By Fred Goodall ~ The Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tony Dungy was fired Monday night as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, clearing the way for the team possibly to hire Bill Parcells.
Dungy was the most successful coach in club history, compiling a 54-42 record in six seasons and leading the Bucs to the playoffs in four of the past five years.
There was no immediate word on a successor, but the Bucs are believed to be close to agreeing to terms with Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.
The late-night announcement came just hours after a team spokesman said Dungy's status wouldn't be determined until the coach met 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 in a brief statement. "This has been a most difficult decision. Tony has done great things for our football team and our community."
There has been speculation that McKay's job also could be in jeopardy if Parcells replaces Dungy, however there was no indication Monday night whether the general manager will return.
Dungy took over a struggling team that had not had a winning season in 13 years and transformed the Bucs into a Super Bowl contender in just three seasons.
He led the team to the NFC Championship game two years ago, but was under fire for most of his tenure because of an anemic offense that ultimately cost him his job.
The Bucs went 9-7 this season, overcoming a slow start to earn the final NFC wild-card spot. But a second straight loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs sealed his fate.
Dungy's agent, Ray Anderson, did not return telephone messages. He had sought a quick decision from the Glazers so Dungy could be considered for other head coaching vacancies.
The Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers both have openings.
"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 Glazers have remained silent about their pursuit of Parcells, who won Super Bowl titles with the Giants in 1986 and 1990, took New England to the Super Bowl in 1996 and the New York Jets to the AFC Championship game in 1998.
Whoever replaces Dungy will inherit a team in much better shape than the one the former coach took over in 1996.
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 has a .563 regular-season winning percentage, has 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, in addition to 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."