Tony Dungy is coming back for one more season. He wants to defend the Colts' title, and go out on top John Elway-style. I say go out because I think that after the 2007 season, Dungy will retire. Family and a commitment to his preacher work will fill his time. Right now, he's a Hall of Fame coach, one of the best of his generation. He's won 114 games (65% win percentage), 9 playoff games, Coach of the Year in 1997, six division titles, an AFC Championship, and the Super Bowl. Regardless of what happens in 2007, he will walk away on top of his profession. This means the Colts will most likely open their new Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008, with its retractable roof, with a new head coach running the show in Indy.
The question is who?
Conventional wisdom is Jim Caldwell will get promoted from Assistant Head Coach to Head Coach. Caldwell is a Dungy protégé (obviously). He is Manning's position coach, and has guided Manning to two league MVPs, 7 playoff wins, a Super bowl MVP, and a Super Bowl win. Caldwell will most likely retain most of the same staff, unless someone like Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore retires with Dungy after 2007. Just to make something clear, as a Colts fan I'm very happy Jim Caldwell did not get the HC jobs at Dallas or San Diego. My comments about racial diversity in the HC ranks in the NFL were more from a general fan's perspective, a perspective not shared by many fans who are so blindly loyal to their team and owner that they fail to see the big picture. Oh well.
Another possible Dungy replacement is Ron Rivera, the Defensive Coordinator for the Bears this past season. Rivera interviewed for just about every HC opening this off-season and lost out to losers like Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, and Cam Cameron. After all his interviewing, the Bears opted not to bring him back as their DC, and promoted Bob Babich to DC. Rivera is now the LBers coach at San Diego, where he was considered a HC candidate. He went from a HC candidate to a linebackers coach. How pathetic is San Diego?
It was a mistake for Chicago to let Rivera go, and they will reap the consequences. All Rivera did was take an injury-riddled defense and use it to carry a team with an inconsistent offense all the way to the Super Bowl. Some fans bash him for losing the Super Bowl. Funny. I didn't see the Bears defense throw two horrible INTs and fumble away just about every snap under center. And it's not like they lost to the Jets or anything. They lost to arguably one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, led by one of the greatest QBs ever. So, I still consider Rivera a strong candidate, stronger than the highly over-rated Rex Ryan, whose name recognition (he's Buddy Ryan's son; I guess over-rated coaching runs in the family) gets him air time on ESPN.
The other candidate is Lovie Smith himself. I do not particulary think Lovie likes it in Chicago. Why no big contract extension for Lovie? Jerry Angelo should have Smith locked up for a long time. Instead, he's low balling the best coach to grace Chicago's sidelines since George Hallas. Yes, I said it. Mike Dikta was not a good coach. In fact, he sucked. He had an amazing team in 1985. A blind monkey with Tourette's could have coached that team to a Super Bowl win. Lovie coaches circles around Dikta at a time when coaching is more important, as young players need to play because of injuries and the salary cap.
Regardless of what happens, the foundation for this franchise is set. Like New England, the systems in place in Indy are winning systems. They have a strong program, teaching young players and young coaches how to win in the NFL in a positive environment that attracts positive and talented people. So, even if someone like Dungy leaves, the system can go on and the team can still win. Synergy they call it. It's the reason why New England could lose Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri, Deon Branch, and Ty Law and still win. Are they championship caliber? No, the Colts have surpassed them. But they are still winning their division and winning playoff games. Why? Their system is great and they have a solid foundation.
They are the model, and the Colts are following it better than anyone else in the NFL.