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Know Your Colts History: Don't Forget the Foundation

One more year.

I wonder if that thought has crossed Tony Dungy's mind since the Colts won the AFC Championship on Sunday.  Both times Tony Dungy has left a head coaching position, he has watched as the team he used to guide go on to the Super Bowl.  His record of success speaks for itself, but you have to wonder if Dungy has ever played the "What if?" game with his final years in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.

What if the Buccaneers had given him one more year to make a Super Bowl run?  He knew the team just needed a little more offensive punch to go from a good team to an elite team.  What if he had one more year to work with Brad Johnson to craft a competent offense to go along with his already stellar defense?  What if he had been given one more year to see the team he put together bear fruit?

What if he decided to stay with the Colts for one more year?  He knew he had a special team in last season that was derailed by injuries and he had to know Pierre Garcon was due to break out.  He had to know Bill Polian was going to re-stock the cupboard with new talent.  What if he had held off on his off-the-field work for one year to make a run at another championship?

As a fan, I've certainly had moments where I have wondered how Tony Dungy's legacy would be different if he had chosen to stay one more year in Indy or if he had another shot in Tampa.  Of course, he wouldn't be able to take up both chances, since he wouldn't have been available to take the Colts' head coaching job if he was still Tampa's coach.  Dungy's legacy speaks for itself, but you have to wonder how much stronger it could have been if he had just one more year with either team.

From the little I know about Tony Dungy, I'm guessing he doesn't want us to dwell on the "What if?" game with his career.  He's moved on to bigger and better things since hanging up his headset.  I'm sure he's had the itch to coach from time to time, but I don't believe he regrets retiring, nor does he hold any bitterness over what happened in Tampa.  

Since he wouldn't want us to dwell on what he didn't do, let's focus on how he built a foundation for Jim Caldwell to build upon.  When Dungy came to town, he could have decided to leave his imprint on the team by revamping everything about the team.  But he knew that it wasn't necessary to overhaul everything.  He kept the things that were working (the offense) and went right to work on the areas that needed help.  Likewise, when Caldwell took over for Dungy, he could have tried to make a name for himself as a coach by putting a completely new system in place.  Instead, he tweaked areas that needed improvements (special teams, blitzing) and kept everything else in place.  It's not the best way to make a name for yourself, but it leads to more winning.

Putting team success above personal accolades are just one of the values Dungy instilled while he was in Indianapolis.  Another value Dungy put in place while he was in Indianapolis was sticking to your convictions, even when it was unpopular.  During the Colts' Super Bowl run, fans were calling for Dungy to make drastic changes to fix the team's woeful run defense, but he knew the system was working, they just had to put the right players in the right places.  We've seen how that value continues to guide the Colts under Jim Caldwell.  Caldwell stuck to his belief that benching the Colts' starters against the Jets was the best decision amidst backlash from fans, the media, and even within the locker room.

Dungy's patient stubbornness also guided him through tough game situations.  When the Colts faced a double-digit deficit against the Patriots in the AFC Championship, he could have thrown out the game plan and taken drastic measures to make a comeback, but Dungy knew drastic changes weren't necessary.  At halftime, Dungy just reassured the team the game was still winnable and that they just had to execute their game plan.  Do you think the lesson Dungy taught that day came in handy when the Colts fell behind by double-digits against the Jets in this year's AFC Championship?

Though he won't be there in person to finish the work he started, make no mistake about it, Tony Dungy is the person who pushed the Colts to the Super Bowl.  Anyone who ignores this simple truth ignores everything he taught this team while he was here.