All the Small Things

Fans love to hate their head coach.  Even Bill Belichick and his three Super Bowl rings only rates a 69% on ESPN’s Coach Approval ratings.  A generation of Madden playing second guessers has spawned blogs and message boards (a scourge!  a scourge upon our land I say!) that rake 31 of the 32 coaches over the coals every year.  Most people fail to realize all of things a head coach has to do to be successful in the NFL.  As the Colts celebrate their 7th consecutive double digit win season (and hopefully a playoff berth to go with it), it’s time to appreciate Tony Dungy for all his does for his club.  We all know that a head coach has to make tough in game calls and keep his team motivated, but there is a lot more to it than that.  The NFL is littered with guys who are marvelous coordinators and horrible head coaches (see entry under Turner, Norv).  Here is a short list of the ‘little things’ that fans forget:

1.  A head coach is one of the two or three ‘Faces of the franchise’.   The head coach has to immediately leave the locker room and face a press firing line in which he is expected to respond rationally to hastily slapped together questions designed to either humiliate him or trap him into saying something that could be misconstrued as an insult to the other team.  Listen to Tony Dungy’s postgame press conferences and his Monday conference.  He’s a brilliant man.  He never overreacts.  He answers all the questions asked of him with grace.  His demeanor keeps heat off the players and diffuses distracting stories.  Tony’s class has made it difficult for the media to say negative things about his team.  Most press people seem to genuinely dislike Bill Polian for being condescending (he’s not stuck up…he’s just a hell of a lot smarter than you), but they have a hard time saying bad things about the Colts because of Dungy.

2.  A head coach is a teacher.  The Colts are on their 5th, 6th and 7th string DTs.  At one point they had were starting 3 replacements in the secondary.  Indy has one of the youngest teams in the NFL.  Yet they keep winning.  Tony Dungy has an educator’s soul and spends hours working with his players on techniques and philosophies to be successful.  He coaches the scout team in walk-throughs.  He mentors and tutors young players on how to play.  Dungy’s ability to develop talent combined with Polian’s ability to find talent has allowed the Colts to remain competitive year after year, even as the salaries of their key players escalate. 

3.  A head coach is a planner.  Not in the game to game sense, but on a larger scale.  He has to have an idea of where his team is and where they have to go in order to chart a course to the playoffs.  He can’t get rattled by early losses or get too high after September wins.  If you listen to Dungy, all he talks about is the importance of getting better every week. It’s not that wins and losses are unimportant, but he sees the bigger picture.  With Dungy at the helm, the Colts showed no hangover from losing the heart-breaker to Pittsburgh in the playoffs, nor did they show any hangover from winning the Super Bowl.  The future is always in mind, not the past.

4.  A head coach is a shepherd.  Players, left to themselves, will tend to go in whatever direction most suits them.  This isn’t a criticism, but a fact of life in a business where careers are short.  It’s difficult to get 50-60 men, each with an agenda, life history, personality, and daily drama, to all pull in the same direction.  Year in and year out, you never hear of the Colts having splits between offense and defense or O-line and wideouts.  The Colts are always focused on winning over playing time.  This sounds trite or easy, but one only has to look around the NFL to realize how incredibly rare it is find a team that never airs out these kinds of squabbles.  Could you imagine a player back-talking Dungy in a post-game speech (ala Peterson/Del Rio)?  Part of the credit for Tony’s total authority in locker room rests with Irsay and Polian for sure.  They never question or doubt him.  But there’s a reason for that.  Tony’s never given them cause.  Whether it’s being there for a young undrafted rookie named Gary Brackett who was suffering from tragedy or it’s teaching a young man to keep his commitment to visiting a school, Dungy has shown that he loves and cares for his players on and off the field.  This ‘motivates’ men far more than fiery speeches ever could.

5. A head coach must delegate.  There is too much work for one man to single-handedly run all aspects of an NFL team.  A good head coach has to not only manage the egos and personalities of his players, but of his staff as well.  He’ll assemble a group of talented, creative, leaders with ambitions and plans.  That can be a recipe for disaster.  Dungy has in an egoless way allowed free reign for Tom Moore and Peyton Manning to craft an offense that fits the skill set of the Colts.  Dungy has continually fostered and nurtured young head coaches who have gone on to have success in other places.  Remember when Ron Meeks was under fire for the Colts defense?  It’s been awhile.  Dungy stuck by him, and Meeks’s boys played like champions for four weeks in January 07.  Since then, the Colts defense has been undermanned, but often brilliant.  Now, Meeks gets play for head coaching vacancies, just two years after nearly getting run out of town.  Dungy absorbs the heat for his assistants, and allows them freedom to grow into their job.

6.  A head coach is a collaborator.  In an era where too many coaches try to do everything themselves with lackluster results, Tony Dungy has embraced his partnership with Bill Polian.  He doesn’t try to run things, but works side by side with one of the great architects in NFL history.  A coach can sink his franchise by considering only players he likes without considering the ramifications for the salary cap and draft order (see Shanahan’s folly of drafting Maurice Clarett).  With savvy and humility Dungy has helped to build a team that ranks among the most successful in NFL history.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  The head coach directs the fortunes of the franchise but not just by going for it on fourth down.  The Colts are a model franchise, and much of that can be credited to a model coach.  The next time some idiot blasts Dungy for being too calm, or for a blown challenge or a decision that didn’t work out, just remember that he’s among the finest coaches in the game for the scores of things that don’t show up in obvious ways on Sunday, but instead are reflected in the final standings year after year.

Links:
Congrats to 18, 87, 93 and 98.  All four were very deserving.  I think Saturday would have made it if he had played all season.  Congrats to the bros for starting playing against each other.  What a special day that will be for them.

DVOA is up for this week. Indy keeps climbing, slowly but surely.  Here are the updated odds for Colts opponents in the first round:
Jets: 17.6%
Dolphins: 8.3%
Pats: 4.2%
Broncos: 63.2%
Chargers: 4.1%
(Miss playoffs): 2.6%

This is the link from Tim in the comments.  Yahoo summarizes all the challenges Dungy has had this season.

Ian O’Connor of Fox Sports says the Colts would be 4 – 10 without the great one

Demond Sanders:  I caught Mike Florio of PFT on XL 950 this afternoon expounding upon the MVP race.  He is sticking by his prediction of a narrow Manning or Peterson victory.  He thinks the race could end in a two or even three-way tie ala 2003.  Florio said that as many as 6 different players might receive votes.  He also joked that Brett Favre will receive more votes than anyone expects. 

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