Few people had as big of an impact on the Colts' success during the 2000s than Tony Dungy. Though only the head coach for a short seven seasons, Dungy compiled an 85-27 record (.759), making the playoffs every year and winning five AFC South titles. Dungy also led the Colts to a victory in Super Bowl XLI, in the process becoming the first African American head coach to ever win the Super Bowl.
Dungy was one of the big influences on getting Peyton Manning to limit his interception total, which was a problem early in Peyton's career. Dungy was the calming voice in the 2006 AFC Championship game and that was a big reason for the massive comeback the Colts began to mount. And throughout it all, Dungy was an inspiration and model for the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, and the rest of the country. His demeanor and attitude was endearing enough to Colts fans. His success on the field just made it even better and gave him more of a platform.
Despite all of his success in Indy, however, Dungy's biggest achievement came in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers. When Dungy took over in 1996, the Bucs were one of the worst teams in the league and pretty much always had been. There was a massive losing culture there, and Dungy's team started out 0-5 and then 1-8 in his first season there. But a 5-2 finish showed improvement and hope and by 1997, the Bucs actually mattered in the NFL. His 1999 team made it to the NFC Championship game and held the "Greatest Show on Turf" (St. Louis Rams) to only 11 points. Dungy's defense was dominant, but his offense wasn't and in that game they scored only 6 points. That was a common theme throughout his time in Tampa, and by the end of the 2001 season the Bucs' brass was tired of the lack of playoff success and they fired the man that had turned around their entire franchise. Tampa Bay went on to win the Super Bowl the following year under coach Jon Gruden, but the win was a testament to Dungy's success. Gruden just finished what Dungy had started and was eventually going to if he got the chance.
If he had, however, he never would have come to Indy and the course of the Indianapolis Colts franchise would have been drastically different.
Dungy, the creator of the "Tampa 2" defense, spent seven seasons in Indianapolis before retiring after the 2008 season. Owner Jim Irsay actually had to convince him to return for the '08 year so that Dungy could be the leader of the Colts when they opened their new home, Lucas Oil Stadium. Dungy agreed and ended his time with the Colts with his finest coaching performance. Despite an injury plagued year (even Peyton Manning was recovering from an injury) and a 3-4 start, Dungy held his team together and led the Colts to a 9-game win streak to close the year and earn another playoff spot.
Just a few days ago, ESPN ranked Dungy as the 20th best coach in NFL history, a list that he absolutely deserves to be on. Derrick Brooks, one of Dungy's best players and a team leader in Tampa Bay, said of Dungy (as quoted in the ESPN article):
I kept thinking that this guy was amazing. He was getting fired and he was still wanting the best for the [Bucs]. That's why I was jealous when he went to Indianapolis. I didn't want any other team to have the relationship that we had with him. He was more than a coach by that point. He was a mentor.
It is a great honor for Dungy to be on the list, although I have to admit I am a bit surprised at how low he was ranked. I have a hard time finding 19 coaches better than Dungy. While the entire list hasn't been revealed yet, I think that ESPN actually ranked Tony Dungy too low. This article isn't about that, however, it's about remembering a true winner, both on and off the field. And I'm proud to say that he was the leader of my favorite team for seven remarkable years.