer being bad. That’s not a standard; that’s a governor on progress. We went, as everyone knows, from bad to good — and then stayed there — and began regressing.

“The prospects for next year, frankly, did not appear any different. Defensively, we’ve been among the best; offensively, among the worst. That glaring shortcoming didn’t change from the 11-6 NFC championship loss to the Rams two years ago and, from our vantage point, wasn’t going to. If we didn’t act now, it would have meant we were settling. We care too much to settle.

“Our fans are owed that much. This community, which has been so supportive of this franchise, is owed that much.

“We obviously wish this day had never dawned. But dawn it did, and we’re not backing off our first obligation. It is not, however tempting, to Coach Dungy, who did, we all certainly acknowledge, a good job. It is to our loyal fans who expected a better job. And so did we. We are not just owners here; we’re also stewards of this franchise.

“Now we look to the future. Sure, we have a short list of possible candidates, and, of course, we didn’t just come up with it. And, of course, Bill Parcells is on it. He’d have to be. In this business — in any business — you always have to think contingencies and ways to improve.

“But let us stress that, however it looked to you, the media, we went as far as we could, maybe farther than we should, to give Tony a fair shake. To prove to us and all the fans that we were headed in a direction that was more than the maintenance of the status quo. Ultimately, we didn’t see it. Realistically, I doubt if many others did either, including all of you here right now.

“We’ll let you know when we have some news, but please don’t expect us to comment on the steady stream of rumors du jour. Believe me, the business of getting better can’t wait.

“Thank you for being here — and we’ll see you soon.”

Mayor’s Noteworthy Address

Note to all in attendance at the recent Mayor’s Beautification Program’s 13th Annual Mayor’s Breakfast: Dick Greco will be a tough act to follow to any podium. Greco’s keynote address, sans notes, was another rhetorical tour de force.

While working in some speech staples, such as CIT benefits, the media’s skewed sense of newsworthiness and the dangers inherent in police work, Greco was nostalgic, funny, provocative, populist and inspirational. This, his next-to-last address to those involved in helping to beautify public areas, parks and streetscapes, was a reminder of how well he still holds an audience.

It was also a reminder that any would-be successor, several of whom were in attendance, should continue to take good notes.

Of Soccer, Sami and Sharpton

No soccer succor: Before there was professional football, hockey or baseball here in the Tampa Bay market, there was soccer. Highly successful too in the early days of the North American Soccer League.

Now it is no more. The demise of the Tampa Bay Mutiny was sad — but inevitable. “No local ownership, no Major League Soccer franchise” is what it came down to in MLSpeak.

But why would local investors have signed on — only to lose money? That’s what annually loomed in an ill-suited facility, a stadium lease that only benefited the Bucs and crowds that stayed away in droves.

The Raymond James Stadium lease gave the Bucs the first $2 million of concession and parking revenues from non-Buc events, a crippling arrangement for the struggling Mutiny. The Bucs, in a scenario only a Glazer could fathom, were unwilling to renegotiate, apparently figuring no Mutiny-related income at all was better than less.

A Mutiny-less Tampa is particularly unfortunate for all those kids and coaches who will now do without MSL clinics and financial support. But that cuts both ways. Obviously, all those coaches, kids and attendant families could have expressed their gratitude by attending more Mutiny games. No sport has greater youth participation than soccer, but it never translated into support at the professional level.

And whatever happened to Oscar Fabiani?

Sami Al-Arrant: No, there’s no campus witchhunt for Muslims, even Al-Arrogant ones, at the University of South Florida. Nor is it open season on free speech and academic freedom. For all those pointy-heads at USF who will defend tenure under any guise, know this: The firing of Professor Sami Al-Arian has, indeed, set a precedent. And it’s this: Those who would hire, hang out with and/or fund-raise for terrorists can expect to be fired.

Sharpton Sighting: USF has landed the Rev. Al Sharpton as featured speaker for the university’s MLK celebration. How incongruous that the celebration of King’s life should warrant an appearance by one of America’s pre-eminent, race-baiting opportunists.

He’s dropped a lot of weight from his Vieques diet and dresses more conservatively, but he’s still the same Al Sharpton who remains unrepentant over the Tawana Brawley travesty.

Visiting a college campus and wrapping himself in the cloak of a legitimate civil rights icon is just an agenda warm-up for Sharpton these days. He fully expects to be a major player in the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries. That means preparing for a plank on reparations for slavery in the Democratic Party’s platform. Among those qualifying for reparations, presumably, is Tawana Brawley.

From Afghan “Primary” to the Atoms Family

Primary predate: With so many senators doing a drive-by lay-of-the-landing in Afghanistan, it’s beginning to look like the first primary of the 2004 presidential race. So where’s Al Gore? Would he have to shave for a better fit with post-Taliban fashion?

