ESPN.com is doing a series on the “Greatest Coaches in NFL History” as part of a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi’s birthday.
A group of their best NFL people (one of whom, deservedly, is Bill Polian) comprises the voting panel, and checking in as the 20th-Greatest in their opinion is Tony Dungy.
First off, I am glad Tony is honored. Secondly, I wish he were rated higher. That is my brain and heart speaking.
Tony was my seventh head coach as a Colts publicist. The wonder of that number – seven – was in evidence every day around him.
Tony is one of the few people whose reality far exceeds the image. He does it daily, honestly and easily.
The quote Bum Phillips once made about Earl Campbell holds true for Tony, “I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in, it don’t take long to call the roll.”
Passed over multiple times in head coaching interviews, Dungy joined Tampa Bay in 1996 and led the Buccaneers to the playoffs four times, once to the NFC Championship game.
He was dismissed in 2001 after consecutive first-round playoff losses, and Jim Irsay hired Tony to be our head coach quickly after that.
Tony’s power and grace could be felt immediately as he entered the building. The smart suit and gold cross on the label were indicators of the man.
His first team address came in normal conversational tone, and he let the players know he never would speak at any higher volume. He never did.
Once when a fracas erupted on the practice field, Tony told players that while he could not prevent fighting in that venue that he did control who played in games. There were no more incidents.
Tony could convey more with less than anyone I’ve seen, and his ability to draw things from within was a special gift.
On more than one occasion, opposing players expressed their regard for him as a coach and person (NFL Films once captured Randy Moss, then with New England, doing so in a very genuine way).
People outside the club asked what it was like working with Tony, and the typical response was, “It’s better than can be explained, and we get to be around him every day.”
Football is a sport of numbers and people, but numbers at the time of his retirement revealed only a bit of his greatness:
- Overall record of 148-79 with a 65.2 winning percentage.
- 148 victories ranked 19th-best in NFL history.
- Had 66.8 regular-season winning percentage (139-69).
- Was 85-27 in regular season with Colts, 92-33 counting playoffs (the winningest Colts head coach).
- One of six head coaches to win 100+ regular-season games in first 10 years of career.
- Directed 11-of-13 teams into the playoffs, reaching three conference title games and one Super Bowl (Super Bowl XLI, where he became the first African-American winner).
- Only Colts head coach with 10+ wins and playoff appearances in each of first seven years.
- Had 10 career double-digit victory seasons and was first coach to defeat all 32 NFL teams.
- Earned 10 consecutive playoff appearances (1999-2001, Tampa Bay; 2002-08, Colts) to surpass Tom Landry (9) for the most by an NFL coach since 1970.
- Earned seven straight 10+-victory seasons (2002-08), tying then the second-longest NFL streak.
- From 2003-08, earned six straight seasons with 11-plus wins, tying the NFL mark, while setting the league standard for the most consecutive seasons with 12-plus victories.
- Only NFL coach to win at least seven consecutive games in five straight seasons (2004-08).
- Won five straight AFC South titles (2003-07).
After a particularly galling 27-point loss at Jacksonville in 2006 where the team allowed 375 rushing yards, Tony stood firmly (even proactively going on network television) to convey we had the players and scheme to win.
Seven games later, the Colts were World Champions and he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Without Tony’s leadership, it would not have happened.
From the Chuck Noll influence (with perhaps more than a bit of Tom Moore), Dungy left a great coaching tree, two of whom on it having Colts connections – Jim Caldwell and Leslie Frazier.
There were so many private moments I had with Tony in seven (there’s that number again) years that will last a lifetime.
Maybe my favorite came after the 2007 season when we had a playoff loss at San Diego and there were rumors he would retire to go about his life’s work.
It was back in Indianapolis and he was heading out of the building to return home to meet with his family. In passing as he was about to reach the door, I stopped Tony to convey what I could in words about what he meant to me in case the next time I saw him would be in a non-working capacity.
He offered thanks and a hug. Then, conveying a message without a word – a wink. I knew he was coming back. We smiled and I told no one the secret.
The way Tony molded players and affected lives is something that spans far beyond any numbers he achieved. It is a gift that keeps on giving, for me and I bet many others.
I will make sure to see the coaches the ESPN panel picks ahead of Tony. I guarantee there will be no finer man. It won’t even be close.
As Ron Meyer would say, “Call off the dogs and (put) out the fire, that hunt is over.”
Tags: Bill Polian, Bum Phillips, Chuck Noll, Earl Campbell, indianapolis colts, Jim Caldwell, Jim Irsay, Leslie Frazier, Tom Landry, Tom Moore, Tony Dungy, Vince Lombardi
Posted in Colts Blog
This time a year ago, Bruce Arians had no idea what 2013 would hold for him.
Today, he strolled into Lucas Oil Stadium, a stadium he inhabited in 2012, wearing a Cardinal red hat in the style made famous by Payne Stewart.
He strolled in as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, a post the 30-year coaching veteran would never gained had it not been for the work he did in Indianapolis last year.
“A career (laughs),” said Arians about what he got out of last year serving as an interim for Chuck Pagano. “Nothing will ever take away the memories from last year. Just everything that went on (was fun).
“The relationships with a great group of players were special. The rookie class was special. The whole thing that happened with Chuck Pagano and being the interim coach led to this opportunity. Basically this time last year, I was retired.”
Arians took over for Pagano after three games, earning a 9-3 record while Pagano battled leukemia. The unique story spawned off-shoot honors as Arians won some coach-of-the-year awards.
During his run last year, Arians said he never had felt more wanted than he did in being with the Colts last year. He said that feeling never will subside.
“There’s no doubt (that feeling will remain). It was meant to be,” said Arians of serving in Indianapolis last year. “Everything happens for a reason. It was meant for Kris and me to be in Indianapolis last year. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, it was so special.”
Arians says life has not slowed down, estimating he’s been in Phoenix for only about 10 days with all his football-related travels.
The Colts will visit Arizona next season, meaning Arians’ old team will visit his new one.
“It will be fun,” said Arians. “Going back (to play a former team), it’s happened a couple of times through the years for me. There won’t be any losers that day.”
Arians took Harold Goodwin with him to Arizona. Goodwin had been the Colts’ offensive line coach last year. Arians added Tom Moore, too.
“Tom is going to help me run the offense. I’m going to call plays,” said Arians. “He’s going to help Harold Goodwin coordinate it and basically be my right-hand man. He’ll be a guy I can lean on. As I get torn back and forth between being offense and head coach, I know I have guys in there who have done it.”
Tags: bruce arians, harold goodwin, indianapolis colts, Payne Stewart, Tom Moore
Posted in Colts Blog