When Tony Dungy arrived in Indianapolis in 2002, he already had a reputation throughout the league as not only a great coach but as an even greater person. The rest of the league had looked on as Dungy, a defensive mastermind and architect of the "Tampa 2" defense, built the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from worst in the league to one of the best.
Through it all, he did things his way - and the right way. Dungy wasn't a yeller and he wasn't one to get in a player's face. Instead, Dungy brought a quiet type of confidence, one that motivated an entire team and an entire city. There were critics, of course, but Dungy stayed the course and became a beloved figure in Indianapolis. His success on the field just made him that much more loved, and the Lombardi Trophy he helped win was a symbol of the team's success, but it only scratched the surface of the coach's true impact on the city of Indianapolis.
Five years after Dungy's departure from the Colts, Chuck Pagano is following in the legendary coach's footsteps.
At first glance, there seems to be better comparisons to be made than Tony Dungy and Chuck Pagano. And granted, there probably are. But the similarities these two men share go much further than the fact that they both were great defensive coaches and coordinators before being hired as a head coach. It extends to the impact that they have had on the city they coach in, which for both of them was Indianapolis, Indiana. The city gives them common ground.
In 2005, the city and state rallied around Coach Dungy after his son tragically took his own life. In an unbelievably difficult situation, the city of Indianapolis rallied around their coach and the circumstances caused Indy to revere and respect Dungy like they hadn't before. At that moment, Dungy became much more than a football coach and much more than a nice guy. He became a true part of the city and state, as they rallied behind him in support.
Fast forward to 2012, and the city once again rallied around it's coach, this time in a different situation but with just as great of an impact. Chuck Pagano, a man they hardly knew (at the time he had only coached the Colts for three games - seven, if you count preseason), was diagnosed with leukemia. And just like they did with Dungy years earlier, Indianapolis rallied around their coach.
Punter Pat McAfee, himself a beloved player among fans, was the one who started the #ChuckStrong movement, and he said of Pagano:
"Any time you can take a little positive out of a negative experience, I think it's beautiful. That's what ChuckStrong was. We raised so much money -- but the only reason was because the man at the head of it was a kick-ass human being. The people rallied around Chuck because Chuck Pagano is an amazing dude."
Just like with Dungy, the circumstances Pagano faced when battling leukemia didn't define him. It's not the reason he is so liked among players, coaches, and fans alike. It just helped us all to see what a remarkable man Chuck Pagano really is.
Read this story from NFL.com's Jeff Darlington (the same article linked to earlier with the Pat McAfee quote) and you'll see the attitude that Pagano now brings to the Colts is remarkably similar to the one that Dungy did. The family first attitude, a coach truly caring for his players in a special way... it all reminds me of Dungy - and that's as high of praise as I can give someone.
I'm not saying they're exact clones of each other, no way. Dungy's demeanor was different than Pagano's is, as the current Colts coach can get more visibly fired up than Dungy did. But the influence the two made (and continue to make) on the city of Indianapolis, the priorities the two have, the attitude they bring to the West 56th Street complex every day - it is strikingly similar.
This isn't the type of Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell similar that I'm talking about. Dungy and Caldwell both shared a very similar demeanor and a somewhat similar approach to coaching, but Caldwell never was embraced by the fans. It takes a special person to win over an entire city - especially after only coaching three games. But Chuck Pagano did that, and even though he has beaten cancer and overcame the obstacle that first brought them together, the city and it's coach still share a special bond. The team wants to move forward with a #ColtStrong slogan, but the city will always remain #ChuckStrong.
During the Jim Caldwell days, Colts fans longed for a coach like Dungy and a leader like Dungy. Now, it appears they have one.
Both Tony Dungy and Chuck Pagano won over Indianapolis with who they are, not just what their team did on the field. Dungy sealed and symbolized his legacy by bringing a Lombardi Trophy to Indy, something Chuck Pagano looks to do as well. Defensive end Cory Redding told Jeff Darlington:
"[The Super Bowl is] what we always talk about. That's on his list. And I want to scratch it off with him. As a friend first and as a player second, I'm going to do everything in my power to help make that happen."
Under Chuck Pagano, the Colts are poised to be a Super Bowl contender for a while. And win or lose, their coach has already won the city over and beaten cancer. No matter what happens on the field and no matter where his career goes from here (and the arrow is unquestionably pointing straight up), Chuck Pagano is a winner.
The talk has been about the similarities between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck (a very good comparison, too) and how lucky the Colts are to have gotten both of them. When it comes to head coaches, however, it seems the Colts are just as lucky.
Just like they did with Dungy, the Colts once again have a winner both on and off the field to call their coach. And just like they did with Dungy, the Colts once again have a coach that is a beloved figure in Indianapolis.