Plane speaking: If an airline pilot says he’s uncomfortable with paperwork and the deportment of a man of Middle Eastern descent who’s armed and says he’s with the Secret Service, and you’re about to board that American Airlines’ plane, who do you side with? Thought so.

Born (Suit) Free: The U.S. continues to reign, of course, as the world’s most litigious nation. No one is close. But not even in the U.S. has a court ruled that a person has a right not to be born — and a concomitant right to sue for being brought into this world.

But that’s what a French court ruled in the case of a boy who was born deaf, nearly blind and retarded. His mother said she would have aborted him had doctors correctly diagnosed her German measles when she was pregnant.

But tragedy and heartache do not excuse flawed law and perilous precedent. The French National Assembly has approved a bill overturning that decision. States the bill: “No one can sue for damages for the sole fact of their birth.”

Imagine having to actually codify that concept. Only — to date — in France.

Driven to extremes: How ironic — and unsettling — is it that Charles Bishop, the 15 year old who flew a plane into a Tampa skyscraper, had to get his grandmother to drive him to his flying lesson? And she had done so before, when he was 14.

Bishop was too young to be at the wheel of a car but old enough to be at the controls of a plane. Anyone want to revisit this logic?

Drawing conclusions: Please, no more Defense Department-doctored photos of a westernized Osama bin Laden as he might look on the lam. Is the generic geek look some sort of dead give-away? It makes it too easy for those too easily disposed to dismiss legitimate evidence, such as videos and hard drive information, as the devious work of American infidels. Save it for Comedy Central and Jay Leno’s “Where’s bin Laden been hidin’.”

Flag flap: Not everything that is run up a flagpole is salute-able. Case in point: the flap over the 19-foot bronze sculpture that ostensibly replicates the famous photo of the three New York firefighters raising the flag at the World Trade Center.

A major liberty was taken, it turns out, in moving between mediums, and it has nothing to do with artistic license. It has, however, everything to do with assuring and enshrining political correctness. Not even the trauma, tragedy and sanctity of Sept. 11 is immune from the PC police, because the photo depicts three white firefighters — members of a fire department that is 93 per cent white. It’s a sensitive issue. As a result, two of those firefighters have now morphed into a black and a Hispanic.

If the controversial sculpture hadn’t been based on an actual, historic photo, then no harm, no foul, no problem. In fact, had that been the case, why not show a black, a white and a Hispanic firefighter? It would symbolically honor all those who made the supreme sacrifice.

But there’s this famous photo of three white firefighters. It was these three, actual, New York firefighters who historically hoisted that flag. Not three demographically acceptable figures. What those firefighters did was symbolic; who they were wasn’t.

Atoms Family values: Is this a definition of obscene or what? India, which can’t quite feed itself and leads the world in the number of people who live on traffic islands, has a defense budget of $15.6 billion. Pakistan, smaller but no better off, prioritizes defense to the tune of $2.6 billion annually.

Still Missing the Mark(s)

The NCAA is threatening to penalize member schools for academic deficiencies. Among the proposals: taking away scholarships and withholding eligibility for post-season play. It’s all aimed at improving graduation rates — especially among football and basketball players, especially among blacks.

The proposal is well intentioned, of course, because big time intercollegiate athletics is rife with hypocritical, sham programs where players major in sports eligibility. The devil, however, is in the details, where the calculation of graduation rates is less than precise. For example, how best to factor in transfers and early pro league departures?

Here’s a suggestion. Approach it from the other end. Make athletes meet the same incoming criteria as the student body at large, where high school GPAs and SATs matter more than 40-yd time, bench-press reps, vertical leap, touchdown passes and points-per-game average. Let’s ask “Who’s got grades?” — not “Who’s got game?”

Need remedial help? That’s what high schools and community colleges are for. Need to prep for the NBA and NFL? Try hire ed and go semi-pro — and at least be honest about it.

Some Sovereign Sense

It’s been a long time coming, but out of the atrocity of Sept. 11 has come a reality check of America’s immigration policy. In effect, we need a meaningful one.

As a nation of immigrants, we’ve been reluctant to look beyond Statue of Liberty rhetoric that never envisioned 10 million illegal immigrants in a nation at war with Islamic terrorists. Whether “huddled masses” or “muddled asses,” a “c’mon over” sentiment has been the American way.

By contrast, there’s nothing ennobling about “border security,” but it comes with the sovereign territory. The very words “border security” have all the warmth and fuzziness of a “Bad Dog, Keep Out” sign. It’s just that without it, a lot of “yearnings” will go unrealized and undermined.

The experiences of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all “nations of immigrants,” should be illustrative. They have no qualms about saying, in effect, “It’s our country, and we get to choose who’s invited to stay.”

They have quotas as the U.S. does, but they have criteria that make much more sense. Economic and security issues matter more than family connections. For example, age, education level, prioritized skills and English proficiency are critical factors. Family ties are relevant, of course, but they aren’t in themselves determinative.

