It should come as no surprise that Jim Irsay, the Colts' owner and CEO, is endorsing his former head coach for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tony Dungy, the winningest coach in Colts history, is among the 15 modern-era finalists for the Class of 2016, and Irsay thinks Dungy belongs in that group.
Why? Irsay points to the Colts' Super Bowl run in 2006.
To set the stage, the Colts started the season 9-0 but then lost four of seven to close the season. Among those defeats was one of the worst losses in recent memory for the franchise, as the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Colts 44-17 in week 14. The Jaguars in that game rushed for 375 yards and four touchdowns on the Colts' defense, shredding them and embarrassing them. After the game, people were shell-shocked, and it was easy to understand why. Head coach Tony Dungy, however, maintained the same message. The Colts would simply continue to do what they do, but that didn't convince anybody. It was just another illustration of coach speak, and it looked like the Colts were headed for an early playoff exit because of a horrendous run defense.
Some teams may have unraveled. Some teams may have lost hope. Some teams may have given up. But not that Colts team - Tony Dungy wouldn't let them. Up first in the playoffs was the Kansas City Chiefs, who boasted one of the best running backs in the league in Larry Johnson. It was, by all indications, a nightmare wild card matchup for the Colts. Then, to the shock of everybody but Dungy, the Colts held the Chiefs to just 44 yards on the ground and won 23-8 behind a dominant defense. The next week, it was the same story - the Colts won 15-9 on the road against the Ravens, thanks again to their defense. In the AFC Championship game, the offense stepped up along with the defense and a Marlin Jackson interception in the final minute sealed the comeback win over the Patriots. Two weeks later, the Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17 in the Super Bowl, once again thanks in large part due to their defense - and a game-clinching pick-six by Kelvin Hayden.
Stunningly, the Colts - who were left for dead in December due to their defense - sparked one of the most remarkable turnarounds in history as their defense led the way in January to the city's first Super Bowl championship. The defense that gave up 375 yards on the ground in the loss to the Jaguars gave up just 331 yards rushing in the four playoff games - combined. Tony Dungy kept his team on track, never gave up, and wound up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as a result.
"That was a Hall of Fame coaching job,"Jim Irsay told WISH TV earlier this week, according to the Indianapolis Star. "To walk out of that locker room in Jacksonville after giving up 375 yards on the ground, there was one man that could've pulled that off. That was beyond a Hall of Fame job."
Irsay is absolutely right. While Dungy's Hall of Fame case doesn't rest solely on that one season (he's got a much stronger case, as we looked at here), the job that Dungy did in 2006 was nothing short of phenomenal. He kept his team together and maintained patience, leading to a defensive turnaround for the ages. We will find out later today whether or not Dungy will be among the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016, but his career resume - including and perhaps especially his 2006 coaching job - warrants his inclusion among the group of finalists and, one day, in Canton.