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The Defense of Dungy

Long one and probably going to be tweaked some more, but here's 4 pages built around the Dungy Bucs vs Gruden Bus I posted earier.

The Defense of Dungy

Only 3 coaches in the 88 year history of the NFL have coached more seasons than Tony Dungy while winning a higher percent of their games. One of those 3 has a team named after him (Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns) another has the most wins in NFL history (Don Shula with 328) the third was the player-coach then owner-coach of the Chicago Bears, George Halas. That is the rare company Colts Coach Tony Dungy sit in, but he’s still a target of critics, even some fans of his own team.  They say he’s too soft on players, he doesn’t vary from the defensive design he created when he became a head coach 13 years ago, he couldn’t build an offense in Tampa or a defense in Indianapolis and that his teams don’t win in the playoffs. These complaints are either baseless or exaggerated. Even the few that have merit are flaws present in all but a couple of the best coaches in the history of the NFL. That is why Dungy is a Hall of Fame worthy coach and one of the all time greats.

Tony Dungy got his head coaching start in Tampa Bay coaching the Buccaneers. His 6-year tenure there was the basis for the flawed claims that he couldn’t build an offense or win a Superbowl. Tony Dungy took over a team that hadn't had a winning record in a decade and had a grand total of 3 playoff appearances in it's 20 year history, with just one playoff win. In the next 6 years with Dungy the Bucs made the playoffs 4 times, had the winningest season in franchise history and became the winningest coach in franchise history (a mark it took Gruden, his replacement an extra 10 games to pass). Even his harshest critics don’t deny Dungy is a very good coach who turned around a pitiful franchise. They take issue with his offense in Tampa and the team’s playoff success. Dungy was fired after the 2001 season where his team went 11-5 and made the playoffs only to lose in the first round. John Gruden replaced him and the Bucs won the Superbowl Gruden’s first year.

A blog commenter, Ayrshire, said this about why the Bucs won a Superbowl under Gruden, but not Dungy,

Dungy clearly was partly responsible, as I mentioned above, for creating a great defense (maybe the best of all time) which could only go so far with no offense. Gruden came in and finished the job by actually adding an offense which was more than run, run pass, punt.

The 2001 Bucs under Tony Dungy finished 15th in the 31 team league in points scored. The next year, the future Superbowl Champion Bucs finished 18th in points scored. The difference is even more pronounced in DVOA (which takes into account the strength of opposing teams and compares each individual play to the league average outcome in that situation). The 2001 Bucs ranked 12th in the league, Gruden's Superbowl Bucs? 21st.

Maybe Gruden needed more time to add an offense (though then adding an offense wouldn't be what won them the Superbowl). The next season, 2003, the Bucs were 17th in offensive DVOA and remained 18th in points scored. 3rd year's the charm right? Nope, the Bucs offense stepped backward to 22nd in DVOA and 23rd in points scored. The Gruden Bucs Offense never topped the offense in Dungy's final year in points scored and didn't finish higher in DVOA until last year.

That was just one year under Dungy, even though Gruden's Bucs didn't top that year (which wasn't even the Dungy Bucs best) in any of the 5 years after Dungy was fired, maybe they average out better.

Year Dungy Points Gruden Points Dungy DVOA Gruden DVOA
1 30th 18th 28th 21st
2 23rd 18th 15th 17th
3 18th 23rd 21st 22nd
4 27th 20th 25th 19th
5 6th 31st 12th 30th
6 15th 18th 12th 9th
Ave. 19.8th 21.1st 19th 19.7th

The Bucs under Dungy had a better offense than the Bucs though Gruden's 6 full years as the head coach. The claim that Gruden brought offensive firepower to Tampa isn’t just untrue, the opposite is correct. Over the 6 full seasons they both coached in Tampa, it was Dungy who had the best offenses.

Now about those playoffs, with the Bucs Dungy's playoff record was 4 appearances, 2-4 with 2 losses in the first round. Gruden's playoff record in 3 appearances stands at 3-2 with 2 losses in the first round. Gruden's Bucs have made the playoffs one less time, won only one more game there and failed in the first round the same number of times. Without the all time great defenses that Dungy had built Gruden is 0-2 in the playoffs.

 Also key to Gruden’s Superbowl victory was their opponent. Gruden’s Bucs faced the Oakland Raiders who had been coached the year before by Jon Gruden. The Raiders continued to run many of the exact same plays they had run under Gruden and used the same audibles (calls by the quarterback to change plays at the last second) that Gruden had installed. Gruden spent the two weeks before the Superbowl teaching his defense to defend the exact plays they would face and exactly what the offense would be on each audible.  With this knowledge the Bucs D (already one of the best the league had ever seen) dominated the Raiders, intercepting 5 passes returning them for 3 touchdowns. Gruden’s Bucs won the Superbowl not because they got a better coach, but because they got a coach who happened to know every in and out of their opponent’s offense.

After being fired by the Bucs Dungy took over as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had a top offense in place with young All-Pros at QB, Peyton Manning, RB, Edgerrin James and WR, Marvin Harrison. Dungy was brought in the replicated the success on the defensive side of the ball in Tampa. The Colts offense was a powerhouse, but their defense had doomed the team. They had finished in the bottom half of the league in points allowed both of the previous two years and in 3 of the 4 years. The Colts needed a defense and they needed it to be built without taking resources away from their high performing so highly paid offense.

Dungy installed the defense that he had pioneered in Tampa. The D was based on the defense used by the 1970’s Pittsburgh “Steel Curtain” defense. Dungy’s defense was unique in that it focused on speed over size, perfect execution of a simple scheme over deceiving the offense, and selling out to prevent big plays by the offense over taking calculated risks. The change was an instant success. After allowing the 2nd most points in the 31 team league the year before the Colts gave up the 8th least out of 32 teams (the league added a team to get to it’s current size in 2002).  The Colts made the playoffs that year and would win their division while winning 12 or more games each of the next five years (an NFL record) under Dungy. 

The D would slide to mediocrity some years, but never again finished in the bottom quarter of the league in points allowed like they did twice in the 4 years before Dungy’s arrival. The last 3 years saw the crowning achievement of Dungy’s defense. They gave up the 2nd least points in the league in 2005 and least in the league in 2007. After a disastrous 2006 regular season where they allowed the most rushing yards in the league after the loss of run stopping DT Corey Simon and SS Bob Sanders, the Colts D was transformed in the playoffs. They shut down the Colts first two opponents in games that the offense struggled.  The Colts went on to win the Superbowl, Dungy’s first (and the first by an African-American coach), that his critics said he and his teams were incapable of winning.

Of all the coaches to have coached at least 50 games in the history of the NFL, Tony Dungy has the 12th highest winning percentage. Of those to coach 100 games he’s 9th. Tony Dungy is 4th among coaches to coach 200 games. Dungy led the first team ever to win 12 for more games in five straight seasons. Dungy was the first African-American coach to win a Superbowl. Four assistant coaches under Dungy have now gone on to become head coaches themselves. Dungy’s teams have made the playoffs 10 times, against 3 seasons where they have not. Dungy’s teams have won their division 6 times in his 13-year career. His teams have finished in the top 10 in points allowed 9 times and where among the worst 10 once. He has coached more defenses that finished in the top 5 than finished outside the top 10 (5 to 4).

Dungy is one of the greatest defensive coaches in the history of the league, built a better offense than his successor in Tampa, built a far better defense than Indianapolis had ever seen while spending less on D than the rest of the league and has won more games than all but 17 coaches in the 442-coach history of the NFL