While head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy was one of the most admired coaches in the NFL.
His distinct motivational tactics, which entailed a more spiritual and quiet approach, caught on with his players and earned him respect as one of the best football coaches around.
He won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts, and his 139-69 career record gives Dungy an impressive resume.
Looking further, there is an argument to be made that Dungy does not coach teams to their full potential.
In Tampa Bay, Dungy inherited a moribund franchise and turned it into a winning program. In six seasons, he led the Buccaneers to one division title and four playoff appearances.
That’s an impressive run. However, he never made it to the Super Bowl, including in 1999 when they were the top seed in the NFC.
He was fired in 2001 after going 9-7 and losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.
The following season, Jon Gruden took over for Dungy and led the Bucs to their first-ever Super Bowl. Tampa defeated the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in one of the most decisive Super Bowl victories ever.
Dungy built the team, but Gruden sealed the deal. There is something to be said for Dungy’s ability to transform the mentality of the franchise from cellar-dwellers to playoff regulars. However, it wasn’t until a new coach stepped in before the Bucs salvaged eternal glory.
After leaving Tampa Bay, the Colts did not hesitate to bring Dungy in as their head coach.
All he inherited was one of the greatest offenses in league history. Peyton Manning was just entering his prime, as was Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison. The trio of dominant skill players helped carry Dungy and the Colts to a 34-14 record from 2002-2004.
In both of the latter two years of that time span, the Colts lost in the conference championship game by the New England Patriots. While the Pats were in the midst of a modern-day dynasty, the Colts were middling as the forgotten stepchild in the AFC.
In 2005, Dungy and the Colts enjoyed their best regular season ever, finishing 14-2 and securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Instead, the Steelers handed Indianapolis its most disappointing loss in franchise history, beating the Colts 21-18 in a game that wasn’t even that close.
Following that defeat, the question of whether or not Dungy could win in the playoffs was raised across the country.
He was able to quiet his doubters the following season with a 12-4 season followed by four straight victories and a Super Bowl win over the Chicago Bears.
Dungy became the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl.
Equally as prominent of a storyline was Manning’s first championship. As one of the most prolific passers in league history, Manning’s playoff futility was moving him closer to the Dan Marino category of stat-stuffing quarterbacks who didn’t win titles.
Over the next two seasons, the Colts finished 13-3 and 12-4 respectively, a very respectable mark. The more glaring number was 0-2. That was the Colts’ playoff record during that span, losing their first game in both seasons.
Excluding their 4-0 record in the 2006 playoffs, the Colts were 3-6 in playoff games under Dungy.
Following the 2008-2009 season, Dungy retired and left longtime assistant Jim Caldwell in charge.
In his first season ever as a head coach, Caldwell led the Colts to a 14-0 start and the best record in the NFL.
Caldwell also had the services of Manning, of course, but in fact had less offensive talent to work with than Dungy did.
Marvin Harrison was no longer with the team, leaving Reggie Wayne to be the featured receiver, with players like Austin Collie forming the supporting cast.
Nevertheless, it is still a loaded roster perfectly molded for a Super Bowl run.
The continued success of the Colts at the same level as when Dungy was the coach raises the question of whether or not Dungy really made a huge difference on the team.
Could Jim Caldwell have coached these Colts to five division titles in seven years? Could anyone have coached Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl title?
Tony Dungy is a good football coach; it’s not even up for debate. But is he a great coach?
For the second time in his career, the season after leaving a team they made it to the Super Bowl.
Especially in the case of Indianapolis, it might make you wonder whether or not the number of wins under Dungy was more of a product of sheer talent rather than coaching.
Clearly, the roster is chock full of bona fide championship-caliber players, but only once in seven years did Dungy manage to win a title. Now Caldwell has a chance to win one in his first year on the job.
Dungy has been very open about his desire to stay out of coaching for the time being, and that he enjoys his job as an analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America.
It’s a great gig, for sure. But in order to convince everyone that he should be regarded as one of the all-time coaching greats, he still has work to do.