Patrick Buchanan raised this issue a few years back, but unfortunately his ham-handed, politically incorrect phrasing overwhelmed his argument. “Who would better assimilate into Alexandria, Va.?” he asked. “A hundred thousand Brits or 100,000 Zulus?”

But then, that requires agreement at some point that assimilation — even at the expense of some diversity and charges of racism — is desirable as part of a national immigration policy.

Alvarez Hits Campaign Ground Stumbling

F. Dennis Alvarez has been orchestrating his mayoral plans since retiring as Hillsborough chief judge last March. By all accounts, he has been nursing the ambition since he was too young to vote. With Dick Greco forced to step down next year, the timing would never be better for the 56-year-old Ybor City native.

Never better, but, alas, not good.

There were those recent courthouse controversies and that Aisenberg surveillance bug. The media rehashed it all and then some. The St. Petersburg Times’ account of his formal announcement came under the grim-and-bear-it headline: “Scandal-scarred former judge launches campaign for mayor.” Barely unstated: “Holy LaBrake, this guy wants to run for mayor?”

Wilson Alvarez has had better press.

Then a week later the former judge, who has worked hard for his hometown over the years, underwent an angioplasty.

That ultimately may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for one with previous heart problems — as well as one too enamored of the limelight for his own good health.

Two Minutes for High-Schticking

Prominent piece in this week’s Sports Illustrated on Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. The Lightning have been embarrassingly bad for so long that it was refreshing to read something other than ridicule from a national publication.

The area, however, didn’t escape unscathed. The SI piece stooped to a demographic stereotype to underscore how bad Lightning goal tending has been since Darren Pupa’s final back spasm. Tampa Bay, noted the SI article, was a place “where lousy goalies have been outnumbered only by early bird dinner specials.”

It’s vintage SI wise ass. But at least update the cheap shots. It wouldn’t even be hyperbolic to say that lousy goalies have been outnumbered by, say, disgraced judges, Muslim fund-raisers or racial-discrimination plaintiffs at USF.

Two minutes for high-schticking.

It’s About Islam — And It’s About Infidels

It’s not about Islam. It’s not about Islam. It’s not about Islam.

Of course it is.

But no one, from the president on down, can admit it — for obvious reasons. A billion obvious reasons.

Any religion that so self-righteously and definitively divides the world into believers and infidels is a problem. A big problem. It makes it all too easy to pervert in the name of doing unto infidels. And that’s us.

Moreover, Islamic societies have shown a nearly uniform inability to adapt well to the modern world. It’s past time to get over the Crusades — as well as the concept of women as chattel.

As a result, such sovereign societies are not among the world’s most successful — either as economies or democracies. Even the ones awash in oil are mired in corruption, feudal mores and skewed, monarchial priorities — and are running scared from Fundamentalists.

It’s a schizoid scenario that breeds internal unrest and resentment of the West’s culture and values — as well as specific jealousy of America’s economic success and military reach. And that’s just our Muslim friends, allies and “coalition” cronies.

Our Muslim enemies really hate us.

We in the West are resented for who we are and who we were — which doesn’t leave much wiggle room. Certainly not for infidels.

You better believe it’s about Islam — and it’s about infidels. It’s also about time we acknowledged as much.

Rudy’s “Other” Legacy

Rudy Giuliani, of course, was the perfect choice for Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” award. Here’s hoping, however, that his post-9/11 leadership and resilience — as well as subsequent political successes — never obscure his most important legacy. He cleaned up the Stygian Stables of Gotham and proved that a big metropolitan colossus wasn’t congenitally dysfunctional — but governable and, even, lovable. On and off Broadway.

With Giuliani out in front, New York meant business. As in investment, commerce, tourism, and safe streets.

Under Giuliani, the city fully implemented the “broken windows” theory of policing, which holds that minor offenses — such as graffiti scrawling, turnstyle-jumping and prostitution — do matter and have a corrosive, ripple effect throughout society. Smut shops were zoned out of Times Square — or out of business. For the last six years, the FBI has ranked New York as the nation’s safest large city.

Were it not for such successes, New Yorkers would have had a pre-Giuliani quality of life to return to after the 9/11 attack. New Yorkers still would have rallied, of course, because they’re tough, but Giuliani made it much easier. New York was on a solvent-and-safe roll and there was no going back — horrific atrocity notwithstanding.

As New York’s point man, Giuliani personified the resolve of the city and by extension, the country. He even made it easy for all Americans to identify and empathize with New Yorkers, no small phenomenon in its own right. And in so doing, he helped bring all Americans together.

Yes, Giuliani had become “America’s Mayor,” but it was two terms in the making. He showed cities across America that the forces of crime, cultural sludge, civic resignation, welfare dependency and urban liberalism need not triumph.

Giuliani proved that it was possible to clean up and govern New York, a task in some ways more daunting than defying terrorists and rebuilding a chunk of South Manhattan.

Rudy Giuliani: After eight years, the right person at the right place for the right Time cover. Hillary Who?