Deconstructing Dungy

I’m going to take the release of Coach Dungy’s book as an opportunity to reflect a bit about his coaching legacy. From all accounts, his book is a meditation on his faith and character, and he certainly does not need any defense on that front from a couple of Internet yahoos. If you are interested to read Bob Kravitz positive, though at times slightly insensitive ‘review’ check it out here:

Again, I think that Kravitz has no business asking questions about how the Dungy family handled their son’s death. Those kind of gentle accusations are biting, painful, and not the kind of thing that he has the right to call for answers for. He also mischaracterized Dungy’s support of a gay marriage ban. But that is a topic we addressed here in an earlier post, and I don’t wish to revisit such red herrings here and now.

As I said, Dungy the man has prepared himself to be judged by only One, and I think he cares little what you and I opine when it comes to his life and character. He’s written a book to encourage and inspire others; I for one am anxious to read it and gain strength from his insights.

Dungy the coach is, however, fair game. He has long been considered an elite coach with few knocks on him. He has been criticized at times for being too conservative, but I hardly think that applies to his tenure in Indy. He was ripped for not winning ‘the big one’, which I think is always a baseless and ignorant charge that forgets just how hard it is to win even one Super Bowl. Consider some of the most high profile coaches in the NFL today. Holmgren? Won once. Reid? Zero. Billick? Once. In fact, of active coaches in the NFL, only Belichick and Shanahan have more than one Super Bowl. Win one, and you’ve really accomplished something in today’s NFL. I consider Coach Dungy a Hall of Famer, an opinion that I base on the following criteria in order of importance:

1. Head Coaching Record-At a remarkable 114-62, Tony’s winning % sits at a lofty .648. This is 7th best all time. He sits behind names like Madden, Lombardi (as in trophy), Shula and Halas. He did this as a head coach of two of the typically worst franchises in the NFL. In fact, the combined record of Tampa and Indianapolis without Tony is 265 and 314 for a .458 mark. Tony has led the Colts to 5 playoff appearances and 5 seasons of 10 wins or more. Under all other coaches in Indy, the Colts have a total of 5 playoff appearances and 2 seasons of 10 wins or more. He has made the playoffs in 9 of the 11 years he coached. He’s won 5 division championships and taken his team to 3 conference title games. The bottom line is that Tony wins and wins in places other guys can’t. Oh yeah, he won a Super Bowl too. If not for a bad call in the NFC championship game against St. Louis and a Vandershank, he might have won more.

2. Defensive innovation-More than just posting a great record, Tony also proved to be an innovator, helping to tweak the classic cover two to fit his personnel in Tampa. The end result was the much copied Tampa 2 in which the MLB drops deeper over the middle and the front four provide all the pressure, while quick, sure tackling LBs not named Gilbert Gardner hold the gaps. Tony wasn’t just a manager of players, but an innovative game planner who left his mark on the way football is played.

3. A Successful coaching tree-Tony has produced a very solid run of coaches. This speaks to his wider impact on the NFL. The following men are all Dungy protegees: Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli, and Mike Tomlin. Lane Kiffen of the Raiders is also the son of Tony’s defensive coordinator in Tampa, Monte Kiffen.

4. Social implications-This is only fourth on the list. Tony has earned the Hall on the strength of his coaching resume. While the plaques of several men in Cooperstown mention being instrumental in Jackie Robinson’s entrance to MLB, Jackie’s plaque says nothing about him being the first black player. He got in on his own merit as a player. So should Tony as a coach. That being said, if anyone thinks his resume still needs a boost, they should remember that Tony is the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl; his plight and struggles to get hired in the mid-90s called attention to the struggles of African American coaches to receive a fair look; his coaching tree which has always had many black coaches in it, struggled to get started because of exactly that fact.

The NFL HoF selectors notoriously are told to not consider off the field issues or character in the selection process, so the kind of man Tony is doesn’t factor in. The NFL Hall of Fame is for the greats of football, not necessarily the greats of life. I think that’s just fine in Tony’s case. From all I’ve heard about him as a man, he’s not looking for our opinions about his character. He’s the kind of person who lives with the words “The world was not worthy of them” ringing in his ears. I won’t lessen his pursuit of that by lowering it to a footnote in a meaningless argument about the Hall of Fame.

Buy Tony’s book. I think you’ll be glad you did.